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Neighbor sues charity

Carousel Ranch, a group that gives horseback rides to disabled children, named in lawsuit

Posted: December 26, 2009 8:14 p.m.
Updated: December 27, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Denise Tomey, executive director of Carousel Ranch, holds a binder containing a six-inch stack of paperwork from the county showing the work that staff members have done to get the Ranch, a charity that gives horseback rides to disabled children, into compliance with county code. A neighbor has filed a lawsuit saying that the county did not adhe...

Staff members at Carousel Ranch, a charity that gives horseback rides to disabled children, are worried that a lawsuit filed by a neighbor could cost the nonprofit organization thousands of dollars in legal fees and deprive some children of therapy.

David Leonard, who lives adjacent to the ranch, filed a lawsuit against the ranch and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in November. In the lawsuit, Leonard says the county did not adhere to all state environmental guidelines when the Board of Supervisors awarded the ranch a temporary use permit in October.

Carousel's Executive Director Denise Tomey said though the ranch and Leonard have been at odds for years, the lawsuit caught her by surprise.

"Staff have been nervous. We don't want to spend time and money on a lawsuit," Tomey said. "It's taking money away from kids."

Leonard's attorney, Todd Cardiff, said he is not trying to shut the ranch down. He said his client is concerned for the children's safety at the ranch.

Leonard has had disputes with the ranch for years. He had filed a complaint with the county about a mobile home on the ranch's property that he said was too close to his fence.

County defends permit
According to the county, the permit allows staff to run and maintain the ranch. Tomey said she did everything the county asked of her to get the permit.

Larry Hafetz with Los Angeles County's legal counsel said staff at the ranch did everything properly to apply for the permit.

Leonard is asking the court for an injunction to stop work on the ranch until after the county completes an environmental impact report on the daily operation of the ranch, Hafetz said.

The county determined an environmental impact report was not necessary and required the county to perform different environmental assessments.

Tomey has a binder stuffed with a 6-inch stack of paperwork from the county showing the work staff members have done to get the ranch into compliance with county code.

Neighbor wants EIR
The lawsuit says the county Board of Supervisors didn't properly asses all of the environmental impacts associated with operating the ranch. Leonard is asking for a temporary injunction that would stop horseback riding on the ranch until after an environmental impact report is written by the county.

Environmental impact reports can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and take years to complete.

Leonard and the ranch also have been at odds for years over a mobile home on the ranch, Tomey said. A groundskeeper who takes care of the ranch's 18 horses lives in the mobile home.

Leonard said the county violated planning code by allowing the ranch to have the mobile home 16 feet away from his property fence. County code requires the mobile home to be 25 feet from the fence, according to the lawsuit.

At a public hearing in March, Leonard said the mobile home obstructed the view from his home, according to past Signal reports.

Unable to agree
Carousel Ranch has tried to work out its differences with Leonard over the last couple of years, but has been unable to reach an agreement, Tomey said.

She said she is "bewildered" that the matter will now have to be resolved in court.

While Carousel Ranch is getting free legal help, Tomey said they would still have to pay for depositions and other legal fees if the lawsuit goes to court.

Bob Vitti, who has lived on the same road as the ranch for 12 years, says the rest of the neighborhood supports the ranch. Vitti said he has even participated in fundraising events for it.

He called Leonard's lawsuit "frivolous".

"(The lawsuit) is a waste of everyone's time and unnecessarily causing the organization grief that they don't deserve," Vitti said.


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