The last public hearing on the preliminary 2014 budget headlines the Yakima City Council’s Tuesday meeting, but the ongoing discussion over the city’s pit bull ban should also draw heavy discussion.
The Yakima City Council put off discussion of the city’s pit bull ban and dangerous dogs law after supporters and opponents presented testimony and hundreds of pages of information at their Nov. 12 study session. The topic is slated for further discussion and potential council action Tuesday.
If past attendance is any indicator, the council will hear more public input on that topic than the budget that will be voted on.
The ordinance has garnered debate on and off since it was enacted in 1987 after three reported unprovoked attacks by pit bulls in Yakima. Opponents challenged the ordinance in court for being “unconstitutionally vague” but it was upheld in the state Supreme Court in 1989.
City Code Enforcement Manager Joe Caruso is urging the council to uphold the ban. The ordinance also has the support of the Yakima Police Patrolmans Association, citing an incident in August when a Yakima police officer was attacked by three dogs described as pit bulls.
Opponents argue a dog’s behavior is not specific to its breed. Moreover, they say it is too easy for dogs without a record of violent behavior to be misidentified and confiscated based solely on an eyeball test.
The city’s ordinance specifically bans bull terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers and American Staffordshire terriers as well as dogs with any “identifiable” pit bull variety as an element of their breeding. Determinations are based on a combination of factors, including the build of the animal’s chest, the shape of its head, the length of its tail, the way its ears lay and its muscular build.
Groups ranging from the National Animal Control Association to the American Bar Association support dangerous dog laws and oppose breed-specific bans.
Opponents of such bans point to substantial empirical research indicating that there is no scientific basis for the bans.
Caruso said there are fewer pit bulls in Yakima every year as a result of the ordinance, down to 39 impounded by the city so far this year compared to 96 in 2009.
The city is also reconsidering its dangerous dogs ordinance, which establishes containment, insurance liability and public awareness requirements for owners to follow if they want to keep their dogs that have been involved in reported violent incidents. The most dangerous dogs can be confiscated.
Opponents of the city’s breed-specific law asked the council to consider allowing pit bulls under the dangerous dog law. The ordinance requires owners to register their animals with the city, purchase liability insurance and enclose them in a kennel or secure fencing when they’re in the yard.
In a memo to the council, Caruso said that proposal would undo the pre-emptive intent of the pit bull ban, because the dangerous dog ordinance only goes into effect after the dog bites someone. He said that would equate to giving pit bulls a “free bite.”
On the topic of the budget, the 2014 proposal includes more money for initiatives -- including a $2.5 million boost for public safety -- balanced by increasing revenue, as well as cuts and savings elsewhere.
The general government budget, which pays for most day-to-day services except utilities, includes $66.1 million in expenses -- a $3.2 million increase over what city staff expects Yakima to spend this year.
In other business, the Yakima City Council will hear a quarterly report on the city’s Gang Free Initiative.