Animal rights activists rally in front of City Hall on Tuesday to protest a decision by the City Council to install nets underneath the pier to keep pigeons from roosting and pooping in the water. (photo by Brandon Wise)

CITY HALL — Animal rights activists staged a small protest before the City Council meeting Tuesday in opposition to a plan to install netting underneath the Santa Monica Pier in an effort to prevent pigeons from fouling the waters.

Their hope is to change the minds of city officials who just last month approved a $107,758 contract with Bird Busters to put up a net that will run the length and width of the pier. Doing so could be a matter of life and death, at least for the birds, opponents say.

“When you try to put a net under there to exclude pigeons from getting up in there, everything above the net, that is all the babies and the parents who won’t leave the nests, are going to starve to death,” Dr. Red Enright, an attorney and self-proclaimed pigeon expert, said. “Any of the pigeons that happened to be out at the time (the net is installed) are going to die of exhaustion trying to get back to the only place they know to roost and where their young ones are and their nests are.”

About a half dozen pigeon supporters and members of Santa Monica-based Voice for the Animals Foundation gathered at City Hall where they handed out fliers detailing what they call the “facts and fictions” about the human disease risk from pigeon droppings.

City officials said they believe that installing the net and thereby reducing the roosting sites will keep bacteria levels below requirements set by the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board. The water beneath the Santa Monica Pier has long been considered one of the worst in the state, annually ranked as being among the dirtiest in Heal the Bay’s annual Beach Report Card.

“There is so much beach underneath that pier that it sits there and the waves come and grabs all of that and takes it back out,” Joan Akins the director of community maintenance for City Hall, said. “It’s a part of why Santa Monica Bay continues to get that low grade.”

But animal rights activists disagree, saying that there has never been a single confirmed case of human disease being traced to a pigeon or its droppings anywhere in the county.

“They have no record of anyone catching this from pigeons or droppings,” Enright said. “The pest control industry, they keeping telling you there’s all these diseases.”

City officials are currently negotiating a work schedule with Bird Busters for the project, which is estimated to take about three months to complete.

Akins said that no birds will be trapped in the process.

“There are two nests now and we are going to watch them to see if anything is going on in them and we don’t believe we will have to move them,” she said. “We will do the utmost not to harm any birds,”

She said that no birds will be left trapped by the net.

Melya Kaplan, the founder of Voice of the Animals Foundation, said she hopes the council will reverse its decision, hinting that a lawsuit might be possible otherwise.

“If an individual starts killing pigeons for any reason, that would be a criminal offense,” she said. “It’s animal cruelty. Why does the City Council think they are above the law?”

A Redondo Beach resident, Enright has been rescuing birds for the past 30 years. Enright brought his most recent rescue to the protest, wrapping it in a red towel.

He found the bird, along with its sister, named Chihuahua, in a box in front of a pet store in Torrance.

“They just love to be held and get their attention,” Enright said as he lovingly pet the bird. “This one right here, she just can’t get her pigeon kisses often enough.”

Enright said the preferred option to control the pigeons would be to administer a birth control called Ovocontrol, which has been used in other areas like Hollywood. The result would be a drop in the pigeon population by about 50 percent, he said.

He said the fate the pigeons might face if trapped by the net would be a painful way to go.

“That I think would spell the end of the political careers for the people who voted to have that done,” he said.

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