OAKLEY -- City leaders decided this week to lease Oakley's former fire station to a seniors group instead of letting it go to the dogs.
Council members unanimously agreed to draw up a contract with Oakley Senior Citizens, choosing that nonprofit over the animal rescue group that is renting the Second Street building from the city.
Another animal advocacy organization that had submitted a proposal withdrew it Monday.
Established 50 years ago, Oakley Senior Citizens has been sharing the use of a small county-owned building on Rosemary Lane for well over a decade.
The facility can accommodate only 45 people, however, and most of the club's 40 members usually show up for its monthly business lunches, said its 77-year-old spokeswoman Shirley Darling, who presented the need for more room to the council.
"We have no more space for new members until (someone) passes on," she said. "It's a terrible way to do it, but it's the truth."
Oakley Senior Citizens' application noted that the building also has been vandalized, had purses stolen from vehicles and teens loitering outside.
The cramped quarters also have made it impossible to hold recreational classes and self-help seminars on topics such as crime prevention and healthy living that could make the center a one-stop source of fun and information for Oakley's older residents, Darling said.
"There's too many seniors staying at home by themselves -- we need to get (them)
Depending on the results of an energy audit, the facility also might serve as a shelter where seniors can go if their home becomes too hot or cold, she said.
Council members expressed conflicting emotions about having to decide between two worthy causes.
Wayne Sanderson, president of Homeless Animals' Lifeline Organization, rattled off a list of his nonprofit's accomplishments, which ranged from finding permanent homes for hundreds of dogs and cats last year to trapping and sterilizing Oakley's feral cat population and waiving adoption fees for war veterans.
Dozens of volunteers also use HALO dogs as a nonjudgmental audience for youngsters who are having trouble reading, and high school students can earn the community service hours they need to graduate by caring for the shelter's animals.
But it was the problem of dogs being dogs that ultimately dissuaded council members from letting HALO stay.
Even though Sanderson said workers rarely keep the doors open anymore in an effort to muffle the barking and try to curb triggers by limiting the number of visitors, critics say the animals still disturb neighbors.
"It's way too noisy," said Lynn Peterson, noting that some who live within earshot have called police because they can't sleep. "I'm an animal lover, but this is the worst location it could be in."
A few of Oakley's approximately 3,000 older residents chimed in, arguing that the council should have its priorities straight.
"Everybody loves dogs, but I don't think they should have priority over seniors," said Margorie Baker.
"Seniors don't bark, and they don't meow," added the elderly resident of a mobile home park in town.
"This is a hard one," Councilwoman Carol Rios responded, noting that the city has only one site available.
Councilman Randy Pope echoed her sentiments.
"We're choosing good versus good, which doesn't make for an easy decision," he said.
Councilman Jim Frazier suggested that if HALO had a modular building at its disposal it might relocate temporarily to a 6.2-acre parcel on O'Hara Avenue known as the Moura property, where the YMCA once was located.
"We're stuck in the middle, (but) I think it's imperative that we help you both," he said.
Pope said the only qualms he had with Oakley Senior Citizens is that it's not yet on solid financial footing; in its application, the group asked to occupy the building rent-free until the city builds a permanent center.
In the end, however, the council opted to draw up a lease with the organization, the terms of which have yet to be worked out.
Members agreed to extend HALO's lease to April 1, allowing it to remain in the building while the seniors line up grants and organize fundraisers to come up with rent money.
HALO's rent, which currently is $100 per month, will jump to $500 in January.
Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her at Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.