Rancho Palos Verdes City Council
   

TO: HONORABLE MAYOR AND MEMBERS OF THE CITY COUNCIL

FROM: DIRECTOR OF PLANNING, BUILDING AND CODE ENFORCEMENT

DATE: MAY 20, 2003

SUBJECT: REVIEW OF LARGE DOMESTIC ANIMAL NONCONFORMITY STATEMENT NO. 26 [SUTTON, 16 PEPPERTREE DRIVE]

Staff Coordinator: Kit Fox, AICP, Senior Planner

RECOMMENDATION

Re-open the public hearing, and determine the maximum number of large domestic animals that may be "grandfathered" for keeping and/or boarding on the property at 16 Peppertree Drive.

BACKGROUND

On March 18, 2003, the City Council concluded its review of the disputed Large Domestic Animal Nonconformity Statement No. 26 and, based upon the evidence that was presented at that time, determined that the subject properties did not qualify for the "grandfathering" of nonconforming horse boarding and/or keeping pursuant to Section 17.46.080 of the Rancho Palos Verdes Development Code. At the City Attorney’s suggestion, Staff prepared a draft Resolution to memorialize the City Council’s action in this matter, which was presented for the City Council’s consideration on April 15, 2003. However, at that meeting, Mr. Sutton—who had attended none of the previous public hearings at which this matter was discussed—addressed the City Council and asked for the matter to be re-opened so that he could provide additional evidence and testimony in support of his request. The City Council agreed to re-open the matter for discussion at tonight’s meeting.

DISCUSSION

Since the hearing has been re-opened and there has been a considerable amount of testimony and correspondence submitted at previous hearings, Staff felt that it was important to present the complete record of evidence in this matter to the Council. Therefore, attached to this Staff report are copies of all of the previous City Council Minutes and Staff reports regarding this matter. Included with the previous Staff reports are copies of all other materials provided by other interested parties at the previous City Council meetings, consisting mainly of materials submitted by Robert Maxwell. In addition, copies of late correspondence from interested parties and additional materials submitted by Mr. Sutton on April 15, 2003 and May 7, 2003 are attached to this report and discussed below.

Late Correspondence from Interested Parties

On April 15, 2003, Staff received letters (via facsimile) from three interested parties who purportedly boarded horses on the Suttons’ property in the past. Due to the late arrival of these letters, they were not discussed in the City Council Staff report that evening. All three letters were from parties who had submitted previous correspondence in support of Mr. Sutton’s request, and each letter basically modified another letter that had been submitted previously. Copies of both the revised letters submitted on April 15, 2003 and their respective original versions are attached to tonight’s Staff report for the Council’s review and consideration:

  • Edward J. Sutton (relationship unknown) submitted a revised version of a letter originally dated February 28, 2003. The revised letter (dated April 9, 2003) states that two (2) horses were boarded on the Sutton’s property from mid-1968 to September 1975, and that two (2) horses were boarded from mid-1996 through January 1998. The revised letter also states that "there were always at least 10 horses stabled there." By comparison, the original letter stated that three (3) horses were boarded between 1967 and 1977, two (2) horses boarded between 1987 and 1989, and two (2) horses boarded between 1991 and 1996; and concluded by stating that "there were always 12-14 horses stabled there." It should be noted that the horses that Edward J. Sutton now claims were boarded on the property from mid-1996 through January 1998 were not listed on the nonconformity statement as being present on February 1, 1997.
  • Marlina Chap submitted a revised version of a letter originally dated February 27, 2003. The revised letter (also dated February 27, 2003) added the statement that "[the] date [Ms. Chap’s horse, Annie,] lived there was from January 1989 to her death in September 1998." By comparison, the original letter did not explicitly state the time period when the horse was boarded there. Ms. Chap’s horse was listed on the Suttons’ nonconformity statement as being present on February 1, 1997. It should be noted that, at the March 18, 2003 City Council meeting, the Council found that Ms. Chap’s original letter did not conclusively demonstrate that her horse was boarded on the Suttons’ property because it did not explicitly state that the horse was boarded during a particular period of time that included February 1, 1997.
  • Bill Mockridge submitted a revised version of a letter originally dated February 27, 2003. The revised letter (dated April 9, 2003) states that two (2) horses were boarded on the Sutton’s property from 1976 to 1986, and from January 1995 through February 1998. The revised letter also states that "[there] were always at least 10 horses stabled there." By comparison, the original letter stated that three (3) horses were boarded between 1967 and 1976, two (2) horses boarded between 1976 and 1987, and two (2) horses boarded from 1999 to some unspecified date; and also included a statement that "[there] were always 12-14 horses stabled there." It should be noted that, at the March 18, 2003 City Council meeting, the Council found that Mr. Mockridge’s original letter did not conclusively demonstrate that his horses were boarded on the Suttons’ property because it did not explicitly state that the horses were boarded during a particular period of time that included February 1, 1997. In addition, the Suttons’ original nonconformity statement listed three (3) horses belonging to Mr. Mockridge, who now states that he had only two (2) horses boarded on the Suttons’ property at the time.

