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Ventura County

Ban on Feeding Wildlife Urged

Health: Ventura will consider a draft ordinance amid concerns about beachfront rodents. The proposal outrages some residents.

September 11, 2002|JESSICA BLANCHARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Calling the rodent population along the beachfront a threat to public health, the Ventura City Council has decided to prepare a draft ordinance that would ban people from feeding wild animals within city limits.

The council's unanimous decision Monday was met with dismay from a handful of residents, who for the past 18 months have been regularly feeding the ground squirrels and seabirds along the Ventura Promenade--as well as, inadvertently, the rats.

Lorraine Freeman, a registered nurse, said the rodents and other wildlife are a tourist attraction, and that discontinuing the animal feedings would be inhumane.

She scoffed at the idea that the rodents pose a health threat and vowed to defy any feeding ban, even if it meant going to jail. She accused the city of attempting to eradicate the beachfront rodents through "species cleansing."

But city officials maintain that the feedings have resulted in an overpopulation of rats and squirrels, irritating beach residents and raising fears about the spread of disease.

Earlier this summer, several rats were tested for plague. Although the results proved negative, officials remain concerned about the potential health threat.

Councilman Neal Andrews, who sponsored the proposed feeding ban, said the city has received numerous complaints about people feeding the rodents. While his proposal does not call for extermination, it would ban people from feeding wild animals.

"This is not an assassination program," Andrews said. "The fact is, this feeding led to the burgeoning of a species that are clearly undesirable."

During the hourlong hearing, several residents joined Freeman in complaining about Andrews' proposed ordinance, chastising officials for their perceived disregard for animal life.

But residents of a condominium complex along the beach disagreed.

Roland Cordobes, one of the residents, blamed the feeders for his building's rat infestation and said he was tired of people treating the rodents "like endangered species."

Other speakers urged the council to examine alternatives to an outright feeding ban. Bill Allen, a longtime Ventura resident, said he enjoys taking his grandchildren to the Promenade to feed the sea gulls and pigeons.

"I can't really believe you would consider enacting an ordinance prohibiting a citizen from feeding one of God's creatures," he said.

Instead, he suggested looking into the possibility of relocating the animals and creating a wildlife sanctuary farther up the beach.

The council voted to direct city staff to draft an ordinance and present it for consideration before the end of the year.

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