Wearing jodhpurs, carrying signs and bearing petitions, more than 120 La Canada Flintridge residents crowded into a City Council meeting Monday to protest proposed regulations to restrict horse keeping in the city.
At issue are changes to a proposed ordinance approved last October by the Planning Commission in a compromise hailed at the time by horse owners and homeowners as a fair solution to the problems of flies, dust and manure. The compromise would have imposed stricter cleanup measures on horse owners but would have left intact a provision requiring 35 feet between stables and neighboring residences.
Two City Council members, however, Monday suggested increasing the 35-foot requirement to 50 feet. The council members, Jack W. Hastings and J. Bixby Smith, said they do not think 35 feet is enough to ensure that residents will not be bothered by their neighbors' horses.
'Trying to Hit a Compromise'
"We're trying to hit a compromise so neighbors can live happily," said Smith, who measured off 50 feet at the council meeting to show how close horses would be kept under his proposal. Two weeks earlier, Hastings had suggested doubling the 35-foot limit.
Horse owners said the 50-foot limit would force many to sell their animals or move out of town.
More than 1,075 of the city's 20,144 residents signed a petition last weekend asking the council to approve the compromise ordinance drafted by the Planning Commission. The 35-foot limit, adopted by the city when it was incorporated 10 years ago, is identical to the county's requirement.
Horse owners concede there are a few unkempt horse yards in the city, but they maintain that increasing the requirement by 15 feet would do little to alleviate flies and odors.
Instead, horse owners say they want the city to enforce existing laws more aggressively. They also say they have no problems with sections of the new ordinance that call for daily spraying for flies, installation of sprinkler systems to control dust and removing manure from grounds and stables every 24 hours.
Environmental Report Sought
Horse owner and attorney Jack Orr told the council Monday that he will ask the city to perform an environmental impact report if it expands the distance to 50 feet. If the council refuses, "I think you'll find yourself in court," Orr said.
City officials proposed a new, stricter ordinance more than a year ago at the urging of homeowners who complained about unsanitary conditions at some horse properties. These conflicts have increased as La Canada Flintridge continues to change from a rural to a suburban community.
"Horses were here before the city was a city," horse owner Elizabeth Anderson told the council. "We have to stand up and say we will not have this going on where horses will be eliminated."
No residents spoke against the horse owners at Monday's meeting, which attracted an unusually large crowd.
City planners estimate that between 150 and 200 horse owners keep up to 600 horses in the city, but no official records exist. La Canada Flintridge is one of the few areas in Los Angeles County where horses are permitted in residential areas, said Dennis Smith, a county animal control officer.
The council took no action Monday but directed its staff to schedule a March 17 public hearing and prepare a new draft with several options that gives the council time to make a decision regarding the distance requirement.
At its next meeting, the council will consider an ordinance provision suggested by Hastings to license horses much the same way dogs are licensed by city and county agencies. The council will also discuss Mayor Barbara Pieper's proposal to take a horse census.
Horse owners also expressed concern about a provision in the new ordinance that would limit horses to five per lot. There is no limit under the current law.
Under the proposed ordinance, those wishing to keep horses must have at least 15,000 square feet and 5,000 square feet per horse. Horse owners can apply for permits if they do not meet these standards, but permits can be denied if two neighbors who live within 500 feet object.
The council has not yet decided whether permits should be issued to the property or its owners. Hastings suggested Monday that permits be issued to either the property's owner or for 20 years, regardless of whether or not the property is sold.
The proposal, commonly known as the horse-keeping ordinance, also applies to other equines, cattle, sheep and goats.