Working group to advise council on limiting oleander use near horses
by Richard H Dyer
Limiting or banning the use of oleander and other poisonous plants near horses was discussed at last week’s Apache Junction City Council meeting.
The council on Feb. 21 voted 7-0 to direct City Manager Bryant Powell to form a working group of interested citizens and staff members to discuss the issue and make a recommendation to the council. Voting yes were Mayor Jeff Serdy, Vice Mayor Chip Wilson and council members Jeff Struble, Gail Evans, Christa Rizzi, Dave Waldron and Robin Barker.
“Let’s hear from the people who are living this every day and see what their suggestions are,” Mayor Serdy said during the meeting.
“Do you mean like veterinarians dealing with sick horses on these issues or just horse community?” Councilwoman Evans asked.
“The horse community and the veterinarians. But maybe landscapers too. There’s a lot of landscapers in town who might have some different view of this than us,” Mayor Serdy said.
Councilman Wilson had asked for the item to be put on a council agenda because a local resident had brought it to his attention during a call-to-the-public portion of a council meeting. Horses can die after eating a small amount of the plant’s leaves, the resident said.
The council at a meeting Nov. 15 directed staff members to research other municipalities and counties for the banning of oleanders.
“We only found one city that actually banned them because of equine issues,” City Attorney Joel Stern said to the council.
Norco, a horse-friendly community in southern California, bans oleanders outright due to their chemical composition, according to a memo provided to the council by Mr. Stern.
Some Arizona cities prohibit oleanders as part of their landscaping ordinance. Phoenix and Mesa prohibit oleanders in portions of the city since they are nonnative species, according to the memo.
An official with the city of Norco told Mr. Stern’s executive legal assistant, Melissa Drake, that enforcement of the law is complaint-based.
Mr. Stern said last week and at the Nov. 15 meeting that an ordinance under property maintenance could be used instead of one under zoning.
Councilwoman Evans questioned why the city should single out one plant, oleander, when there are 10 poisonous to horses that she found in a search on the Internet.
“Oleander is very common. People plant because they think it’s pretty,” Mayor Serdy said. “I think we have the chance to send a message that we are very horse-friendly. We don’t have to be followers. We could go above and beyond and people pay attention to that. The whole Valley is losing its horse presence. Send a message that we are horse-friendly,” he said.
No members of the public were allowed to speak during the discussion on plants poisonous to animals, but three spoke about it at the call-to-the-public portion at the end of the meeting.
One was Steve McClintock of the Back Country Horsemen of America. He is the group’s national director, according to http://www.bchaz.org/htmlpages/officers.html.
“The discussion you had this evening was actually quite interesting. I thought it was well thought out. A lot of ideas came out that were important… You have horse-intensity here. I don’t think you really understand how much horsemanship there is going on around here,” he said.
“Just because other people haven’t put together some type of legislation for this doesn’t mean Apache Junction cannot. Apache Junction has taken the first of a lot of things. Since I moved out here I’ve been very impressed. You can take leadership. You can take over Norco. You can do things that Norco isn’t doing. I think this complaint-based option was an interesting one. It’s the first time I heard of it,” Mr. McClintock said.
For more information, see the agenda at https://apachejunction.legistar.com/Calendar.aspx.
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