September 23, 2004
Kymberli W. Brady
Residents and animal activists argue over mounting coyote threats
Almaden residents have enormous pride in their upscale community of lush homes wrapped in neatly landscaped neighborhoods—complete with children and pets playing freely in front yards and nearby parks filled with a variety of wild birds and animals.
While “Kodak moments” capture late summer images of grazing deer
and busy squirrels, a new generation of coyote pups venture out on
their own. Only now, residents in the Villas of Almaden say the
animals have crossed the territorial line.
Almaden is one of three coyote “hot spots” in Santa Clara County,
where mounting reports of pet casualties and human/coyote
interactions in the past three years, which has spurred a
community’s cry for help.
A public meeting on Sept. 15 attempted to answer that cry, as Vice
Mayor Pat Dando assembled a panel of experts to address community
concerns, including Wildlife Biologist Mike Phillips and Dr. Noor
Tietze with Santa Clara County Vector Control; Janet Alexander, Manager of the Wildlife Center of Silicon
Valley; Little Blue Society Director Mary Paglieri; Jon Cicirelli,
Deputy Director of Animal Care and Services; SJPD officer A.J.
Young; and Don Kelly, with the Calif. Department of Fish and
While most reside in the Villas, a sprinkling of wildlife activists
made for a captivating exchange over human behavior versus animal
“This is a very emotional issue on either side,” announced Dando.
“Some have lost pets. Others feel their children have been
threatened. But there are also individuals concerned with how we
deal with natural wildlife when we’ve come into their
Residents say it’s the other way around.
“We never had coyotes until a couple of years ago,” exclaimed one
neighbor. “The deer are now being slaughtered. We didn’t move into
their territory, they moved into ours—we want them out now.”
According to Phillips, territorial boundaries, combined with
residential and golf course developments and ongoing creek
restoration ultimately forced the coyotes to migrate into the
greenbelt near Guadalupe Oak Grove Park—a natural corridor into the
Villas. As homes sprung up, open decks became ideal habitats for
rodents, skunks and raccoons. The emergence of coyotes now has
residents terrified to venture outside.
While graphic descriptions of mauled pets fueled the sense of
urgency, it was the emotional recounts of a dog attacked while on
its leash, and a couple’s battle with a coyote while with their
grandchild that raised the eyebrows of the panel.
The extent surprised even Kelly. Further discussion led him to
conclude that the danger warranted immediate trapping and
euthanasia of specific pack members.
Who’s on first?
Phillips maintained that recent authorization attempts to set traps
have failed—denied by Cicirelli because of the city’s “no trapping”
ordinance. Although trapping in Almaden was authorized two years
ago, the ordinance has been around for 10 years.
When questioned why they had repeatedly violated their own
directive over the years, city attorney Bill Hughes stated that he
was unaware of any trapping done in a manner that wasn’t consistent
with the ordinance.
According to Cicirelli, if county officials declared—in writing
that the situation posed an eminent danger, he would take it to the
city attorney for a legal determination and action.
“There’s nothing in the ordinance that says the city attorney can
decide this,” Hughes argued. “I’m not sure where it says we can
grant the authority to allow someone to trap coyotes. We’re going
to have to see the letter before taking the appropriate
However, according to Kelly, State Department of Fish and Game
Code, Sec 3003.1, Subsection C allows their use, “in the
extraordinary case where the otherwise prohibited, padded jaw
leg-hold trap is the only method available to protect human health
“If we deem a situation an eminent threat that allows the taking of
animals, this gives municipalities the right to grant their own
agents exemption under Subsection C,” said Kelly. “We have an
eminent safety situation here.”
“I expect the city attorney will recommend that we change the
ordinance or make a determination about liability toward the city,”
said Cicirelli. “Legally, the city attorney is the only one who can
say what can and can’t be done.”
