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100 goats are put to work downtown

The animals are eating their way through thick weeds on a slope next to Angels Flight.

September 09, 2008|Bob Pool | Times Staff Writer

The hills were alive with the sound of munching.

In fact, the only things that seemed missing Monday when a herd of goats climbed up a weed-choked lot in the Bunker Hill high-rise district were Julie Andrews and the Von Trapp family singers.

Leaders of the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency hired 100 goats to nibble away thick weeds on a steep slope at the corner of 4th and Hill streets, next to the Angels Flight funicular.

Agency officials said the goats were cheaper and more environmentally friendly than two-legged brush-clearers armed with gasoline-powered weed-whackers.

And they are much more fun to watch, downtown office workers and other passersby quickly decided, as the animals fanned out over the 45-degree slope and chowed down.

Commuters emerging from the Red Line subway who came face-to-face with the goats reached for their cellphones and snapped pictures.

"My friends won't believe this unless they see it," said Vicky Bravo, a student who lives south of downtown.

Sam Vera, an auto repairman, pulled a digital camera from his backpack to photograph the grazing goats with the glass-walled California Plaza high-rise gleaming above them.

"This is absolutely beautiful. It's a wonderful contrast to the big buildings around here," he said.

Some wondered whether the goats were part of a movie scene or some kind of performance art, while others made jokes about the approaching lunch hour and goat barbecue.

On the hillside above, goat-keeper George Gonzales dismissed such talk.

"These just came from Monrovia and Duarte, and they have poison oak all over them. You don't want to touch them," he said of the goats.

He said his crew would work long hours over the next week to 10 days and "won't collect a pension or charge for working overtime and won't call in sick." If any of them lose their appetite, his wife, veterinarian Liz Gonzales, will tend to them, he said.

An electrified fence helps corral the goats and keeps them from falling over a retaining wall at the base of the slope. Security guards will be on duty when he is not there to watch over the herd, said Gonzales, 71, of Chino.

Most of the South African Boer goats are female, Gonzales said. To keep them focused on their eating, males in the herd have been castrated, he said.

Redevelopment agency head Cecilia Estolano said the goats were being rented for $3,000. The cost of hiring workmen to clear the 2 1/2 -acre hillside would have totaled as much as $7,500.

The brush-covered hillside lot, called Angels Knoll, is topped by a grassy park that is maintained by the city.

Eventually, the lot is slated to become the site of a third mixed-use California Plaza tower.

At lunchtime, a steady stream of California Plaza office workers came to the small park to get a close-up peek at the goats, some of which were leaping into the air to snag a taste of tree leaves hanging over the lot.

On the corner below the hill, a street musician belted out a bluesy jazz tune on his saxophone.

"Instead of jazz, they should be playing Rodgers & Hammerstein," suggested one of the office workers, Michael Alexander. The Mount Washington resident is in charge of the California Plaza arts program.

"You know which one I'm talking about: the 'Lonely Goatherd' song from 'Sound of Music.' "

Alexander whistled a few notes from the tune, which most remember as the yodeling song.

Busily lunching on their weed buffet, Bunker Hill's goats didn't even look up.

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bob.pool@latimes.com

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