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Publication Date: Wednesday, February 05, 2003

Horse Park deserves second chance Horse Park deserves second chance (February 05, 2003)

Officials of the Horse Park on Sand Hill Road are making all the right moves so far to stay in the good graces of county regulators, who January 15 barred them from maintaining their facilities, grading, and hosting public events until they apply for the proper permits to stay open. Only then will the county consider what operations and events to allow.

Horse Park officials met last week's deadline. On January 27, they submitted applications for a use permit, a grading permit, and a permit for confined animals (formerly a stable permit).

Now the issue is whether the county will establish interim rules that will allow continued operations at the popular Horse Park through the months of study and public hearings that it will take to legalize the operation.

Such interim rules are essential if the Combined Training Equestrian Team Alliance (CTETA), which operates the Horse Park, can continue to stay open. It depends on memberships, fundraising, and revenues from events to pay its bills.

Opened in 1981, the Horse Park now has almost 900 members who pay an annual fee to use Stanford's 270-acre field -- still widely called the Guernsey Field -- near the intersection of Sand Hill Road and Interstate 280. Members say it has become one of the finest horse facilities in the Bay Area.

Each year, more than 2,000 users participate in equestrian events such as cross-country jumping, stadium jumping and dressage. There are seven arenas on the site, parking for trailers, temporary stalls for 248 horses, half a dozen cross-country trails with several ponds for water jumps, and level areas parallel to Sand Hill Road, where temporary stables can be erected for big shows. Some 40 horses now live on the property in three temporary barns and some pasture -- all without benefit of county oversight or permits.

The park's current crisis was triggered by complaints from the Committee for Green Foothills and park neighbors Joan Baez and Eric Brandenburg. They particularly complained about grading with heavy equipment during and after the December storms without any erosion controls. Other complaints focused on unprotected manure piles, grading for parking areas, storage of trailers and vehicles, stables for lots of horses, and large stacks of junk.

Admitting that things got out of hand, park officials are scurrying to get permits and set things right. Last September they hired a full-time manager to put the operation on a professional basis. They have hired a civil engineer to improve land management, and a landscape architect to prepare a master plan, which should be ready by April.

There is no doubt that park officials should have known they needed to clear park operations with the county. But officials say when they applied for a permit five years ago, the county told them nothing needed to be done.

Now the challenge is to keep the park solvent while it cleans up 20 years of sloppy housekeeping and gets on a sound basis with the county. This will require that the county grant interim rules that will allow the park to continue putting on income-producing events, while it goes through the long process of getting permits.

If done properly, the current, environmentally benign horse park is by far the best use of this land. The parcel's lease, which was obtained from Stanford, is up for renewal in a few years, making it important for the CTETA organization to resolve its differences with the county and move forward.

The local horse community needs and deserves a place to hold its events without disturbing its neighbors. The old Guernsey Field is the perfect location and we hope it can continue to offer equestrian events for Peninsula riders.


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