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[whitespace] Deer fencing not an Olympic sport but a hillside problem

Saratoga--Residents living in and around the Saratoga hills say that the deer passing freely through their yards just aren't cute anymore. In fact, they say, the animals are a nuisance and the city's fencing regulations aren't helping.

Saratoga's City Council and Planning Commission both pledged at a joint meeting on Sept. 7 that they will, in coming months, tackle the two fuzzy issues that have somehow become related: What to do about the city's increasing deer population and how to revise the city's strict hillside fencing ordinance?

Although some city officials argued that the two issues are as different as apples and oranges, the issues have suddenly become inherently linked as deer roaming the hills find ways over, under and around what little residents have for fences, all in the name of munching on everything in their gardens.

And the problem is especially bad in the hills, where tight restrictions on how residents build fences are allowing the passing of deer in and out of their property.

Saratoga's fencing ordinance limits the height of front-yard fences to three feet throughout the city. Furthermore, in the hills fences can surround an area no larger than 4,000 square feet. Also, the regulations state that "no fence shall unreasonably impede the movement of wildlife animals" which use trails, even through private property.

Unfortunately, deer seem to be unfamiliar with the concept.

As with most city ordinances and regulations, exceptions can be made and the city's planning department has seen a good share of requests for exceptions and variances to the current regulations.

But because of the tight restrictions, residents say, they're prevented from creating landscaping projects or gardens in their yards, because the plants are sure to be eaten by the deer.

They also claim that the process to get exceptions granted to the ordinance proves a difficult hoop to jump through, often lasting months and usually requiring a hearing before the city's Planning Commission.

Carlina Ott, who lives near the Mountain Winery, says she has some of the original Paul Masson wine grapes on her property and would like to expand the vines. Unfortunately, she's sure the deer living there would love nothing more than to snack on the tender leaves if she were to plant more grapes.

"The grapes are part of the historic character of this city," she told the council and Planning Commission. "I know of neighbors who want to put grapes up, but they can't get variances for fencing. I like deer and I'm not fond of fences, but in this instance we need them."

City officials seem to agree, and are expressing a willingness to move forward with some easing of the hillside fencing rules.

Community Development Director James Walgren said he'll agendize a discussion item for the Planning Commission probably some time in October.

Also, Mayor Pro Tem Stan Bogosian said he'd like to see the City Council take on the city's deer. He attended a meeting about a month ago with residents in the Toll Gate neighborhood and wildlife officials to gather more information about what they're dealing with and to determine the scope of the problem.

He also urged caution, however, on loosening the fencing restrictions for the hills since firefighters are depending on free access between homes if a fire were to break out in the area.

Ann Waltonsmith, the city's newest council member, said that she's read about many ways to control deer populations, including salt licks containing birth control.

"We don't need to go out and murder Bambi," she said. "There are ways to control the population."

How that will be done remains to be seen. No date is set yet for hearings on the deer but the council said it will ask wildlife officials to a meeting soon to discuss the matter.
Steve Enders

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Web extra to the September 16-22, 1999 issue of Metro.

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