Additional Evidence from Mr. Sutton

At the City Council meeting on April 15, 2003, Mr. Sutton submitted packets of information to the City Council. A great deal of this information had already been presented to the City Council in the Staff report from the March 18, 2003 meeting. However, there were a few new items included in this packet:

  • The cover letter (undated) summarizes the materials in this packet, including the revised materials described below. According to the cover letter, there were continuously ten (10) horses present on the property, with eight (8) horses boarded on the property between 1967 and 1975, seven (7) horses boarded between 1976 and 1986, and seven (7) horses boarded from 1997 onward.
  • The list of animals and their owners on February 1, 1997 has been revised. The revised list states that ten (10) horses were present on that date: three (3) horses owned by the Suttons, one (1) horse boarded by Marlina Chap, two (2) horses boarded by Marilyn Gale, two (2) horses boarded by Bill Mockridge, and two (2) horses boarded by Edward Sutton. By comparison, on the original list (submitted to the City on February 21, 2003), Bill Mockridge had three (3) boarded horses listed, Edward Sutton had no boarded horses listed, and Adrienne Murray had one (1) boarded horse listed. It should be noted that, at the March 18, 2003 meeting, the only evidence of a boarded horse on the Sutton’s property on February 1, 1997 that was accepted by the City Council was Ms. Murray’s statement that her horse was "boarded there at that time period."
  • Copies of the late-correspondence letters from Marlina Chap, Bill Mockridge and Edward Sutton (discussed above) were enclosed in the April 15, 2003 packet.
  • The list of animals and their owners kept and boarded from 1976 to 1986 has been revised. The revised list states that ten (10) horses were present during this period: three (3) horses owned by the Suttons, two (2) horses boarded by Sheri Hastings, one (1) horse boarded by Suzanne Pakkala, two (2) horses boarded by Ed and Beth Abel, and two (2) horses boarded by Bill Mockridge. By comparison, on the original list (submitted to the City on February 21, 2003), twelve (12) horses were listed during this period, including three (3) horses boarded by Pat Hubble but only one (1) horse boarded by Ed and Beth Abel.
  • The list of animals and their owners kept and boarded from 1967 to 1975 has been revised. The revised list states that ten (10) horses were present during this period: two (2) horses owned by the Suttons, six (6) horses boarded by William Mockridge (i.e., Bill Mockridge’s father), and two (2) horses boarded by Edward Sutton. By comparison, on the original list (submitted to the City on February 21, 2003), fourteen (14) horses were listed during this period, including three (3) horses owned by the Suttons, two (2) horses boarded by Pat Hubble, and three (3) other horses whose owners were listed only as Beth, Julie and Teresa.
  • A diagram of the facilities on the 3.46-acre parcel was provided.
  • A separate packet (labeled ‘ADDENDUM’) was included, which discussed issues related to the seizure of horses from the Suttons’ property in 2001. As discussed in the January 21, 2003 Staff report, the City is aware of this action and the resulting plea agreement by Mr. Sutton in March 2002. However, since this material relates to activities on the property after the critical dates for the nonconformity statement (i.e., July 1, 1975 and February 1, 1997) and provides no information regarding the numbers of horses present on those dates, this material is not relevant to the matter at hand.

