MR. LONG BEACH: Horses Hiding behind Homes


Q. In the Wrigley area near Birney Elementary School, Spring Street dead ends at the river. Right before its end, there is Deforest Avenue on the left, and then an entrance to what looks like some horse property on the right. There’s like a dirt road that goes along behind the properties. Does anyone know if these are horse easements as regarded under the city law and if the road that goes along behind them is public? I’d like to see the horses and their people, but don’t want to trespass. – Becky Cook

A. The area is actually the back of the 3000 block of San Francisco Avenue near the Los Angeles River. It’s an easement owned by the County of Los Angeles’ Flood Control District currently being used by homeowners – mostly for horses.

I went out to the area and ran into Jackson Shaw. He owns a home and a big red barn on the street. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, because he just happens to be chock-full of history.

First, a bit about Shaw; He works for the FAA inspecting small aircraft before they are shipped out of the country. He is also a helicopter pilot. Shaw said he saw the distinctive red barn during approaches to Long Beach airport and decided he wanted to live there.

After a year of persuading the owner to sell, Shaw, his wife and five horses moved in. He gathered neighbors and started the Wrigley Heights Equestrian Association.

In 1975, the city of Long Beach granted a Horse Overlay District for two blocks of homes on the west side of San Francisco Avenue between Spring and 32nd streets. The ordinance allows single-family residences to keep up to five horses on at least 8,000 square feet.

Here’s where it gets confusing. The area behind the homes, where the horses are kept, is L.A. County property – it’s not owned by the residents. Even though it’s county land, it’s still subject to Long Beach city zoning.

Kerjon Lee, public affairs manager with L.A. County Public Works, told me that for the the county, city and equestrian association have been working to figure out a way for the homeowners to buy the property.

According to Shaw, for five years L.A. County Public Works met with the association for five years trying to figure out a way for the residents to purchase the land, then one day they told him they decided not to sell. Then about three years ago, the county recontacted them and said, “Now we’re ready to sell,” Shaw said.

They have been in talks ever since, but Shaw said about 12 months ago, the county told him about 12 months ago that in 2002 the city of Long Beach had zoned the area for public use in 2002, so and that designation would be a problem in allowing them to buy the property. He said that has brought “everything to a scratching halt.”

In the late 1980s, the 3100 block lost its horse zone when Kirk Hankla purchased the whole block with the intent to raze the structures and build new homes. His company, International City Mortgage wasn’t able to complete the project.

In the 1990s, Gensemer Construction bought the lots and built and built 18 two-story homes constructed around two cul-de-sacs. The design, which limited lots to 5,000 square feet, no lounger meet the 8,000 square foot requirement for horses.

Shaw no longer has horses, but he still loves his barn.

“It’s really just a different world back here,” he said. “From the front nobody knows, nobody complains.”

So, to get back to Becky’s question. It appears you can walk back there and look at the horses. You won’t be trespassing any more than the people keeping the horses on the property.