YAKIMA, Wash. — The Yakima City Council voted Tuesday to uphold its current pit bull ban, but left the door open for future legislation.
The 6-to-1 vote followed a series of contentious exchanges involving council members and the audience.
Opponents of the law continued to argue against breed-specific legislation, saying rules should be established that punish bad owners and allow others to keep the now-banned breeds if they follow certain guidelines. The current ordinance has the support of the Yakima Police Patrolmen’s Association and the city code enforcement manager, who says it promotes public safety and has led to fewer dangerous dogs living in the city.
Much of the testimony against the ban, which was first established in 1987, received applause and other supportive outbursts from a council chamber packed with sympathizers.
Marilyn Brown, a longtime owner of two pit bulls that have since died, said the current ordinance forced her to keep her dogs in hiding after her property was annexed into city in 2007. The pit bulls, Cookie and Pebbles, were best friends to family members, including Brown’s autistic daughter, she said.
“I had these dogs many years,” Brown said. “They were innocent of any wrongdoing ever.”
Council members voted to uphold the ban, with Councilwoman Kathy Coffey casting the lone dissenting vote. But following a heated debate, the council then voted 5 to 2 to direct city staff to provide more information on how alternative pit bull ordinances have worked in other cities.
“I’ll say that I’m pretty frustrated about this issue, and it really comes down to the information I feel we’ve been receiving from staff I don’t feel has been fair,” Councilwoman Sara Bristol said. “I don’t feel like we’ve been getting good information presenting both sides of the issue.”
Bristol, Coffey and opponents of the ban said the information packet provided to the council was inadequate and they questioned the credibility of a website called Dogsbite.org, where code enforcement pulled much of the national statistics provided to the council.
“Dogsbite.org is a heavily biased site that uses anecdotal reports,” resident James Boyer said.
Emotions ratcheted up as the council discussed a motion to uphold the ban, with Councilman Dave Ettl accusing the audience of eschewing the respect that should be shown in council chambers.
“I’ve been on the council four years and this is the first time I’ve had the cabaret show,” Ettl said. “Where’s the respect for the decorum of this proceeding?”
That only led to more rumblings and outbursts among the audience, including one attendee calling Ettl “a square head.” In the midst of arguing that the council should uphold the ban because of its obligation to public safety, Ettl was interrupted again and stared down an audience member.
“A little respect? That’s what you want for the dogs, show it to the people,” Ettl said.
Ettl also took issue with Council members Bill Lover, who supported further research, and Coffey, the only council member to vote against upholding the ban, who accused Ettl of being disrespectful to other council members during the discussion.
“Please don’t demean what we’re saying,” Coffey said.
As Mayor Micah Cawley attempted to rein in members to bring the issue to a vote, Ettl said he wasn’t responsible for the debate unraveling.
“I would suggest I’m following others’ lead with attitude,” Ettl said. “I didn’t start attitude.”
Ettl eventually voted with Maureen Adkison, Lover, Coffey and Bristol to direct staff to provide further information on other alternatives. Councilman Rick Ensey and Cawley voted against the motion.