Following the April 15, 2003 City Council meeting, Staff sent a letter to the Suttons, asking them to submit any additional information and evidence in support of their nonconformity statement to the City by May 7, 2003 so that it could be included in this Staff report. On May 7, 2003, the Suttons submitted a letter summarizing their request and responding to some of the oral comments from surrounding neighbors at the March 18, 2003 hearing:

  • The Suttons reiterated their claim that there were ten (10) horses present in 1975, of which eight (8) were boarded by William Mockridge and Edward Sutton. Their original statement indicated that the Suttons had "maintained up to 12 horses, of which 5 or more were lawfully boarded on the property" since the late 1960’s. Section 17.46.080 of the Rancho Palos Verdes Municipal Code did not require the submittal of specific information about horsekeeping (i.e., the ownership of the horses kept and/or boarded) in 1975. As such, the Suttons revised claim of eight (8) boarded horses and two (2) horses of their own in 1975 is generally consistent with–and serves to clarify—their original statement.
  • The Suttons now state that there were eleven (11) horses present in 1997, with the inclusion of Adrienne Murray’s horse, which was not included in the revised list submitted to the City Council on April 15, 2003 (but was included on the original nonconformity statement in 1997). The table below summarizes the changes to the number of horses purportedly kept and boarded on the Suttons’ property on February 1, 1997, based upon their original statement and the additional information that has been submitted to the City since February 2003.

 

Original Statement

Revised Statement

Non-Boarded Horses

Everett & Marlene Sutton

3

3

Boarded Horses

Adrienne Murray

1

1

Marlina Chap

1

1

Marilyn Gale

2

2

Bill Mockridge

3

2

Edward Sutton

0

2

Total Horses in 1997

10

11

It should be noted, however, that since the original nonconformity statement only listed ten (10) horses present on February 1, 1997, and the change to eleven (11) horses was not made timely pursuant to Section 17.46.080 of the Rancho Palos Verdes Municipal Code, Staff recommends that the City Council not consider "grandfathering" more than ten (10) horses for the Suttons’ property.

  • The Suttons dispute statements made by surrounding neighbors on March 18, 2003, regarding the neighbors’ observations of the number of horses present in 1975 and in 1997.

Photographic Evidence

At the March 18, 2003, Robert Maxwell provided a color print of a photograph that had previously been available to Staff only as a "second generation" black-and-white photocopy. The photograph was purported to have been taken in 1975, and to show that there was no boarding activity on the Suttons’ property at that time. Staff believed that the black-and-white photocopy was too unclear to conclusively prove whether or not there were horses or horsekeeping facilities on the property. However, we now believe that the color print of this photo seems to demonstrate that there were no obvious horsekeeping facilities on the 3.46-acre property on the date that the photo was taken.

The Suttons have disputed the date on which this photo was purportedly taken. As the City Council may recall, Mr. Maxwell presented the slide from which this photograph was printed, which bore a date indicating that it was processed in September 1975. The Suttons claim that the photo must have been taken before they purchased the property in the mid-1960’s. Staff has reviewed several aerial photographs in the City’s files—taken in December 1972, March 1976 and June 1997—and compared them to the color photograph submitted by Mr. Maxwell. Staff believes that the improvements (or the lack thereof) shown on the 1972 and 1976 aerial photographs are consistent with the photograph supplied by Mr. Maxwell, which was purportedly taken in 1975. The City’s 1997 aerial photograph clearly shows a large barn/corral structure on the 3.46-acre parcel that is not present in any of the earlier photos.

