Overcome with emotion, Derrel Ridenour wiped his eyes with tears of joy and tears of victory.
Moments earlier Tuesday, the business magnate and animal lover heard the news he’s fought years to hear — unanimous approval of the animal shelter he wants to build.
“The animals — they have no voice, they have no one to speak for them. That’s the reason why I’m emotional.” — Land donor Derrel Ridenour
“When you go to shelters, and you look at those faces, you euthanize them. That’s what I want to stop,” Ridenoru said, his voice breaking up. “I just have a passion for animals. … The animals — they have no voice, they have no one to speak for them. That’s the reason why I’m emotional.”
Ridenour’s long-sought animal shelter received the green light from the Fresno County Board of Supervisors. Despite neighbor objections, and an acknowledgment that this will likely wind up in litigation, the supervisors approved a land zoning change in a northwest Fresno neighborhood.
In theory, that will allow Ridenour to use his donated land and finances to build a new facility for the Fresno Human Animal Services. He hopes to break ground next spring and open by the end of 2019.
In reality, a lawsuit is likely, over the lack of a proper environmental review.
“I don’t get hired to write letters,” attorney John Kinsey told the board when asked about the likelihood of litigation. He represents four clients living in the area of the proposed shelter.
FHAS contracts with the county to take in strays. The nonprofit’s leaders have long said that the current location in the parking lot of the old county morgue is outdated and too small.
After months of neighborhood meetings and a six-week delay to allow for a few more, the five-member board listened to the arguments for and against the proposal. The location on Grantland Avenue, south of Highway 99, motivated some of those living nearby to protest.
While Ridenour’s land is within the county’s jurisdiction, many of the surrounding homes are within the city limits of Fresno.
“Let’s give this neighborhood an opportunity to teach their children about compassion for all of the community, including those who have no voice.” — Amanda Allen, supporter
Board chairman Sal Quintero set aside one hour for people to speak at two-minute intervals. Of the 27 who publicly opined, 16 favored the shelter and 11 opposed.
Residents’ main concerns included traffic and the safety of children. Herndon-Barstow Elementary is across the street from the proposed location. Many echoed two main points: Living west of 99 made them the “forgotten Fresno” and this was the right project at the wrong location.
John Lourenco delivered the first remarks against the shelter, setting the tone for his neighbors to follow. He said the area’s infrastructure is lacking and he worries about having animals in the area.
“I have concerns about stray animals being left. …They are not going to man that facility 24 hours a day. Those animals will not wait for somebody to come get them. They are going to be scared and they are going to walk away. They are most likely to head to the school because the largest trash cans nearby are there,” he said.
Ridenour and Fresno Humane later agreed to have someone be able to take in animals after hours. Other concessions included not operating as a hospital and only taking in dogs and cats (foregoing livestock and horses).
Amanda Allen delivered one of the more impassioned pleas on behalf of FHAS, where she volunteers.
“Let’s give this neighborhood an opportunity to teach their children about compassion for all of the community, including those who have no voice,” she said.
During debate amongst the supervisors, Andreas Borgeas predicted what would happen next.
“The impacts of this project weren’t adequately analyzed under the California Environmental Quality Act.” — Attorney John Kinsey
“I don’t know if this has been adequately environmentally studied,” Borgeas said to the applause of shelter opponents. “I think that if it does pass today, there will be a court action. I have a sneaking suspicion that a court is going to decide that more environmental review is warranted.”
Kinsey, after the vote, said as much.
“That’s something we’re seriously considering,” the attorney said. “The impacts of this project weren’t adequately analyzed under the California Environmental Quality Act.”
Brian Pacheco, whose District 2 encompasses the shelter location, said both sides tugged at him. He called it a no-win situation.
“I feel a little like Swiss cheese,” Pacheco said from the dais, explaining how constituents reached out to him from all sides.
Pacheco, along with colleague Buddy Mendes, called for the county to operate its own shelter in the future. They also want the city of Fresno to annex the land in question.
The supervisors then took their vote, a 5-0 decision for the zoning change.
The vote, though, didn’t surprise Lourenco.
“I’m disappointed. Those of us in opposition kind of knew the board was leaning in that direction. We came to represent ourselves, speak our piece. But, we kind of felt the board made up their decision well in advance of this meeting,” he said.
Animal Lovers Rejoice
Supporters of the shelter came out wearing varying shirts in support. They carried signs, left in the crowded lobby outside the supervisor chambers. Seating reached capacity, forcing many to wait outside watching a monitor showing the proceedings taking place yards away.
Colleen Cabral wore a black shirt with a message on the back reading “Give us a home, Rezone.”
“I’m really happy for them. They worked hard for this,” said Cabral who runs an animal foster service of her own. “I will continue to work with Fresno Humane and help them wherever it’s needed.”
After the vote, Ridenour expressed relief.
“After two years, we can finally go ahead with the project. I just want to thank everybody,” he said.