Can horses and people co-exist?
Review file photo. Sea Horse Ranch has long used Poplar Beach but some say the manure on the beach is no longer acceptable.

Poop is on the agenda at the Half Moon Bay City Council meeting tonight. Horse manure, specifically.

The city is taking up the matter after hearing complaints about horse manure on Poplar Beach over the last couple of years. At the meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at the Ted Adcock Community Center, the council will be asked to consider a handful of items related to the city’s existing license agreement with Sea Horse Ranch. In existence since 1963, Sea Horse Ranch offers customers horseback riding along a trail that parallels the Coastal Trail and down onto the city-owned Poplar Beach.

The item asks the council to consider not renewing the agreement — which is set to expire at the end of 2020 — and revisiting the contract with an eye toward revising the terms related to commercial recreational equestrian use of the beach and bluff top.

Half Moon Bay Councilwoman Debbie Ruddock and Half Moon Bay Mayor Deborah Penrose have been the most vocal councilmembers on the topic, and are responsible for requesting staff to get it on the agenda.

On Monday, Ruddock stated that while potential health concerns related to exposure to horse manure may not be entirely clear, the amount of manure appearing on the beach could, at least, be classified as a nuisance to beachgoers who are setting up picnic blankets on top of horse feces.

“Anyone who spends any time on the beach knows there are piles and piles of horse poop,” Ruddock said. “Residents call it Pooplar Beach for a reason.”

Willa Chapman, executive director of Sea Horse Ranch, says she was taken aback by the city’s interest in renegotiating the agreement.

“The entire community feels attacked,” Chapman said, noting that city staff brought up the possibility of outlawing horseback riding on all city beaches.

“My position is we want to be good neighbors, we want to be accountable, just let us know,” she said.

In the agreement, which took effect in 2011, Sea Horse Ranch is responsible for clean-up of the horse droppings that fall where the trail crosses the Poplar Beach entrance and at “the slot” used as an exit north of Poplar Street.

Chapman says that, from the beginning, staff from the ranch has been cleaning those areas in addition to the beach on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Later on, Chapman said her staff completed additional beach clean-up on Saturday and Sundays as well.

Ruddock and others find that clean up schedule difficult to believe. Since May, Abundant Grace Coastside Worker has employed homeless and low-income individuals to pick up trash at Poplar Beach on Fridays, Sundays and Mondays. Abundant Grace Executive Director Eric DeBode said that horse manure accounts for much of the waste they pick up each week. On a recent Friday, DeBode said 65 pounds of the manure had been picked up between Kelly Avenue and Poplar Street.

Ruddock said there have been reports of manure buried up near the bluff top.

Chapman says she was under the belief that the coastal clean-up employment program —funded by the city and organized by Abundant Grace — was created in, large part, to clean up the horse waste but that her staff has not pulled back its own efforts in response.

Chapman said some people covet the manure. She suggests that garden programs at the local schools could make use of the waste or the city could use it for the plants growing in its highway medians.

“It’s the best fertilizer that there is,” Chapman said.

At the ranch itself, Chapman says farmers will come and pick up the poop by the trailer full. She added that community gardeners from San Francisco will come down to the pick up the poop and drop off some of their freshly grown tomatoes in return.

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