Summary of Available Evidence

In reviewing the complete record of testimony and correspondence, there have been numerous claims and statements made by a number of individual relative to the number of horses and when they were kept on the Suttons’ property. Staff has listed the various claims and statements below under the respective questions that the City Council must answer in order to grant the Suttons’ "grandfathering" request. In reviewing these claims and statements, the City Council will undoubtedly notice that many of these claims and statements conflict with one another. To assistant the City Council in sorting out all of this material, Staff has prepared a matrix (attached) that summarizes this information.

The matrix displays the numbers of horses kept and boarded on the Suttons property from 1967 through 1997, based upon the Suttons’ written statements and those of their former boarders and other interested parties. The number of horses are highlighted in the matrix for the critical dates in 1975 and 1997. The matrix also includes summaries of the observations of other interested parties, as well as evidence available in the City’s files and from other sources. Based upon all of this information, there are two critical questions that the City Council must answer in order to determine the number of horses to be "grandfathered" for the Suttons’ property.

Question 1: Were five (5) or more horses legally boarded on the subject properties on July 1, 1975?

Available Evidence Related to Question 1:

  • The Suttons nonconformity statement (submitted on October 3, 1997) states that they had "maintained up to 12 horses, of which 5 or more were lawfully boarded on the property" since 1969.
  • The August 19, 1976 Planning Commission Staff report for Special Animal Permit No. 6 stated that the Suttons "[had] previously kept a maximum of six (6) horses at one time on said property, and presently [maintain] only one [horse]".
  • An undated notation on the file control sheet for 16 Peppertree Drive lists a code violation "12 horses at 16 Peppertree" (approximate date of this notation is between August 17, 1981 and July 25, 1983).
  • A photocopy of a 1975 photograph submitted by Ray Green on January 5, 1999 purported to show that there was no boarding activity on the Suttons’ property at that time (the photo is unclear). However, Robert Maxwell has provided a color print of this photograph, which does not appear to include any obvious horsekeeping facilities, particularly the large barn and corral structure that exists today.
  • Joe and Toni Deeble have provided written and oral statements that there were no horses kept on the Suttons’ property prior to 1977 (County Assessor’s records show that the Deebles purchased their adjoining property on August 18, 1976).
  • At the public hearing on March 18, 2003, Robert Maxwell, Betty Strauss, Daphne Clark and Jeanne Smolley all spoke about their personal observations and experiences of living near the Suttons’ properties in 1975, and provided testimony that they had generally observed no more than one horse kept on the Suttons’ property at that time in the mid-1970’s.
  • Copies of several letters provided by the Suttons—dating from 1968 through 1976—show that the Suttons had requested permission to construct a stable on the 3.46-acre parcel, but contain no information about the number of horses kept and/or boarded at that time.
  • A letter from Edward J. Sutton (relationship unknown), dated April 9, 2003 and provided by the Suttons, states that two horses were boarded on the Suttons’ property between 1968 and 1975.
  • Bill Mockridge’s letter of April 9, 2003 states that his father, William Mockridge, boarded six (6) horses on the Suttons’ property between 1967 and 1975
  • The Suttons’ summary of horses kept on the property between 1967 and 1975 lists eight (8) boarded horses and two (2) horses of their own.
  • Letters from Kenny Kreman, a local farrier, and Donald Fraser, a Portuguese Bend resident, both state that there were as many as ten (10) horses on the property in the mid-1970’s, while a letter from Kenneth Romberg, who supplied horse feed to the Suttons in the mid-1970’s, states that there were twelve (12) to fifteen (15) horses present on the property.

Question 2: Were ten (10) horses kept (seven (7) of them boarded) on the subject properties on February 1, 1997?

