OVLC to terminate leases
By Jesse Phelps
The Ojai Valley land Conservancy
has made a decision to terminate all leases on property it owns,
according to executive director Jim Engel.
The conservancy, a private, nonprofit corporation, buys or takes
donations of land in the valley in an attempt to preserve the
natural beauty of the landscape. It typically renovates the areas
it buys, often eliminating non-native flora, ands provides trail
access to the public.
In some cases, Engel said, it has in the past decided to lease
property for various uses. For instance, an orange ranch stands
on a conservancy lot across the Ventura River channel from Rice
Road as a result of a past lease.
The last lessee, Susan Gruber, owns Oso Ranch, a horse boarding
facility just one or two miles from the oranges. Her property
has been the subject of some heated debate in the river-bottom
community in which she lives, but Engel said that didn't figure
into the decision to terminate.
"If we create a new lease for her," said Engel, "could
we justify that without letting anyone else have it?"
The terms of the lease have been extended for one year to give
Gruber an opportunity to plan contingencies, said Engel. He said
he's talked extensively with her and that she understands she's
not being targeted for violations or misuse.
With the addition of the leased property, Gruber's facility encompasses
10 acres, which allows her to board as many animals as she wants.
She said she's had as many as 90 horses but that the current
count is closer to 60.
Gruber owns 7.94 acres adjacent to the leased property, so the
end of her lease won't mean the end of her business. A regulatory
cap on livestock would mean, however, that she'd need to scale
back to 32 horses or obtain a conditional use permit from the
That would please some of her neighbors, who recently petitioned
the conservancy not to renew the lease.
Particularly upset is Mark Hatton, who claimed violations on
Gruber's behalf have contaminated the water supply surrounding
her ranch. In an interview with the newspaper, he complained
that the county, which has no records of any violations, won't
look into the matter with any seriousness. Hatton complained
of flies, dust and other various horse-associated difficulties,
and he also complained that the facility creates traffic congestion.
The war of words has escalated and restraining orders have been
issued. Said Hatton, "I'm not opposed to horses as long
as people treat their neighbors right."
Gruber maintains, however, that Hatton has a vendetta against
"He's turned me in to every county agency available,"
she said. "Never have I been in violation. All have found
me in complete compliance. I'm just a single mom trying to live
While the war of words may never end, Gruber hopes it doesn't
escalate further. For his part, Hatton wrote a celebratory letter
to the paper congratulating the land conservancy on its decision.
All current leases will be phased out when Gruber's lease ends
Aug. 30, 2004. Despite the loss of acreage, she said she'd maintain
a positive outlook.
"I'm looking at the fact that they extended my lease as
a cup half full," said Gruber.
The Ojai Valley News
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