Tiger controversy gains steam

Nadar Bernstein leads a large group of protesters from the corner of NE Victoria Avenue and Telephone Road to the front of the Ventura County Planning Commission, chanting, “In the wild, not in my hood” and “Deer Creek not Tiger Creek.” 

Residents of an unincorporated west Malibu neighborhood are accelerating their efforts to scuttle plans by a new neighbor to house up to five rare tigers in the rural enclave. 

Last week, about 25 residents of the Deer Creek area in Ventura County protested outside the county planning department in Ventura, where sisters Irena Hauser and Sophia Kryszek have filed an application for a conditional use permit to house white Bengal tigers. Hauser and Kryszek want to build three animal enclosures and a 16-foot-high arena, enclosed by an eight-foot-high, 2,338-foot perimeter fence that would encompass 7.16 acres on 19 acres at 11077 Pacific View Road. The tigers, of which the sisters currently own two, would be used for filming purposes in the entertainment industry. 

As of Monday, the department had received more than 100 letters and an online petition claiming 300 signatures in opposition to the facility, Ventura County Planning Supervisor Brian Baca said. 

Baca said the application for the permit was “very early” and that it would likely come before the Ventura Planning Commission in November. 

Since news broke in recent weeks about the application, neighbors in the area have responded with a litany of complaints about the potential for living next to exotic cats. The most pressing concern is that one or more of the tigers could escape and threaten the neighborhood. 

In a telephone interview with The Malibu Times on Tuesday, Hauser sought to reassure neighbors about the facility’s security, saying all the enclosures would meet state and federal codes because safety is their top priority. 

“Everything that is done with [the tigers] is always done knowing that if one thing fails [we] know that there is something that will help us keep the safety,” Hauser said. “We try to set up a triple safe system. We do have multiple enclosures and gates set up so that if one thing fails there is another that will help.” 

Other concerns cited by neighbors include that the project does not meet environmental standards, that the presence of tigers would lower property values and that the nocturnal cats would roar at night. 

Several neighbors have also questioned how the application has traveled quickly through the permitting process, and said that Hauser and Kryszek did not reach out to the neighborhood to let anyone know of their plans prior to applying for the permit. 

“They closed escrow in December 2012. They had an initial study in three months, so it’s interesting the county moved so fast with this property… more so when you take into account what other neighbors have gone through,” said Carlos Siderman, who owns a 20.5-acre ranch with stables and 10 horses that shares a property line with Hauser and Kryszek. 

Hauser countered that she and her sister did try to reach out to neighbors, and that the permitting process was done by the book. 

“We did contact several people in the area and didn’t seem to get a lot of opposition,” she said. “And did go through the process properly, we knew that everybody would be notified and we have followed all the rules and regulations. We have [since] reached out to all the community, and unfortunately we haven’t gotten anyone who’s opposed to it to want to discuss it.” 

Carole Bush, who has owned property in the area since 1972 and lived there for five years, worries about noise from the tigers. 

“It would echo clear over the mountains to Point Hueneme,” Bush said. “[If] they want to breed them, you’ll have tigers in heat, what will that do? Plus it will scare all the local wildlife away.” 

Regarding noise, Hauser believes her neighbors are confusing tigers with lions. While lions roar, Hauser said, tigers make less noise than dogs. 

“Tigers don’t roar. They have a sound called a chuff,” Hauser said. “They are far quieter than most animals…a dog bark is louder than the noises a tiger makes.” 

Baca said the “critical factor” for the planning commission would likely be whether the facility is “compatible with the neighborhood it’s within,” which will take into account community concerns. 

Even if the project meets zoning and environmental thresholds, “it can still be denied if the planning commission decides that it is not compatible with the character of the neighborhood,” Baca said. 

Hauser said she and her sister want to give their tigers a better home, and believe they have followed the letter of the law. 

“I believe that if you do things properly and follow the rules, you should be able to get what we’re trying to do, which is give [the tigers] a better life,” Hauser said.