As they ride along the rustic trails of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, horse owners are haunted by one thought: Will these trails be here in one year, five years or 10 as development continues to change the landscape?
Making sure that they are is the job of the Palos Verdes Peninsula Horsemens Assn., whose 400 members keep a close watch on the trail network that links the Peninsula cities. Many came to the Peninsula so they could live rural lives, with their barns and corrals only a few steps from their back doors.
"Preserving and protecting the trails and sharing information about horses is what we are about," said Ann Lewin, a Torrance attorney who lives in Rolling Hills Estates and heads the association.
Formed in 1982 because of concerns about horse-keeping in Rolling Hills Estates, the association recently took its first legal action against a developer when it sued Cayman Development Co. for allegedly blocking a long-established trail with its luxurious 95-home Island View complex in Rancho Palos Verdes.
Cayman countered by saying there are no horse trails within its property. The case is scheduled for trial Aug. 26 in Torrance Superior Court, but attempts are being made to settle it.
The association also is tangling with Cayman over another proposed development--this one involving 600 homes and centered on the old Chandler sand and gravel quarry in Rolling Hills Estates--that it says threatens trails and horse-keeping.
Both the developer and the city have given assurances that trails will be preserved, but Lewin said the Island View incident makes her fear that Cayman will not protect the "rights of horsemen."
"Developers don't want trails because they make property less valuable," said Lewin.
Some directors of the association say that non-equestrian development on the Peninsula poses a very real threat to the horse-keeping community because the political tide could turn against them. Land values make the subdivision of horse property tempting, they say.
Andy Terralavoro, an aerospace engineer who came to Rolling Hills Estates 22 years ago, said some trails have been lost, and there is a growing number of newer residents who are hostile to horses.
"They think we block the street and they are not willing to give us the right of way," he said.
Hysterical and wrong are two of the words that have been used to describe the association's activism. But even critics give the horse owners credit for dedication and tenacity.
"They serve a purpose, but they're wrong about us," said Don J. Owen, Cayman's vice president. Citing the 105 horse lots Cayman put in The Ranch development in Rolling Hills Estates, Owen said, "We are not anti-horse."
Rolling Hills Estates Mayor Jerome Belsky said the association's alarm about his city is misdirected. "We have done all we could through the years to preserve and expand equestrian facilities. There is no reason in the world why anyone would think the city would change that in the future."
In Rancho Palos Verdes, a difference of opinion has arisen over which horse trails exist and which do not. Sharon Hightower, environmental services director, said the city has found "no evidence" of horse trails near Island View.
But Lewin sharply disagrees: "Trails have always existed there, but now when you get to Island View, you have to ride in the street."
Hightower said that while Rancho Palos Verdes has some equestrian areas, anti-horse sentiment "pops up." She said "people don't want trails near their homes" because of dust and noise.
She said a development next to Island View that was built in the late 1970s was to have been equestrian until neighbors objected. It was changed to conventional housing.
Hightower said the city's master plan, adopted last fall, recognizes only "major" trails and that the city attempts to secure easements to legally protect them.
But as far as the horsemen's association is concerned, the plan leaves out a few well-worn trails.