Changing the rules
The question prompted residents to ask Dando why initial promises
to amend the existing ordinance to mirror that of the state headed
instead in a different direction, after the city enlisted Paglieri
to provide a report, with alternatives to trapping and killing the
“The plan was never to change it,” explained Dando. “It was to
allow for an exception that would permit action to be taken if
something posed a threat to public safety and enable us to make
sure controls stay in place.”
Who’s to blame?
Paglieri’s comments met with harsh criticism when she concluded
that the residents were to blame for providing food sources, while
allowing their pets to roam free.
“We found evidence of people feeding the animals,” she said.
“Rodents feed on fallen birdseed, which draws larger predators.
Coyotes are opportunistic feeders and will take advantage of
“A lot of them are letting their pets run loose,” admitted
Phillips. “And one problem at the Villas was traced back to a
neighbor putting out food for the deer.”
Bud Spadafore has lived in the Villas for 18 years and, as the
association president, refused to take the accusations sitting
“We’ve had birdfeeders here for as long as we’ve had the deer,” he
said. “There was never a problem before and I just can’t see that
as the reason in the case.”
“The city’s got about 10 days to take care of this,” added Larry
Perrin. “If they don’t, these people will.”
“My fear is that a mob mentality has set in,” said Jamie
Himmelstien. “I don’t mean to downplay what has occurred with the
killing of deer and the threat to human life—as small a percent as
I believe that is. Other options besides murdering coyotes have not
been looked into well enough.”
“The residents made a compelling case that they were not only
frustrated, but deeply frightened by the aggressive nature of the
coyote population,” argued Oak Canyon resident Pat Pizzo. “The
instances have been well documented on their web pages and reported
weekly to Dando’s office.”
A compromise—of sorts
At a subsequent gathering at the Villas on Monday, Phillips, Kelly,
Tietze, Alexander, Cicirelli, Kelly, and Denelle Fedore, with
Dando’s office met with Spadafore and Villas manager Kurt Shenefiel
to discuss measures and orchestrate a plan.
Getting the county to endorse Phillip’s recommendation was the
first step toward the written request that, if approved, will allow
trapping. As of press time, the county had issued the request, but
the city attorney has not made their decision.
“I suspect that they will concur and work closely with Vector
Control and Fish and Game—under state guidelines to address the
immediate problem,” said Dando.
Long-term measures seek to involve resident education and behavior
modification, combined with State and City departmental efforts to
review and alter the habitat.
“The community needs to do their part,” reminded Dando. “They can
start by taking away some of the temptations, including salt licks
for the deer.”
“We’re not really organized,” said TJ
Martin resident Susan Mosher, who complained of coyote problems for
five years. “I want to be part of the solution and don’t mind
canvassing the neighborhood—a lot of folks have good hearts, but
they don’t know how to live with the animals. This meeting was a
first step toward the solution.”
Taking the first step
“Educating people on the determent is key,” explained Alexander.
“Even if you’re not actively feeding wild animals, things like
fallen fruit can play a role.”
Alexander also recommends that residents refrain from leaving
children and pets unaccompanied—especially during the evening
hours. Securing garbage cans in sheds or with bungee cords is
another deterrent, as are motion sensor lights and six-foot fencing
with six-inches below ground. Cayenne pepper sprinkled on areas
frequented by wild animals will discourage smaller
predators—raccoons, opossums, and skunks.
It’s also very important to spay and neuter your dogs,” she adds.
“Unspayed females can attract male coyotes and unneutered males can
be lured by a female coyote’s scent.
Although not opposed to feeding the birds, Alexander advised
residents in rural areas to use good judgment, as scattered seed
attracts smaller predatory animals—all in an effort to coexist with
wild animals by remedying their own behavior.
“I hope the solution won’t be Villas specific,” said Pizzo. “A
general plan needs to be developed to right bad situations as they
arise in satellite communities, such as Oak Canyon, Los Alamitos,
Los Gatos, New Almaden, etc.”
“And we will work toward that goal,” said Kelly.