ANTIOCH -- Leaders here gave final approval this week to a new animal ordinance that outlaws feeding stray cats on public property.

The ordinance, which takes effect in 30 days, also requires residents to obtain a city permit to keep more than five cats on a property.

Following another spirited hearing Tuesday that included about 30 speakers, most urging Antioch to create a trap, neuter and return, or TNR program, and find humane solutions, the City Council voted 4-1 in favor of banning feeding animals on sidewalks and other right-of-ways. Councilman Tony Tiscareno cast the lone dissenting vote.

The feeding of the free-roaming cat leads to spreading of disease, defecation and property damage while increasing the number of wildlife that feed on the food, city officials say.

Feral cats comes out of hiding to eat in Antioch, Calif. on Friday, April 5, 2103. Ray and Phyllis Zeeb make the rounds around the city every other day
Feral cats comes out of hiding to eat in Antioch, Calif. on Friday, April 5, 2103. Ray and Phyllis Zeeb make the rounds around the city every other day after dark, distributing some 120 pounds of donated cat food and 20 gallons of water to feed the large number of feral cats. While Zeeb is an advocate for these homeless cats, others feel they are a nuisance making the issue of feral cats a divisive one. (Dan Honda/Staff)

Several animal advocates said afterward that they were somewhat disappointed by the council's decision.

"At least they kept the door open to discuss it. Before, it seemed like they were going to shut the door. Period," longtime cat feeder Ray Zeeb said.

Mayor Pro Tem Mary Rocha reiterated before the vote that city staff should continue to look for possible effective TNR solutions with local animal groups over the next six months, including establishing several feeding stations in controlled areas.

"I'm still with the ban, so that everybody's not just feeding. I want it organized, so we can at least control it," Rocha said.

The ban will help because it will get rid of the "free-for-all" of food placement everywhere, City Manager Steve Duran said.


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Councilman Gary Agopian added that the city is trying to strike a balance, given the complexity of the issue.

"There's no clear-cut answer. So we muddle around and we try to do the right thing. Antioch wants to be a compassionate community, but it also wants to be well-managed, clean and safe," he said.

Gemma Boyd, president of the Community Concern for Cats, said groups will work with the city to create discreetly placed feeding stations and the cats will continue to be fed by rescue members.

"With rescue groups this has become a focus," Boyd said. "They're going to go to a great deal of trouble make sure the city and local businesses are happy."

The group will keep its $10,000 pledge toward creating a targeted TNR program.

All told, several groups and community members pledged $23,000 to create a TNR program if did the council did not pass the feeding ban.

"It's kind of early to see, but we have confidence that we can show that managed colonies will work," said Karen Kops, president of Homeless Animals Response Program.

Antioch would start out by giving warnings to those who feed in public, but would then issue administrative citations, Lt. Robin Kelley said. Enforcement would likely be on a complaint-driven or "on-view" basis, she said.

Antioch's animal rules have not been updated since the early 1980s. But, increased animal intake at the city's shelter and a number of high-profile animal cases late last year prompted the revision, according to animal services officials.

The ordinance preserves much of Antioch's criteria for licensing and care for animals, and clarifies the penalties for violations and the appeals process.

Antioch is the lone city in Contra Costa County that operates its own animal shelter. The county does not have a public feeding ban in place.

Berkeley is an example of a city that has banned the feeding of feral cats and works with partners to monitor colonies. Its collaboration with nonprofit Fix our Ferals over the last 14 years has reduced the number of cats entering its shelter by 40 percent, said Kate O'Connor, animal services manager.

Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.