Available Evidence Related to Question 2:

  • The Suttons nonconformity statement (submitted on October 3, 1997) states that they had "modular facilities which house 10 horses," and includes a list of the horses’ owners indicating that seven (7) of them were boarded.
  • Staff observed four (4) horses on the Suttons’ property during an inspection on October 6, 1998.
  • Ray Green’s written statement of January 5, 1999 indicated that "[the] current use of the property is below 10 horses."
  • Joe and Toni Deeble have provided written and oral statements that there were "four horses [on the Suttons’ property] when this controversy began" in 1994, that they observed an average of three to five horses on the property between 1977 and 1999, and that the only exception was in 1997 when additional horses were brought onto the property, allegedly to "boost" the number of horses for the nonconformity statement.
  • Copies of several letters provided by the Suttons, dating from 1997 through 2003, state that some number of horses—ranging from no more than ten (10) horses to as many as fifteen (15) horses—were kept and/or boarded on the property.
  • The revised responses to Staff’s inquiries of the parties listed on the Suttons’ original nonconformity statement appear to support the presence of at least four (4) horses boarded on the property on February 1, 1997: two (2) by Bill Mockridge and one (1) each by Adrienne Murray and Marlina Chap. The boarding of four (4) horses is not nonconforming under the current Municipal Code and would not require "grandfathering."
  • The City’s 1997 aerial photographs depict a large, barn/corral structure with 10-12 stalls on the 3.46-acre parcel, which is consistent with the structures observed during the site inspection on October 6, 1998. This structure is clearly not present in the City’s aerial photographs from 1972 and 1976, or in the color photograph provided by Robert Maxwell.

The Suttons have provided evidence of their ownership of the property on July 1, 1975 in the form of grant deeds, but the evidence of the number of horses boarded at that time and on February 1, 1997 is still sketchy. The persons who disputed Staff’s determination in this matter asserted that the number of horses listed and described in the Suttons’ statement were exaggerated and should not be used as a basis for determining the number of animals "grandfathered" for the property. At the March 18, 2003 meeting, the City Council generally accepted this argument and found that there was not sufficient evidence presented to support the Suttons’ claim. As a result, the City Council determined that the Suttons’ property did not qualify for "grandfathering," and only four (4) horses would be allowed to be kept and/or boarded, as permitted "by right" pursuant to Sections 17.46.020 and 17.46.030 of the Rancho Palos Verdes Municipal Code. If the City Council finds that the additional information presented by the Suttons and other interested parties constitutes sufficient evidence to "grandfather" the keeping and/or boarding of more than four (4) horses, then the City Council could consider granting the Suttons’ request for the keeping of up to ten (10) horses, of which a maximum of seven (7) horses could be boarded in perpetuity or for some other shorter period of time as allowed by Section 17.46.080(C) of the Rancho Palos Verdes Municipal Code.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Notice of the City Council’s continued discussion of this matter has been provided to the Suttons and all other interested parties.

CONCLUSION

Staff is seeking direction from the City Council on the following issues with respect to Nonconformity Statement No. 26:

  • How many horses should be allowed to be kept on the property?
  • How many of the horses allowed to be kept on the property can be boarded horses?
  • May the nonconforming boarding of horses on the property continue in perpetuity, or will it be subject to the sunset provisions of Municipal Code?

FISCAL IMPACT

The subject matter of this item will have no fiscal impact upon the City, regardless of the action taken.

ALTERNATIVES

The alternatives available for the City Council’s consideration include:

  1. Grant the property owner’s original request to "grandfather" ten (10) horses for the subject properties, of which up to seven (7) horses may be boarded in perpetuity.
  2. Determine a different number of horses to "grandfather" for keeping and/or boarding on the subject properties, and determine the period of time for which any nonconforming boarding may continue.
  3. Determine that the keeping and/or boarding of horses on the subject property does not qualify for "grandfathering."

Respectfully submitted:
Joel Rojas, AICP, Director of Planning, Building and Code Enforcement

Reviewed by:
Les Evans, City Manager

Attachments:

  • Late correspondence submitted on April 15, 2003
  • Additional information submitted by the Suttons on April 15 and May 7, 2003
  • Robert Maxwell’s comments and photo (as submitted on March 18, 2003)
  • Summary matrix of horse boarding and keeping, 1967 through 1997
  • City Council Minutes and Staff report of October 15, 2002
  • City Council Minutes and Staff report of January 21, 2003
  • City Council Minutes and Staff report of February 18, 2003
  • City Council Minutes and Staff report of March 18, 2003
  • City Council Staff report and draft Resolution No. 2003-__ of April 15, 2003