Leon Garcia, a self-employed house painter, looks forward to coming home and riding one of his three horses after work every day.
His three-quarter-acre property includes Garcia’s home (that he rents out), 17 stables (12 horses are on the property), and a newly built six-foot fence which he had hoped would allow him some privacy from the expected construction of a live-work, multi-unit building that threatens to break ground next door.
This proposed project in the 13100 block of Glenoaks Boulevard is part of a larger problem for the whole of Sylmar. It threatens to change one of the last horse communities in the state into denser housing that may, in effect, squeeze these small ranches out of the neighborhood.
Call it a modern-day David vs. Goliath story, with developers on one end and horse owners on the other, each trying to establish or hold on to their legacies and lifestyles.
“My family loves the lifestyle we have here,” Garcia said. “Since we don’t know what will happen, we wait. We don’t want to think of the ruin this will create.
“So (the ranchers) are all talking together. We worry about our property values, and we agree we won’t sell.”
Garcia, a native of Jalisco, bought his property 13 years ago. His neighbors have the similar size or larger properties.
“The reality is that we are losing our culture, and we want to conserve our community the way it is,” Garcia said.
But a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom allows for multi-family housing in single-family zones. Newsom and his proponents claim this new law will help alleviate the housing crisis in California. According to the governor, housing affordability threatens the California dream for families across the state and threatens our long-term growth and prosperity.
The proposed construction next to Garcia was approved by the planning commission in January.
Homeowners Raise Objections Over New Project
The property was sold four years ago and has two small rental homes on it. Soon after the approval, neighbors began to receive notices about the new project and were told they could voice concerns and questions.
Garcia said a dozen owners have filed complaints against the project.
According to the promotional information, the project offers two “live-work units to provide a home for new businesses, and an outdoor courtyard to gather and relax.” It would include a “new dining experience with Sylmar rustic charm,” with two outdoor patios and six upstairs residential units plus 119 square-foot balconies.
On the opposite side of the project is an existing restaurant which, according to Garcia, creates its own issues with traffic and parking problems, late hours, and noise.
“I will have no privacy,” he said. “There will be residents looking down on my property. There will be more traffic, more cars, and residents complaining about the smell from the stables.
“We all want to maintain Sylmar as horse properties. It is why we [bought his property].”
Mike Ascione — project manager for Integrity Property Group and a former city planner with the cities of Santa Clarita and Glendale — said he sympathizes with the residents’ concerns but promises that his project is a high-end development with energy-efficient units.
He said his project exceeds the setback requirements for stables. The plan, he said, includes a parking lot adjacent to the ranch.
“It comes down to the quality of the development,” Ascione said. “I hope we can cohabitate with (the equestrian) community and live together. I hope one day Mr. Garcia and others will enjoy the restaurant we have planned.”
According to Ascione, the current structures are closer than the multi-unit project will be. He also said that the project should begin construction in a year, soil tests were taken and his office will soon be sending the final construction documents to the city for approval.
Garcia is not interested in increased density and more commercial activity. Here, life is simpler, he said. Instead of a town hall meeting, these ranchers schedule a ride in the surrounding hills weekly or biweekly. They ride in the mountains and at different passes, more riders join in. Eventually, there are 100 or so riders.
Here is where they talk about the changes to Sylmar and once they get back to town, they talk about ideas, old and new, to maintain this lifestyle. In the past, they’ve talked about the need for a stoplight at a horse crossing or ways to improve the trail so cars don’t block the horses.
Their next big ride is set for Sunday, Oct. 24.
“The word gets out by internet and we get organized,” Garcia said. “We get together to remove branches from a trail. That’s how we are. We all help each other out.”
Rodriguez Holds Zoom Meeting
The dispute is in the district of LA Councilmember Monica Rodriguez, who held a virtual Zoom community meeting at the Stetson Ranch in Sylmar on Tuesday, Oct. 19.
Rodriguez said that as she plans for the new budget, she wanted to find out what the community wanted to have done.
“We’ve been trying to create more trails,” she said. “Working with riders we can learn what are some additional opportunities we should get involved with.”
The Sylmar Channel, for example, she said could be transformed into additional pathways for riders. It is 28.31 acres in size and includes access to bridle and hiking trails, four horseback riding arenas, bleachers, and a parking area.
“My issue is safety,” said Lil Judd, who attended the meeting. “I don’t appreciate the ATVs up there.”
Geronimo Bugarin, a member of Rodriguez’ advisory board, the Sylmar Equine Coalition, and the Asociacion de Charros de Sylmar, listed shade and lighting among his concerns. Diana Bear added fire safety and, along with others, talked about access to water in case there was a fire. And water for the horses.
Another attendee, Horacio Diaz, said new bleachers, round pens, and rental stalls would be good additions.
Toward the end of the one-hour virtual meeting Cheri Blose — chair of the Sylmar Neighborhood Council —raised the issue of there being a cultural shift from being an equestrian community to a community with multi-unit buildings.
“I voted against SB 9 and 10,” Rodriguez responded. “I am frustrated to see the state override local control. I, too, am worried about losing local zoning control to the state.
“I encourage everyone to reach out to your local state representatives with your concerns.”
Anyone with comments about the Stetson Ranch meeting is urged to email Rodriguez at firstname.lastname@example.org and add Stetson Ranch to the subject line.