* Update – The Solvang Trolley found a new spot to park for their operations.
By Raiza Giorgi
After being stabled for the past several months due to COVID-19, the Solvang Trolley owners have been reworking their business to accommodate Santa Barbara County public health orders.
Then the Orona family had to rework routes and the pick-up location because the City of Solvang closed Copenhagen Drive to accommodate social distancing. The Solvang Trolley’s “Honen” was finally back up and running the weekend before Father’s Day and excited to get going, only to be told by city representatives the following Monday they had to shut down because of one complaint.
“We worked with Scott (Shumake) from IDK on the new spot by the windmill on Second Street, which has shade for the horses, and one person complained so the city emailed saying we had to come up with something else,” Clau Orona said at the City Council meeting on June 22. “I texted Scott on Tuesday with no response, and emailed Scott and the city manager on Wednesday with no response.
“We have had to make sacrifices as everyone else during COVID, but everyone is getting a chance to return to work and we have complied with the county’s guidelines, and we still cannot operate,” Orona said. “We lose $1,500 a day and I am disappointed to tell customers we aren’t sure when we can run again.”
During the public comment portion of the June 22 meeting several people spoke in favor of the Solvang Trolley and its importance to the charm and history of Solvang.
“It almost seems as though this business is being targeted which is a concern for a lot of citizens,” said Joanne Clarke.
In a written comment read during the meeting, Debra Deyette stated, “As with all of our small local businesses, the Solvang Trolley was out of work for almost four months and spent countless days and weeks and precious funds developing new routes to accommodate the street closures and new safety protocols, yet they were left in the dust by our city. They attempted to contact the city manager and IDK for an entire week to work with you on the matter and were not even granted the courtesy of a return call.”
As Mayor Pro Tem Robert Clarke sped through reading written comments into the record, he flippantly tossed letters behind him that stated similar sentiments or were duplicates.
At the end of the meeting Councilman Chris Djernaes stated he believed the Solvang Trolley has a “monopoly” and said he wanted to see contract “put out for bid.”
However, Solvang Trolley has a special license not a contract to operate within city limits, and the council must hold a public hearing before renewal. The Orona’s have stated they are not a contractor of the city, and anyone can apply for a license to operate in town.
The current ordinance states, ”It shall be unlawful for any person to operate any type of conveyance for hire for which any animal or animals is or are the primary motive power, on any streets or roads owned and/or maintained by the city, without first obtaining, and thereafter maintaining in good standing, a license permitting such activities.”
On Sept. 23, when the Orona’s were asked very detailed questions about their operations and Djernaes asked to see their books, Councilwoman Karen Waite rebuffed him stating he had no right to ask their personal business.
“I am not fond of the Honen. It looks 1960-ish,” Djernaes said at that meeting.
The Star then questioned in December why the council would not only permit, but pay for the Cinderella Carriages of Riverside to operate without first going through the same process as the Solvang Trolley.
“Cinderella Carriages have been contracted specifically for the Julefest event by the City directly. Such service performed on behalf of the City is not subject to the license you are referring to,” City Manager Xenia Bradford noted in an email to the Star.
In the same email, Bradford contradicted herself and wrote, “Solvang Trolley is required to annually apply for a license to operate their business on the streets of Solvang subject to Council approval. Any such business would be required to apply for the license to independently operate their business.”
The Cinderella Carriages did operate during Julefest without such a license as the Solvang Trolley is required to have. Furthermore, the Orona’s were never contacted beforehand to see if they had a similar operation of horse drawn carriages, which they do offer on their website.
The Star asked for public records of the Cinderella Carriages back in February, and found that not only did the city pay $7,300 to operate during Julefest, but they also paid for hotel rooms for owners Stan and Cyndi Fury on three occasions totaling $4,842 at the King Frederick Inn.
The license renewal comes to the Solvang City Council on July 13, according to Bradford. When the agenda and packet are available they can be found at www.CityofSolvang.com and search in the Agenda Center.
History of “The Honen”
The Honen was created when Axel Nielsen of Nielsen’s Market hired local builder Chris Kleebo to make a motorized, Danish style streetcar in 1964 that would pick up shoppers from the Solvang Lutheran Home to take them to Nielsen’s Market, and they would also deliver groceries around the Santa Ynez Valley.
H.H.H. Rasmussen took over the Honen in 1973 and started giving tours of the Solvang. He switched the vehicle from motorized to one being pulled by eight Belgian horses.
The trolley was then pulled by two Belgian Horses in the mid-1980s to the present time and the Orona family has owned and operated the Honen and their other carriage services since 2007. When the weather is too warm for the horses, the Oronas switch to a motorized trolley.