Gripes Revive La Canada's Bid to Rein in Horse Owners

Times Staff Writer

Attached to the for-sale sign in the front yard of a home on Beulah Drive in La Canada Flintridge is a shingle advertising the residence as "horse property."

Many homeowners on such streets as Beulah, Commonwealth Avenue, Woodleigh Lane and Berkshire Avenue, the area commonly referred to as "horse country," say they bought their property so they could keep their horses in their backyards and be close to the city's extensive system of bridle trails.

But there are some residents who are not too happy with their neighbors' horses. To them, living in horse country means living with flies, dust and odors and being deprived of the enjoyment of their backyards.

Horse country, said one angry homeowner who refused to give her name because she feared "retribution" from her horse-owning neighbors, "is an absolute mess of people doing whatever they damn well please to the detriment of others in the name of riding horses."

Tougher Rules Asked

She and other horseless residents want the city to toughen its animal-keeping regulations and provide more thorough enforcement.

But horse owners say complaints of abuse are exaggerated and blame whatever problems may exist on a few "bad guys." They feel that current regulations are adequate.

"You don't punish the whole neighborhood because you have one person who has become a nuisance," said Fred Barnett, a horse lover who keeps six Missouri foxtrotters in the backyard of his home on Commonwealth Avenue.

About 150 to 200 horses are kept at private residences in the city, most on property in the Flintridge area below Foothill Boulevard, according to the Los Angeles County Office of Animal Care and Control.

City Backed Off Before

The city backed off six years ago from addressing the touchy issue of keeping horses because of the emotions it stirred on both sides of the backyard fence. Now it is again trying to work out an equitable solution to its equine problem. The passage of time, however, has not made the issue any easier.

After two recent public hearings and numerous phone calls, Rob Jones, senior city planner, has concluded that "there doesn't appear to be a lot of compromise on this issue." A third public hearing is scheduled for the commission's July 9 meeting.

"Where can we draw the line?" asked Jones, who recognizes that both sides have rights. "What kind of regulations can we impose where horses can still be enjoyed by individual property owners but not impact on adjacent homeowners?"

Jones has been working closely with the Planning Commission in its re-examination of Los Angeles County's regulations on keeping animals, which La Canada Flintridge adopted when it incorporated in 1976.

Disgruntled homeowners complain about neighbors not cleaning up after their horses. They complain about neighbors keeping more horses on their property than legally allowed. They are especially upset about neighbors who, they contend, board horses for profit, attracting strangers to their neighborhoods.

One resident of Berkshire Avenue described her relations with certain neighbors as "bitter." The woman, who declined to give her name, said one family has 13 horses, another 11 and another eight. She is convinced that they are boarding horses commercially.

"The main problem aside from flies and the smell is that I really don't know who's parking down the street, where all the kids are coming from," the woman said. "I object to my street being turned into commercial property.

"These people are getting $1,000 a month. We have the nuisance of their profit and I don't think that's fair."

Charges Hard to Prove

Those who suspect their neighbors of boarding horses say that such allegations are hard to prove. "Who can say whose horses belong to whom? They don't have any serial numbers on them," said Howard Vivian, a property owner who does not keep horses.

Horse owners acknowledge that quite a few people board horses, but they insist it is done as favors to friends in the community and not for profit. Even though such so-called "accommodation boarding" is illegal under the county regulations, it should be allowed to continue, they say.

Accommodation boarding, said horse owner Suzanne John, particularly benefits young people who can't afford to pay the $150 to $200 a month that a commercial boarding stable would charge. She said that keeping the horses in the community is more convenient for youths who don't drive. "This way some of these kids can just get on their bicycles and ride down to their horses," she said.

At the first public hearing of the Planning Commission in April, the city dusted off a proposed animal ordinance drafted in 1979 in response to complaints. That draft never got beyond discussion because of the controversy it stirred, said Jane Hogle, a member of the Planning Commission since 1976.

"A lot of people can't make up their minds what they want done about them, so we coast along using the county ordinances," she said.

Under current rules, homeowners living where horses are allowed may keep one horse for every 5,000 square feet of property. Minimum lot size, however, is 15,000 square feet, and horses must be kept at least 35 feet from the nearest residence. Boarding is prohibited.

Permits must be obtained to keep more horses than allowed under the one-per-5,000-feet formula or on smaller lots. Such permits can be denied if two or more property owners living within 500 feet of the applicant are opposed.

The health code requires that all animal owners keep their property clean enough to prevent the breeding flies. The code remains vague about how often cleaning should occur.

Some officials say the draft ordinance appears doomed again by opposition from horse owners. The proposal would limit to five the number of horses allowed at a residence regardless of the size of the property. It also would flatly prohibit the keeping of horses on lots smaller than 15,000 square feet, and would keep the ban on boarding.

In addition, it specifically requires manure to be removed from the ground at least once a day and placed in airtight containers, the contents of which must be emptied and hauled away once a week.

Jones, the senior planner, said the city would probably end up amending the county regulations in a compromise between the strict draft ordinance and existing regulations.

Number in Question

The amendments would still limit the number of horses at a residence, but what that number will be is yet to be decided, he said. At the last public hearing, horse owners suggested setting the limit, if there has to be one, at eight. Their non-horse-owning neighbors favored five.

The city also is considering an amendment allowing accommodation boarding of a maximum of three horses as a service to local property owners who can't keep horses at their own residences. Jones said the city may also require a permit calling for the approval of neighbors for equestrian clubs that meet or have activities at a residence.

Jones said the amendments also would include some stringent sanitation standards, such as cleaning up manure once every 24 hours--the same rule as would be in effect under the draft city ordinance.

Some of those standards were suggested by horse owner Fred Barnett, who has a riding ring in his backyard besides his corrals and stable. Barnett said he spends about two hours a day feeding and cleaning up after his horses.

His routine includes spraying the area with a nontoxic insecticide that kills flies, spreading powdered agricultural lime to cut odor, removing manure regularly and wetting the ground with sprinklers. To further cut down dust, Barnett has mixed decomposed granite in the ground because, he said, it helps retain the water in the soil.

"There's no way you're going to absolutely control flies and absolutely control dust," said Barnett. "But you can keep it to a minimum."

One horseless resident who lives on Beulah Drive not far from where the "horse property" is for sale said he can no longer use his pool because the dust kicked up by his neighbors' horses requires a pool cleaning every other day. Rather than fight the dust, Bill Veggs said, he just keeps a cover on his pool. Besides, Veggs added, "the flies bite you when you get down there and try to swim."

Veggs said he and his wife have lived in their home for 30 years and can remember when they could sit in their backyard and see nothing but trees. Now they have a view of at least 18 horses kept in corrals and barns on four surrounding residences. Veggs said most of his neighbors do their best to keep their places clean, but "it's sort of like spitting against the wind. You just can't do it well enough with that quantity of horses."

Investigation of Complaints

Meanwhile, Jones said, the city has been taking a more active role in seeing that complaints are investigated by county inspectors. Jones said he has been informed of about 12 "problem" properties in the past few months.

Jones cited the handling of a complaint made earlier this year. It involved a property owner who was keeping too many horses and had allowed manure to pile up to the point where it had become a health hazard. Jones said he met with county officials to inspect the site and later called to make sure the problem had been resolved.

The errant property owner was issued a citation and given seven days from the time of the inspection to get rid of the extra horses and haul off the pile of manure. The matter was taken care of right away, Jones said, adding, "If we had to follow up five times, we would."

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