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They're in a Billy Goat Huff

Neighbors in Pacific Palisades take issue with Linda Schilcher's brush-clearing herd.

August 31, 2004|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

First she got her nannies and billies. Then she got Pacific Palisades' goat.

And now the four-legged weed-eaters that Linda Schilcher hoped would nibble a firebreak around her Westside neighborhood are instead carving a rift right down the middle of it.

Schilcher has assembled a small herd of grazing goats that she puts to work each day clearing brush on hillsides above Pacific Palisades and Brentwood. While she looks for a permanent place to keep them, the animals sleep at night in a covered trailer in front of her home in the 600 block of Enchanted Way.

Some residents of the neighborhood, with its $1.5-million ocean-view homes, see the goats as a cute addition. But others say they are a nuisance that should be packed up and taken out of town.

Leaders of the Marquez Knolls Neighborhood Assn., representing 1,475 homes in the area, say they have tried over the last two months to persuade Los Angeles police, animal control officers and zoning inspectors to get rid of the goats. There have been complaints about the goats' smell and their droppings.

"This is a residential area, and some people don't want them here. I called the police and they laughed. They said, 'Do you want us to arrest the goats? They aren't parked illegally,' " said Kurt Toppel, president of the homeowners group.

"Having goats here doesn't seem to be an infraction. But why not? It should be."

Schilcher says association officials have warned her that if the goats aren't gone by the end of this week, they will seek a municipal ordinance specifically prohibiting goat-keeping on city streets.

Currently, goats are banned from being raised on property not zoned for agricultural use. Permanent pens and goat sheds are not allowed on small, residential-size lots.

But they can be kept in properly registered vehicles parked on public streets, provided the animals are being humanely treated and the vehicle is moved every three days. Schilcher tows her straw-lined, water trough-equipped trailer each day to nearby canyons to graze the goats, so she meets those requirements.

Schilcher said she has tried to assure everyone that the mobile goat pen is temporary until she can find suitable open space for the animals.

She intends to use movable fencing and shelters so the goats do not have to be transported daily by vehicle.

Finding such land has been harder than expected, however. Even though property owners face tough brush-clearance requirements, none of those Schilcher has contacted have invited her goats to move in.

Toppel said some fear that Schilcher's goats have become a permanent neighborhood fixture. He said residents are concerned that goat droppings could end up in storm drains that empty into Santa Monica Bay. Schilcher denies the possibility, saying the droppings are contained in the trailer.

For Schilcher, in her 50s, the last thing she expected when she rescued her animals from local shelters was to end up in a neighborhood catfight.

She is an internationally known scholar and expert on rural Syrian culture and agriculture who has taught at UCLA, Villanova University and the University of Arkansas.

It was at the Fayetteville, Ark., school's King Fahd Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies that Schilcher said she encountered administrative problems in the 1990s that prompted her to join in a federal lawsuit alleging discrimination, obstruction of free speech and retaliation.

The case is still in the courts, and Schilcher said stress from the dispute prompted her to rethink her career.

"I found you couldn't get support for your work without experiencing political overtones. Everything in that field has an added dimension -- if you say Arab poetry is phenomenal, you're 'pro-Arab.' You can't get away from the damned politics," she said.

"I thought I might want to go into dairy work, so I trained with a goat-milk farmer and I fell in love with the animals. I decided I couldn't do Middle Eastern stuff anymore. I decided I'd rather herd goats instead."

Schilcher adopted four abandoned goats from the East Valley Animal Shelter and a fifth from the West Los Angeles Shelter. She also adopted a young border collie mix and set out to train it to help herd her three Nubians and two Angoras.

Between excursions into the hills with her goats -- they graze daily on privately owned vacant land in Mandeville Canyon -- Schilcher works as a live-in caregiver for a Pacific Palisades woman with Alzheimer's disease.

Schilcher hopes to expand her herd and turn their brush-clearing into a business serving hillside property owners. She said movable pens, along with a simple low-voltage fence system she owns, would allow her goats to move easily around large parcels and help landowners comply with Los Angeles fire-safety laws, which require the removal of brush within 200 feet of structures.

Property owners aren't flocking to the goats' trailer door, however.

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