Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | February 12, 2005

The importance of Frank’s goats

What’s so important about Frank Dutra’s goats? Why mention him in a third column?

In case you’ve forgotten the details, Dutra is the Morgan Hill man who was forced to move the five goats, three horses and one mule that called his seven-acre ranch home after neighbors complained to the city.

The Diana Avenue land on which Dutra’s ranch is situated was annexed into the city in the 1980s and soon suburban homes and condominiums began filling the pasture land and acreage that surround his home.

Despite the fact that the animals were well-cared for, with plenty of food, water, space, shade and medical attention, Dutra was in violation of a shortsighted and badly written city ordinance that had been on the books but unenforced for decades. That ordinance limited the number of animals on any ranch in a residential or commercial zone to two, regardless of the size of the ranch.

Dutra’s beloved animals – pets, really – were moved last September to a farm in the Delta, and Dutra’s been missing them ever since. So have many of Dutra’s neighbors – obviously, not the ones who complained about the animals – who enjoyed seeing and petting them as they strolled or biked through their neighborhood, and had even named them.

This week, Morgan Hill’s Planning Commission passed an ordinance, that if adopted by City Council at its first opportunity, will go into effect in mid April, ending the exile of Dutra’s animals at seven long months.

Dutra is not completely happy with the outcome – he’s going to have to build a fence on one side of his property to comply with a 50-foot setback rule included in the new ordinance – but the main objective will be accomplished if the ordinance becomes effective: Dutra’s goats will be back on Diana Avenue.

“I don’t want to flood the place with animals, I just want my goats,” Dutra told reporter Carol Holzgrafe.

It’s about time and it’s important, and not, as I’ve been told some have said, just to the paper. Judging by the comments and letters to the editor on this topic – one from Merced – it’s important to a lot of people. And it should be: It’s a key issue for our community.

Why? Because fixing Dutra’s sad situation is respectful of Morgan Hill’s long agricultural heritage. Long before acres of South Valley land sported SUVs and rows of cookie-cutter houses, they sported grazing animals and rows of flowers, vegetables, fruit and nut trees.

It’s important because sympathetic neighbors rallied behind a man victimized by the less-than-neighborly residents who complained about Dutra’s animals. Petitions were circulated and signed, city officials were lobbied, letters were written, and, in the end, it appears neighborliness will triumph.

It’s also important because a bad law was fixed. The 1960s ordinance that didn’t take into account the size of a ranch was just poorly written. There’s no reason to limit a ranch that can support many more animals to just two.

“It’s unbelievable,” Bryan Trumpp, who owns the ranch that Dutra leases, said last September of the 1960s-era ordinance. “You can have five dogs on a quarter-acre but you can’t have five goats on seven acres.”

Assuming that City Council passes the ordinance when it appears on its agenda, then Dutra and his backers accomplished a lot. They got a bureaucracy to take a step back, look at the big picture, see the flaws in its law and its unintended consequences, and fix it. That’s no small feat.

Hopefully, the neighborhood children who gave Dutra’s goats names like Billy and Nanny, have been watching and learning that they, too, can have an impact on their government.

Of course, by the time Dutra’s goats return to Diana Avenue, seven months will have passed – an awfully long time in the life of a kindergartner – so perhaps those children have also learned lessons about patience and persistence.

So, yes, I think Frank Dutra and his long-exiled goats deserve a mention in a third column, if for no other reason than to remind Morgan Hill citizens that the goats can’t come home until City Council passes the ordinance, and to remind South Valley residents of the importance of preserving our disappearing links to our region’s rural heritage.

If we don’t, our communities will end up like the concrete, soulless, indistinguishable suburbs on the northern edge of San Jose. And newcomer or old-timer, I don’t think that’s what anyone who lives here wants for South Valley.


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