Sea Horse Ranch
Review file photo

For years Sea Horse Ranch has offered beach horse trail rides on Poplar Beach while operating under an agreement with the city of Half Moon Bay. Now, Half Moon Bay City Council is considering a six-year contract with the equestrian business for continued use of the city’s property. 

At the Jan. 21 City Council meeting, city staff presented terms for a new contract that would allow Sea Horse Ranch to continue use of city property. Currently the horse stable has a license agreement allowing it to use Poplar Beach and the city’s span of the Coastal Trail for horseback rides. It is set to expire Dec. 31.

In 2018, several residents spoke in front of the council outlining concerns about the horse ranch. Those complaints included alleged improper disposal of horse manure, fire hazards and code violations. As a result, the council voted not to renew Sea Horse Ranch’s contract at that time. 

Deputy City Manager Matthew Chidester said, after hearing concerns from the public, city staff met with Sea Horse Ranch representatives to address the issues. If a new contract is approved, it would go into effect Feb. 1, 2020. 

As part of the new deal, Sea Horse Ranch will be solely responsible for cleaning up horse manure on Poplar Beach. The agreement sets a schedule that the manure will be removed two to three times per day on the days the ranch operates. 

This was previously a point of contention, as the initial agreement with the ranch did not state who was responsible for picking up manure on the actual beach, which is maintained by the city. 

Additionally, the city will require Sea Horse Ranch to pay 80 percent of the costs for improvements to the vertical access point from the Coastal Trail to the beach. No other commercial activities, such as the use of a photographer, will be permitted unless a separate agreement is negotiated with the city.

The Coastside Fire Protection District and County Environmental Health Department investigated and reportedly resolved code violations on the Sea Horse Ranch property, according to Chidester. 

Chidester said the city has the right to terminate the agreement for violations about health and safety. 

Sea Horse Ranch Executive Director Willa Chapman said she worked closely with city staff in coming up with the terms for the new contract and put in safeguards for both her business and the city. 

“We have not been misbehaving children that need to be watched more closely,” Chapman said. “Under this contract there are any number of mechanisms that, if there is a failure to act, there is a notice period to fix it. Otherwise, we lose the contract. The contract has safeguards for the city and the ranch.” 

Some residents cautioned against entering into a lengthy contract without properly assessing certain requirements. Jotham Stein, of Half Moon Bay, said he thinks it is poor judgment for the city to enter a lengthy contract given what he considers a poor history with the ranch. 

“Why in the world would the city agree to a six-year contract given what has happened?” he said. 

Half Moon Bay Planning Commissioner Sara Polgar said the contract was too vague. 

“I am very worried that we have history repeating itself,” Polgar said. 

Councilwoman Debbie Ruddock said she would be interested in requiring an annual review of the contract. 

“Within the context of the history of the stables it makes some sense,” she said. 

Other council members did not agree on the need for an annual review, saying it placed a burden on the business. No consensus was reached, and the council opted to wait on deciding to approve a new contract with Sea Horse Ranch until a future meeting. 

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