In the Old West, monkeying around with someone's horses could result in being faced down by a crowd and ending up on the wrong end of a knotted rope. In present-day Yorba Linda, however, things are more civilized. The mob leaves the rope at home.
Now they go to Planning Commission meetings in force and discuss things a little more gently.
The issue in question, especially for the people who live on the 18000 block of Villa Terrace: Should the city continue to allow horses to be kept in residents' front yards?
"For people who move to Yorba Linda, horses probably account for about half their life style," said Carol Metz, president of Yorba Linda Country Riders, a 250-member equestrian club. "People come here so they can have a horse on their land and raise animals and bring up their families in a rural atmosphere that isn't far from city life. So if those people start thinking that their horses aren't welcome here, that makes them nervous."
On Oct. 15, nearly 100 local horse owners got so nervous that they hitched up their horse trailers, drove to a meeting of the Yorba Linda Planning Commission and vented their feelings. They lashed banners with pro-horse slogans to their trailers and filled the City Hall parking lot and, later, the commission chambers. Discussion was earnest.
The controversy arose when residents of the short 18000 block of Villa Terrace learned that Jack and Ivy Hamlett, who moved into a house on the block Sept. 2, planned to build a box stall in their front yard and keep their four horses there. Although the city allows horses to be kept in front yards as long as the lot setback meets a minimum depth (which varies among zoning areas), no other resident of the block keeps horses in the front yard. (Neighbors on the other side of the street from the Hamletts keep horses in the backyard.)
"Horses in the front yard don't fit in with the way this neighborhood is maintained," said Bob Kennedy, who lives next door to the Hamletts. "It will make a tremendous change in the neighborhood. We're very unhappy about it. Six or seven people here are talking about moving out."
The neighbors on Villa Terrace, said Kennedy, objected to the sight of horses in the yard as well as what they claimed would be the danger of horse urine and manure contaminating the water that occasionally flows in a shallow flood control channel that runs through the front yards of residents on the Hamletts' side of the street.
They asked the commission to study a plan that would require residents to apply for conditional use permits to keep horses in their front yards. With one member absent, the commission split its vote on the issue, which will receive a public hearing before the City Council on Nov. 17.
Ivy Hamlett said that because her house does not have a sufficient amount of land in the back, there was no choice in boarding the horses in the front. Also, she said, the box stall would not contain any unclean material.
The neighbors' response, said Hamlett, occasionally has been vitriolic. A petition opposing the horses has been circulated and the words "Dead horses don't (defecate)!" were spray-painted on the driveway of the Hamletts' home.
The matter has been called, variously, a one-neighborhood issue, a tempest in a teapot, and the first bit of erosion of the rights of horse owners in Yorba Linda. The fact that it could arouse such widespread and passionate interest underscores the reputation of Yorba Linda as a semi-rural haven for horse lovers in a county that has become increasingly known for its high-tech industry and urban growth.
Known as Horse Area
Even before it was incorporated as a city in 1967, Yorba Linda was a horsing area, said Community Development Director Phil Paxton.
"I don't think there was ever a conscious effort back then to turn it into a horsing area," he said, "but there were quite a lot of horses here at that time. When the city was incorporated, it was included in the general plan to remain equestrian oriented and to maintain a semi-rural atmosphere. I don't know of any other place that does that to the extent Yorba Linda does.
"We were told Yorba Linda was the best equestrian community there was in this area," Hamlett said. "It's one of the few places left where a horse can go anywhere and be loved and accepted."
There are about 42,000 people who live in Yorba Linda, and nearly 1,000 horses. Almost 80% of those animals are kept on their owners' residential property, Paxton said. The remaining 20% are boarded at private stables such as those at Winrock Farms, a large facility owned by Russell and Claire Stewart that caters to show horses.
"To keep a horse on your own property," Claire Stewart said, "it would take about $100 a month or thereabouts. Also, you have to have a place for the horse to move around, and that would take probably a half acre."
Sue Ellen Wright, who trains horses at Winrock Farms, said cleanliness is essential in dealing with horses.