ANTIOCH -- After hearing a variety of passionate concerns, leaders here moved ahead this week with a new animal ordinance that outlaws feeding stray cats on public property.
The ordinance, which will be considered for final adoption in April, also requires a city permit be obtained to keep more than five cats on a property.
The City Council voted 4-1 late Tuesday night in favor of the ban on placing food on sidewalks and other right-of-ways, with Councilman Tony Tiscareno casting the lone dissenting vote.
Councilman Gary Agopian said the issue arises in Antioch because the cat "is a wild animal without a natural predator in the natural order of events."
"We have to try and mitigate it somewhat," he said. "Nothing in this ordinance stops people from doing (trap, neuter and return). They will not be able to do public feeding."
Tiscareno said wanted to "be compassionate" and give local animal groups and city staff six more months to look into a trap, neuter and return, or TNR program.
"This is a true dilemma for me," he said.
Local animal rescue groups will still be able to feed free-roaming cats on private property, Antioch police Lt. Robin Kelley said.
The council also directed city staff to continue to look for possible effective TNR solutions with local animal groups.
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 council put off a decision in January amid concerns about the humane treatment of the feral and abandoned cats.
Almost everyone at Tuesday night's meeting agreed that Antioch's estimated 17,500 homeless cats create a problem, and that the root of the problem is those who abandon the animals.
Opponents of the ban -- both in their comments and bright signs posted around the council chamber -- called the feeding restriction an "inhumane solution" and having them starve on the street is "morally wrong."
"They're not the villains, they are the victims," resident Marylou Wood said.
Resident Susan Smith said she has been working many hours downtown to providing TNR service for the cats, and hopes to create feeding stations and look into appropriate times for feeding to not attract wildlife.
"We're looking for you to work with us and come to the most humane solution," Smith said.
Kelley said the rogue feeding of the free-roaming cats leads to spreading of disease, defecation and damage to private property, while increasing the number of raccoons, skunks and other wildlife that feed on the food.
Resident Nancy Fernandez supported the ban because the stench left by cat colonies and looming insects make it unenjoyable to go to parks or the waterfront.
"Over the years, this city has become one giant cat box because of the good hearts of many people," she said. "While I appreciate their efforts, the cats are reproducing faster than we can take care of them."
Lori Cook added there is also no cleanup of the boxes used for feeding.
TNR does not work with a feeding ban, said Karen Kops, president of the Homeless Animals Response Program.
"What (the city) does not understand is that this is not a solution," she said.
Kops said local groups have trapped and fixed 104 cats -- and nine kittens that would be breeding -- since late January at a cost of less than $500, and put in more than 1,000 hours of community service. They had also secured $12,000 from a local resident, William Coaker, and national advocacy group Alley Cat Allies for a program, but that is off the table with a ban in place, Kops said.
All the low-cost spay and neuter resources the groups had access to will not be available because they want guarantees the cats were well-cared for, she said.
Overall, the proposed animal ordinance would preserve much of Antioch's criteria for licensing and care for animals, and clarifies the penalties for violations and the appeals process. It would also set provisions for potentially dangerous animals, including attacks on private property and requirements for keeping an animal after it has been declared vicious.
Antioch is the lone city in Contra Costa County that operates its own animal shelter.
Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Follow him at Twitter.com/paulburgarino.