Saturday, February 2, 2013

Around Town: Do alpacas toe the legal line?

Around Town: Do alpacas toe the legal line?

Ever since last week's breaking news story about Sandra Wallace and Michael Frankel's alpacas, intelligent La Cañadans everywhere have wondered: Why can't we have alpacas in La Cañada?

Wallace and Frankel are practicing physicians who live in La Cañada. In their spare time, “like others who have discovered the satisfaction of raising and breeding alpacas,” they are breeding alpacas (“The sound and the furry,” Jan. 17).

Unfortunately for our local elementary school students, including those desperately searching for science fair projects, there won't be any local field trips to see the Wallace-Frankel alpacas.

That's because the Wallace-Frankel alpacas do not reside in La Cañada. They are boarded at a ranch in Agua Dulce, 38 miles from La Cañada. The best winter route is west on the 210 to the I-5 North (toward Sacramento), then to State Route 14 North (toward Palmdale/Lancaster). It's a 30- to 40-minute trip, depending on traffic.

More important than route is the question: “Why can't La Cañada doctors raise La Cañada alpacas in La Cañada?”

Are alpacas, like the working slot machine, banned?

The answer should lie in the La Cañada Municipal Code. A keyword search of the word “alpaca” in the Municipal Code gives no search results. None of our local ordinances specifically mentions the alpaca, the llama or the cuy. (The latter is a hamster-like delicacy in Ecuador, otherwise unrelated to the alpaca or the llama, but included here for clarity.)

The code does regulate “livestock” in two provisions.

Section 11.32.080 provides that not more than “two horses, donkeys, mules, cows, steers, other similar animals, sheep or goats which are not for the personal use of the occupant of the parcel may be kept, maintained or otherwise boarded on the parcel…” if for personal use.

Apart from the personal-use issue, the seminal question is whether alpacas are “similar animals” to horses, donkeys, mules, cows, steers, sheep or goats.

Some may feel that the alpaca is like a cow. Others may disagree.

The second reference to “livestock” in the city's municipal code is in section 11.32.060 (“Livestock and farm fowl permitted as an accessory use”), which sets limits on the number of “horses, donkeys, mules, cows, steers, sheep, goats, and other hoofed animals,” but makes no reference to alpacas.

Whether or not the alpaca is “hoofed” is open to interpretation. Some outside sources refer to the alpaca's “hoof” but other sources reference the alpaca's “foot.”

The alpaca, after all, has two toes. The toes have toenails. Can one consider a foot with toenails to be the “hoof” of a horse, donkey or mule?

Alpacas are often called sure-footed. If so, they are essentially unregulated in La Cañada, unlike the persimmon, the male chicken (also known as a rooster) and the old goat.

As they read this, the legal department over at City Hall is probably saying “Pooh, pooh.” This would be unwise. They should know that here in La Cañada, there is precedent for similar statutory interpretation.

Case in point: the famous La Cañada Liquor Case of 1894. In September of that year, a minor local celebrity, George Gray, escaped jail due to a strict reading of the statutes. Gray went to trial in Justice Merriam's court in Pasadena for selling liquor without a license in La Cañada. Despite the efforts of the local authorities, the case was dismissed.

The judge reasoned that “the statute of 1891, under which he was arrested, had since been repealed.” Even though Gray was guilty, “the only thing to do” was to dismiss the case (“How a La Canyada Offender Escaped the Law,” Los Angeles Times, Sept 29, 1894).

Whether or not the Gray analysis would apply to the Wallace-Frankel alpacas (if they were being raised in town) is an open question. Some may consider the alpaca, which roams freely in the Andes, to be nothing more than a short goat. Others will argue that the alpaca is a type of camel.

Reasonable minds will differ, but one thing is certain. As the rest of Los Angeles becomes increasingly urban, La Cañada has a choice.

We can embrace the peafowl and the persimmon trees. We can deregulate the rooster and encourage the horse.

We can welcome the alpaca. We can thank Drs. Wallace and Frankel for living the dream, for reminding us of days gone by.

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