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Why is the horse trolley business so important to Solvang?


 Is it in the best interest of the horses to renew the trolley’s contract? Horses are not meant to work on blacktop and inhale car fumes for hours, especially during hot summer days. 

Op-Ed By Hazel Mortensen/ Solvang Resident & Animal Lover

Is it in the best interest of the horses to renew the trolley’s contract? Horses are not meant to work on blacktop and inhale car fumes for hours, especially during hot summer days. 

Besides its history and iconic horses, the trolley is arguably one of the most profitable businesses in Solvang.

The trolley is a licensed monopoly and has operated on public property without competition for decades.

According to the trolley owner, the operation is a 100% cash business, averaging more than $1,500 a day or $300-500,000 annually. They pay no water, electricity, sewer, or any other city utilities. Their license only requires them to pay an annual $75 permit fee, but no other common business fees – e.g., rent, encroachment fee, operating fee, signage fee, parking in lieu of the fee, Despite the fact that they occupy four parking spaces on Copenhagen Drive.

They have also received more than $7,000 a year or $35,000 in total in City subsidies between 2014-2019 from the defunct, scandal-plagued Solvang Conference and Visitors Bureau.

Essentially, the City taxpayers paid the Trolley more than $35,000 over the last 5 years to operate their monopoly, while they earned more than $2 million.

Moreover, they operated without a license and in violation of their contract for at least 9 months during 2019 – all without penalty or fines.

Great gig if you can get it!

A long time monopoly license has been hugely profitable for the Orona Family. They built the Trolley business from scratch and it looks like have earned arguably more than $3 million. They now own 12 lovely horses, drive convertible BMWs, Harley Davidson motorbikes, and having a ranch life in Santa Ynez … Truly an American immigrant success story built entirely on the City of Solvang’s visitors and taxpayers.

The small Solvang business community is divided over the Trolley. Those that support the Trolley are typically found on Alisal and Copenhagen streets and are direct beneficiaries of the Trolley’s nostalgic history telling – i.e. because getting free advertising. These old-guard business owners worked through past Councils and City Staff to defend and renew the Trolley monopoly and ensure City taxpayers paid for it. In short, the old guard business owners privatized the profits and socialized the expenses and losses.

In contrast, the rest of the businesses and many in the residential community – receive no benefits from the trolly and in fact suffer from pop-up traffic jams behind the slow-moving, antiquated horse-drawn wagon, as well as the elimination of already limited City parking.

As past Council meetings in 2019 and 2020, the Trolley operated in flagrant violation of their contract, which expired on June 30, 2020. Yet the current Council allowed it to continue to operate.

I hear that there are some other carriage vendors interested in competing for the opportunity to operate in Solvang. And they are all willing to pay far more than the current dilapidated, taxpayer-subsidized Trolley business.

Besides the financial and economic impact of operating the horse trolley is animal cruelty and that’s’ why I am asking: Is it in the best interest of the horses to renew the trolley’s contract? Horses are not meant to work on blacktop and inhale car fumes for hours, especially during hot summer days.  

Over a year ago, my neighbor phoned to tell me she was behind the trolley and said it tilted to one side. She questioned if it was roadworthy, so I phoned the Mayor and City Manager about her concerns.  

While paying my water bill at the City Hall, I noticed some Orona family members in a nearby parking lot and ask if the trolley had been checked by a mechanic, given my neighbor’s concerns.  Instead of appreciating my concern, I was screamed at and verbally abused.

When I appeared before City Council, I and other Solvang citizens stated that the trolley was known to carry too many passengers, which of course would be a concern and could cause their insurance policy to be null and void. If an accident should happen, the city would be stuck with a lawsuit to cover 28 injured trolley riders. At the Council meeting, I also mentioned the horses being driven in hotter weather, then the council agreed to.  The female owner shouted at the front of the council that I was a liar and her husband pointed to me and said that I was mentally ill. The following day, I received prank phone calls every few minutes. This happened before, by this same gang, it also happened to a friend who spoke about the trolley horses at a Council meeting. After about 10 calls, I answered and suggested they not phone again. I knew who they were and I had turned the recorder on to tape them. Any more calls and the police will be knocking on their doors.  

If my own daughters operated the trolley and violated the conditions set by the Council, I would still complain. We have to be a voice for the voiceless, which includes animals and children too.  

According to the PETA a respectful animal rights, humane organization: “Cruelty of Horse Drawn Carriages.

PETA:The Cruelty of Horse Drawn Carriages
” There is no way that cities, with their exhaust fumes, hard road surfaces, and busy traffic patterns can provide a humane… environment for a carriage horse.

Making horses pull oversize loads like carriages is cruel. Horses are forced to toil in all weather extremes, dodge traffic, and pound the pavement all day long. They may develop respiratory ailment because they breathe in exhaust fumes, and they can suffer debilitating leg problems from walking on hard surfaces. Horses have dropped dead from heatstroke after working in the scorching summer heat and humidity.”

Horses are sensitive and skittish animals. Animals and people have been seriously hurt-even killed-when horses have become spooked and run amok. There have also been countless incidents in which carriages have been hit by impatient or careless drivers. Accidents have occurred in nearly every city where carriage rides are allowed.

Horses Abused “Till Dying Day
Horses are afforded no protection under the federal animal welfare act, so the responsibility of looking out for their welfare fails to local animal-control officials. But anti-cruelty laws provide few safeguards to horses, and many humane agencies just don’t have the resources of the time to monitor in the city operating horse-drawn carriages on a regular basis. Animals can easily be overworked when profit-driven operations fail to follow regulations.

In Charleston, South Carolina, for example, drivers are supposed to take the rectal temperature of horses after a tour when the temperature reaches 85 degrees or above. to determine if they can keep working.

In St., Augustine, Florida, horses don’t have to be pulled from service until either the ambient temperature reaches 3 sweltering 95 degrees or the heat index reaches 105.

Philadelphia has no regulations pertaining to heat for animal-drawn carriages.

And there no laws preventing old-injured, or spent horses being sent to slaughter. Horses are considered property under the law, so owners can dispose of them in any way that they want. Since many consider it cost-prohibitive to care for an animal who isn’t in any revenue, the fate of discarded horses is grim.”

And what about Solvang? What are the regulations and who controls it?

Many cities are banning horse carriages, trolleys :
Because horses are not meant to work on blacktop and inhale car fumes for hours, especially during hot summer days. The horse carriages will be absent from the streets in Chicago starting next year after the City Council on Friday voted to ban horse-drawn carriages.

Also, a handful of other cities that have already banned horse-drawn carriages, trolleys including Salt Lake City; Biloxi, Miss.; Camden, N.J., as well as Key West, Palm Beach, Pompano Beach and Treasure Island, Fla., according to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals known as PETA. In Montreal, horse-drawn carriages were prohibited starting on Jan. 1, 2020.

The question is when Solvang is going to do that? How long can we continue to allow horses to be abused just because tourists love it!