July 14, 2024
Midpen board member cites 'serious animal care issues' at Bear Creek facility.

Members of the equestrian community in the South Bay are in limbo as they wait for the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District to come to a decision on the future of the Bear Creek Stables in Los Gatos.

The historic stables, located near Lexington Reservoir, have been around for roughly a century, serving as a horse boarding facility that has also offered summer camps and horse riding instruction. Local leaders have been working to come up with a long-term solution to help preserve the stables and avoid the possibility of shutting them down entirely in the face of rising costs.

Staff from the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, also known as Midpen, said in a presentation to the group’s board of directors on May 14 that the cost of repairs and maintenance of the stables had escalated to roughly $9.5 million-$10.5 million, far beyond the $4.4 million budgeted for the project when the board first agreed to conduct repairs in 2019.

Midpen contracts out the management of the stables’ day-to-day operations to Chaparral Country Corporation, which was the subject of an investigation that the San Francisco Standard published last month detailing mistreatment of employees and animals under their care at other stables in the Bay Area. The publication reported that following its inquiries, local officials revoked Chaparral’s permit to operate at its Golden Gate Park and Yosemite locations.

“At Bear Creek Stables we’ve had credible reports of accidents…as recently as two weeks ago, and I’ve personally seen a variety of serious animal care issues,” Craig Gleason, the member of Midpen’s board of directors who represents the Lexington Hills and Los Gatos, said at a May 22 meeting.

Gleason brought the subject of the stables back to the board at that meeting to ensure that the directors understood the implications of their vote. The meeting  took place just days after the Standard’s investigation of Chaparral was published.

Chaparral also offered horse riding summer camps at Ed R. Levin County Park in Milpitas, but a spokesperson for Santa Clara County said the company’s permit with the county expired in April of this year, and Chaparral is no longer operating out of the park. While Chaparral removed Golden Gate Park from the list of locations on their website after their permit was revoked, Ed Levin Park is still listed, though its booking link was not functional as of May 17.

Midpen suspended all camps, trainings, riding instruction and other equestrian events at Bear Creek on April 4 as they worked to “determine appropriate levels of programming and associated insurance for the site,” Midpen staff said in a report earlier this month, but the stables are still boarding horses for the time being.

After hearing a series of suggestions to scale back the stables’ operations in the face of these costs on May 14, Midpen’s board of directors voted to delay their decision on the future of the stables until an ad hoc committee could get together to help fundraise and look for grants that could support the maintenance and repair of the stables.

The Bear Creek Stables ad hoc committee met publicly for the first time on June 11, and outlined plans to involve the community in its efforts to preserve the stables.

“This process is about finding a future path, and it’s not about the short-term operation of the stables,” Gleason said at the meeting. “There are a lot of frustrations and concerns around that, but this won’t be the forum to address it. So we need to keep focus on realistic proposals for the future here.”

Now, Midpen directors Gleason, Karen Holman and Curt Riffle are in three separate groups within the committee working on operations and programming, site design, architecture and engineering, and fundraising and partnerships, respectively, to develop recommendations for the board to consider by November.

“On May 14 we argued that the public needs a chance to participate in determining the future of the stables, and this is our chance,” Gleason said at the meeting. “We need to work together like never before. From what I’ve seen, the board really does believe that if the stables can provide great community value at an affordable cost, it can make sense for Midpen. Let’s make this work, and find that option that the board will support.”

Melany Moore, a board member of the Friends of Bear Creek Stables, is optimistic about the committee’s efforts, having witnessed how the equestrian community has come together to support the stables in the past.

“I don’t see how we cannot just get this done,” she said. “There’s a lot of people, a lot of good people, that are willing to help volunteer, and there always have been.”

Rick Parfitt, president of Friends of Bear Creek Stables, said there’s a lot of uncertainty among current horse boarders because of how close the Midpen board came to shutting down the program on May 14: It was a 4-3 vote that delayed the decision until November.

“The boarders’ feelings about things are not uniform, but there’s a set of boarders who are hoping the stables stay open, and some are already leaving just because they’re concerned,” Parfitt said.

In order for the Midpen board to maintain horse boarding at the stables come November, Parfitt said, they’ll need to see that the stables are financially viable and that they’ll continue to offer community programs. He’s optimistic that the ad hoc committee will be able to raise the funds needed to bolster the stables’ operations.

“This is Silicon Valley. Whatever they’re short, $2 million is barely the price of a home or two homes in Silicon Valley,” Parfitt said.