A La Cañada Flintridge resident may be able to keep his 475-tree persimmon grove, horses and alpacas despite a recent update to the city's General Plan that forbids agricultural activity on open spaces.
William Johnson, who maintains the farm on his property — although Southern California Edison owns the 11-acre plot of land where the trees are located — says he has signed a memorandum with the city that allows him to continue his operation.
City officials, though, say they only agreed to consider his request.
“That memorandum does not state that he can use the Edison property for agriculture uses,” said City Atty. Mark Steres.
Johnson can initiate a process with the Planning Commission to handle his case and create an overlay zone, Steres added.
But for now, no one is planning to remove any trees or force Johnson to move any part of his agricultural operation, said Mayor Steve Del Guercio.
Johnson's farming operation has been a divisive issue among his neighbors.
El Rey Ensch, who lives on Orchard Lane, said he has never met Johnson but supports his operation.
“This community has a history of agriculture,” Ensch said. “Obviously, times have changed. But I think all communities need to maintain their ties to historical roots.”
George Crispin said he can see the permission trees from his yard, but those aren't the issue, it's the animals.
He recalled a time when he stepped outside his house and saw a cow pie just outside his driveway. The cows, Crispin said, were kept in an area surrounded by a barbed-wire fence that encroached on the Cross Town Trail.
Crispin claimed Johnson often yelled, “Get off my property” at the hikers who crossed the trail.
“He isn't as sweet and calm as he is at this City Council meeting, “ Crispin said, “but he is a rather abrasive individual when it comes to somebody crossing what he says is his property, which isn't his property.”
After receiving complaints several years ago, the city pressed Johnson to remove fencing that blocked the trail. He does not currently have cows but has said he would like to have some again.
“Don't give him another inch,” Crispin said. “He's been going at this for 15 years now, and I think it's about time we put a stop to that.”
City officials said if Johnson pursues initiating an overlay zone on the Edison property, he would have to keep his area clean. If he doesn't go for the zoning exception, senior city planner Fred Buss said La Cañada officials would have to deal with a whole new issue.
“Those are issues that we haven't dealt with,” he said.
While the city has no plans to make sure Johnson's property is in line with new zoning codes, Buss said, “in time, we will have to take some sort of action."