Voters in Los Angeles' Council District 7 go to the polls March 5 to… (City of Los Angeles )
“I used to think it wasn’t all about the horses,” a member of the Shadow Hills Property Owners Assn. told all four candidates for the Los Angeles City Council’s 7th District. The statement drew some quizzical looks from the several dozen other members of the group, gathered for a Jan. 22 City Council candidate forum. Not all about the horses? And then he added:
“But it is. I admit it.”
That’s more like it.
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Shadow Hills is part of the city of Los Angeles, as much as that fact may irk the residents there, and it is part of the 7th District in the Northeast San Fernando Valley, which on March 5 will elect a new member to succeed Richard Alarcon. This little piece of L.A., between Hansen Dam and the wild sage scrub of the Verdugo Hills, bordered roughly by Wentworth Street, Sunland Boulevard and Stonehurst Avenue, is also horse country, and has been officially since 1962, when laws were adopted to change land formerly zoned for agricultural use into the city’s first horse-keeping district.
The minimum lot size was shrunk from the 40,000 square feet used by commercial flower growers and so-called hobby farmers, but only to 20,000 square feet (according to former Shadow Hills resident Laura R. Barraclough's "Making the San Fernando Valley"), not to the much smaller lots that subdividers were staking out elsewhere in the Valley for suburban homes. Health codes were amended to allow residents to keep horses as close as 35 feet from residences, not the 75 feet still required in the disappearing agricultural zones. Los Angeles is urban and suburban, and those two identities are in constant tension. But as Shadow Hills residents continue to insist today, their community is something else. It’s country. In the city.
In his 1991 book “Edge City,” journalist and author Joel Garreau argued that development and living patterns were changing before our eyes but we couldn’t always see them because we have been conditioned to see only urban, suburban and rural land. He said there was something else -- the edge city -- that was attracting investment and upscale residents. One of the qualities of a particular type of edge city was something he called “Nice” -- a place where executives and their spouses would live, and from where they would commute by long drives or even helicopter flights to their corporate towers. To be Nice, an area had to have high SAT scores, scenic vistas, large lots -- and horses. Lots of horses.
But Shadow Hills, not urban and (residents insist) not suburban, is also no edge city. This isn’t corporate executive territory. It’s not Bradbury or Montecito. Property Owners Assn. members certainly have the means to afford larger lots and animals, but they don’t generally ride in corporate limousines. They drive SUVs and pickups.
City Councilman Richard Alarcon seemed to grasp that immediately when he took over here just a few months ago after redistricting detached this near-hidden part of the Valley from Studio City and the Hollywood Hills, far to the south, and put it together with neighbors much closer physically but in many ways more distant in self-perception: Pacoima, Arleta, Sun Valley. SHPOA asked Alarcon for help with trail markers and land-use ordinances. In the few months he represented the area, to the extent that he could deliver, he did.
But, as SHPOA President Dave DePinto pointed out at the recent candidate forum, Shadow Hills has never had a council representative for very long, due to redistricting, term limits, vacancies and elections. Before Alarcon this was in Paul Krekorian’s district, but for months before that, the council office sat empty after Wendy Greuel left early to run for city controller. Redistricting even put this community briefly in the hands of Ruth Galanter, who had been elected to represent distant Venice and Westchester. And before that, Joel Wachs, who also was elected to represent other areas but got redistricted into Shadow Hills and donned a pair of cowboy boots to meet his new constituents.
Things are about to be different. Redistricting puts the current lines in place through the 20-teens and into the 2020s. The council person elected in March or after a May runoff, if necessary, may serve up to 12 years, through 2025. This is it. This council member will be for keeps.
The residents here and in the rest of the 7th District have their choice of -- well, now wait a minute. Do they really have a choice? There are four candidates: Three are home-grown activists and, of those, one is a city employee. As of the end of last year, Jesse David Barron reported raising $865 for the race. Krystee Clark and Nicole Chase each raised about 10 times that much -- in the neighborhood of $8,000.
And former Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes had raised $196,350.67.