San Juan Capistrano panel wants dinosaur statue removed

The dinosaur replica at Zoomars Petting Zoo in San Juan Capistrano stands 13 feet tall.
(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

The San Juan Capistrano dinosaur is one step closer to extinction after city planning commissioners voted to evict the 40-foot long Apatosaurus statue from a petting zoo in the heart of the city’s oldest neighborhood.

Commissioners said the dinosaur, which peeks onto historic Los Rios Street from the tiny zoo, does not reflect the history of San Juan, which would have been underwater when such animals roamed the Earth.

Carolyn Franks, owner of Zoomars Petting Zoo, said she plans to appeal the commission’s 4-2 vote.


Franks bought the 13-foot-high statue for $12,000 in June, installing it without city permission. Since then, she and a donor have spent more than $30,000 on improvements to the statue and its setting, including leveling the ground where it was placed.

“We’re a historical animal park,” she said, noting that her zoo includes alpacas, goats, rabbits and a few zedonks — a cross between a zebra and a donkey. “The dinosaur is fiberglass. It’s been so exciting for the kids — and what a great way to get kids started in history at the start of history.”

Opponents cite the zoo’s location on historic Los Rios Street, a narrow passageway dotted with buildings more than 200 years old. The road is one of the oldest in California.

Franks said she offered to screen off the statue — which is known by its fans as Juan the Capistrano Dinosaur — from pedestrians’ view if the commission lets the dinosaur stay.

“She came in with good ideas, including screening with trees, and I thought we could find a way to preserve the statue,” said Jeff Parkhurst, a city planning commissioner who said he took both of his daughters to the zoo when they were younger.

“I’m all for learning for kids, but our focus is on the history of San Juan — not the history of dinosaurs,” said Robert Williams, who chairs the planning commission and believes the statue is out of place.

Franks has 15 days to appeal the vote. If the commission isn’t swayed, she can appeal its decision to the City Council.

She said that when she returns to City Hall, she’s considering bringing along some of the children, parents and teachers who support the dinosaur’s continued residency on Los Rios.

“They wanted to wear dinosaur T-shirts because they love the statue,” she said.