HESPERIA • The city of Hesperia is paying a $200,000 settlement to a family that rescues slaughterhouse-bound horses two years after the city seized animals from the property for code enforcement violations.
Former ambulance driver Janet Duran rescued hundreds of horses at auction between 2004 and 2010 — animals no one else wanted and that were often given to her for $5 or less.
"We were known for it, that an animal can find a good home in our house," she said. She would nurse the horses back to health and find them new homes.
Duran was allowed six horses at her house on Redwood Avenue, but at times would have up to 12 while she was trying to get them adopted.
On Jan. 13, 2010, Hesperia Code Enforcement raided her property, taking three horses and five dogs, including a stray they had just found and had been trying to reunite with its owner. In all, the Durans — specifically Janet's mother, Esther, who owns the Redwood Avenue property — were facing $129,000 in fees, which the city intended to collect by putting liens against the property.
The liens caused Esther Duran's mortgage to jump from $1,400 a month to $4,700.
The family fought back, going through a series of lawyers before ending up with Upland attorney Louis G. Fazzi.
"The way they're interpreting their zoning laws is kind of arbitrary," Fazzi said of the city. "I don't think it passes the constitutional muster."
It took more than two years for the Durans to get back their animals, along with a $200,000 settlement from Hesperia.
"We did a lot of crying and had a lot of sleepless nights," Janet Duran said.
Finally in April, U.S. District Court Judge John E. McDermott ordered Hesperia Code Enforcement to return the animals, after an outside inspector gave the Redwood Avenue property a clean report.
"I asked the court for a finding that their methodology is unconstitutional," Fazzi said. "By paying what they did, (the city) got to dodge that."
Had the case gone to trial and if the Durans won, Fazzi argued the ruling could have affected cities and local agencies across the state who'd assessed similar fines.
Despite the six-figure settlement, the city of Hesperia is standing by its animal control policies and procedures.
"The city is very confident in our code enforcement procedures and processes," spokeswoman Kelly Malloy said. "We work very hard to handle each case with those procedures in place."
Now the Durans are moving to Apple Valley and a bigger property — and making sure they're obeying every local ordinance to the letter.
"I own my house and love it," Esther Duran said, "but I'm moving because I want to be happy."
Janet is also considering starting a nonprofit horse rescue organization.
"Some of these horses, there's no reason for them to go to slaughter," she said.
Beau Yarbrough may be reached at (760) 956-7108 or at Beau@HesperiaStar.com. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/Hesperia.Star.