The has added a new attraction to its llamas, goats and guinea pigs, but this animal is an herbivore from the Jurassic Period and has been extinct for nearly 140 million years.
A new 13-foot tall replica dinosaur towers over the petting zoo, located in the heart of the , known as California’s oldest continuously inhabited neighborhood dating back to the 18th century.
Zoomars owner Carolyn Franks purchased the $12,000 Apatosaurus (a.k.a. Brontosaurus) statute from an Anaheim auctioneer, according to published reports, and placed it on the zoo’s property last week after securing a conditional-use permit in the play area. But since then the city reportedly has received several complaints about the 40-foot long creature and even issued Franks a stop-work order on the attraction.
Jerry Nieblas, president of the , is leading the charge to have the dinosaur removed immediately and appears to be a little more than upset, calling it a “mockery of the history of San Juan Capistrano.”
“Do we live in San Juan Capistrano or Jurassic Park? Because there's a dinosaur in town and the Capistrano Historical Alliance Committee, historical families and other residents are wondering HOW it got here?” wrote Nieblas, in an email he has began circulating since Friday. Who gave Carolyn Zoomars permission to display it? Who issued the permits? Who notified the Planning Dept, City Council, CHC and Code Enforcement?
“Not only is it nearly 2 stories high and totally inappropriate, a cement slab was poured for it and at this moment, appears to be continuing to be stabilized. The dinosaur is offensive ... and violates the sacred land and memories that represent all of what Los Rios Street is. Frankly, a fine/citation is in order for this blatant act of disrespect.
As yet, though, the city has refused to get involved.
“The City cannot comment on ongoing Code Enforcement cases,” said Cathy Salcedo, Executive Services Manager for the City of San Juan Capistrano, in an email response to Patch.
However, several visitors to the petting zoo Tuesday said they had no problem with the "Deceptive Lizard."
“I like the dinosaur,” said Mike Proctor of Rancho Santa Margarita, who regularly brings his two young children to Zoomars. “We’ve come here before and the kids have a good time. It’s about the animals and play. (The dinosaur) gives the guinea pigs a break.”
Longtime resident Michael Palmer says he can see the dinosaur from his backyard and his two young daughters love going to visit it.
“That’s too bad that someone complained about the dinosaur. I think it’s fine,” he said. “I support everything that the new owner (Franks) has done here. She has done a great job and really turned this place around and made it a nice place.”
Susan Vanhouten from Mission Viejo was visiting the park area with a friend from West Virginia. She said her two children are now 17 and 15, but she would bring them to the petting zone when they were young. At first she was unsure what to think of the dinosaur, but the more she thought about it the more she seemed to like the idea.
“If it’s appealing to the kids, why not?” Vanhouten said. “Everything looks so good here now. This place is really for the kids.”
On Tuesday, Franks voluntarily showed up for the City Council meeting to address complaints, because “it was never my intention to be the cause of one.” She even refused to bring her own supporters, “because I believe in working together, without outside influence, which I trust we can do,” she told the council.
Franks’ 3-minute speech can be heard on the City Council Meeting’s Archived Videos for June 19 (15:30), but here are a few excerpts:
- “I bought a dinosaur, an accurate representation of a West Coast dinosaur that lived long ago, and one that will bring education balance to my petting zoo and historical district. It will not be climbed on or turned into a ride but serve as an ambassador for prehistoric life not just here in San Juan Capistrano but Orange County and Southern California.”
- “It will be surrounded with children digging for fossils and offer the same kind of hands-on, old fashioned fun Zoomars is known for. It will engage kids and history, prehistoric history, and one that is mostly unnoticed, unknown and unrepresented in our area. What better place to do that than at Zoomars, a historic attraction I am very proud to own.
- “Unlike the Mission, we don’t take donations. We rely solely on a low-cost admission and a few inexpensive things to do inside. Our barnyard is filled with sweet natured animals, but with more than 2,000 visitors a week merely having animals would result in them being over-stimulated, over-stressed and overfed. We must in addition find new ways to entertain and educate our visitors.”
- “I truly believed that what I was doing was a good thing, for our town and for Zoomars. For those who think that the Apatosaurus must go, I respectfully disagree, because as I see it they were here long before us. And although there is no proof that they lived here in San Juan, there also is o proof that they did not.”
Yes, the dinosaur is in need of some repair. And yes, the dinosaur goes beyond how most of the San Juan historians choose to see themselves. But from Los Rios Street the dinosaur can barely—if at all—be seen, and of course there is the educational and historic factor to consider.
More importantly, isn't the petting zoo a place intended for the kids of San Juan, not the adults?