An "over-the-fence" dispute between homeowners in the Bridle Path neighborhood of Simi Valley has prompted the City Council to rethink its policy of allowing llamas on property zoned only for horses.
Council members on Monday rejected an appeal of a Planning Commission decision that allows llamas on the small ranches. But they directed city staff to draw up policy changes that could ultimately prohibit more llamas in the future.
The debate began last year when resident Penny Wilson complained that her neighbor, Charmaine Pelter, purchased a young llama named Fantasia from another Simi Valley homeowner.
Wilson complained to the city Planning Department that llamas should not be allowed in a neighborhood zoned for horses only.
The trouble is, planning officials had already ruled in 1987 that llamas were equal to horses for zoning purposes, and that the South American beasts of burden are entitled to live in the same neighborhoods.
It is that 8-year-old decision that Wilson and others wanted reconsidered. But last December, the Simi Valley Planning Commission sided with the city staff's 1987 ruling.
Late Monday, Wilson and a handful of other residents of the Bridle Path neighborhood asked the City Council to overrule the commission. But following a lively public hearing, the council refused.
Llamas "more closely fit in with the horses," Councilwoman Sandi Webb said. "They are used the same as donkeys and ponies. They're far more similar to horses than they are to cows."
But Mayor Greg Stratton disagreed, saying llamas are not typically used for riding and do not belong in a community crisscrossed with trails. "This is a question that has really got to be answered by the people," Stratton said. "We want to try and make this as representative of possible of your lifestyle."
About 1,000 city residents live in horses-only communities, but beyond the two hours of emotional testimony from Bridal Path residents Monday, few have expressed their views. Council members say a proposed ordinance banning llamas would generate more public discussion.
Wilson declined to discuss her complaints Monday. But in a January letter to Simi Valley Mayor Greg Stratton, she complained that the animals might scare her horses if they were to meet on a trail.
"Horses are timid creatures and flight is their defense," she wrote. "They also respond to the distinct odor of other animals, should they encounter (them) on the trail."
Janet McKinney, another Bridle Path resident who complained about the llama to city officials, also declined to discuss the situation Monday.
Pelter, who said Fantasia has become part of the family, said, "It's absolutely been blown way out of proportion. I could understand if there had been a serious accident or someone had been injured, but even (llama opponents) will tell you there's never been an accident of any kind."
Greg Dames is the Simi Valley insurance investigator who sold the year-old llama to the Peltons early last year. He said Monday that of all residents, horse owners should be the last to complain about other pets.
"For people who own horses, it's like the pot calling the kettle black," said Dames, who breeds the animals and keeps 13 on his two-acre Montgomery Ranch spread.
"Anyone who owns animals has got to resign to the fact that there are going to be some odors," he said.
Simmering since the Pelters bought their 300-pound llama a week after the Northridge earthquake, the debate has polarized the neighborhood for months.
Fed up with Wilson and others making a stink over the llamas, Bridle Path homeowners threw Wilson and others off the association's board of directors last month, according to a letter of apology the board wrote to the City Council.
Dames likened the whole dispute to an "over-the-fence battle and the harassment of the Pelters family."