LA HABRA HEIGHTS (AP) — What began as a stink over llama feces has escalated into a running battle that has brought turmoil to a to a Los Angeles suburb known for its quiet locale and sprawling lots.
La Habra Heights sued Phil and Aida Lough over a fertilizer that the couple made from llama feces, saying animals and open drums of animal waste at their home were a stinky, unsanitary mess. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge agreed and ordered the Loughs to stop producing their “Llama Brew,” but that turned out to be only an opening salvo between the town and the couple, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The Loughs and a handful of gadflies with their own agendas have filed thousands of public records requests. City Hall limited its public hours in January because the nine full-time employees were overwhelmed by daily visits from the group. The city’s finance manager quit, saying she couldn’t take the stress.
City Council meetings often devolve into yelling matches and sometimes drag on for hours.
With a population of about 5,300, the wealthy hillside community on the Los Angeles County and Orange County border prides itself on its avocados and rural nature. Its winding roads have few streetlights and no sidewalks, and its only businesses are a private golf course and a small real estate office.
Lough, who unsuccessfully ran for City Council in 2011, has accused the city of threatening residents, awarding contracts to friends and stifling public comment.
The group of gadflies visits City Hall nearly every day. They bring cameras, snapping pictures and posting them online. City Manager Shauna Clark said she and other officials are followed into the restroom during public meetings.
From January 2011 through Nov. 30, the city received 2,110 public records requests, more than half from the Loughs, Clark said. The city says it has spent more than $468,000 in staff time and expenses pulling 26,000 pages of documents.
The city finance manager, Rochelle Clayton, spent hours a day retrieving documents from a small metal storage shed behind City Hall. Clayton said she worked weekends to try to catch up but never could. She resigned in October, claiming “out-and-out harassment” from citizens bent on stopping the city government.
“In my 20 years in government finance and accounting ... I’ve never experienced the level of bashing that I’ve received in this city,” she said. “We can’t do our jobs.”
The city has spent more than $1,400 to advertise the finance manager position, but numerous applicants have been dissuaded, Clark said, after seeing online comments from city detractors and watching meetings. The City Council in November approved $25,000 to hire a recruiting firm for the position.