OAKDALE — The goats pay no mind as the cars pull into and out of the Oakdale Shopping Center.
Penned in by a temporary chain-link fence, the 80 goats are content to eat the brush along about 800 feet of the Stanislaus River that borders the north side of the Yosemite Avenue shopping center.
"I think it's great," said Wayne Hartsfield as he and his wife, Joie, entered the center's Cost Less Market this week. "It's a cheap way to get rid of the brush."
It's also a creative solution to reduce the fire risk and improve the view along that four-acre stretch of the river. The goats are part of an effort to eliminate blight caused by the homeless people who once camped there.
During two days in September, police officers, firefighters, city Public Works employees, county Honor Farm inmates and state Fish and Game workers filled Dumpsters with TVs, mattresses, tires, bicycle frames, used syringes and other trash left behind by the homeless.
But the thick, overgrown brush that obscured the river remained and an Army Corps of Engineers' easement prohibited crews from clearing it. But the easement permits "reasonable grazing of livestock."
That's how the goats made their entrance.
Rich Murdoch, whose company does maintenance and construction projects for the shopping center, got the idea to use goats from Steve Medlen, owner of the House of Beef restaurant in Oakdale.
Murdoch passed the idea on to Southstar PM, the Oregon company that manages the center, which then ran it past the Army Corps of Engineers.
"Goats — they are green, they are friendly, they are low-key," said Oakdale resident Richard Gilton, who is renting 60 of his goats for the cleanup effort. "They go in and eat a lot of things that other animals in their category don't eat."
Gilton, who is president and general manager of family-owned Gilton Solid Waste Management and Gilton Resource Recovery, has raised goats for 15 years and rents them to ranchers, developers and property owners across the state to clear brush.
His goats have been grazing along the river for about three weeks, Murdoch said.
The first 20 goats have been on the job for about eight weeks and are being rented from Oakdale father and daughter Steve and Gabrielle Cahoon.
Gilton's goats came with two dogs for protection. The owners check on their goats daily.
Murdoch said he'll keep Gilton's goats for a few more weeks, but plans on using the first 20 through the winter. He also wants to do another cleanup now that that goats have eaten enough brush to expose more debris.
Cleaning up the riverbank is part of a face-lift for the 1970s-era shopping center, whose tenants include Sears, Ultimate Furniture and a Cost Less Market.
Murdoch's company, R.J. Murdoch, will do the face-lift in four phases. Phase one started recently and involves new facades for Sears and the Hope Chest Thrift Store. Eventually, all of the shopping center's 15 or so tenants will have new facades.
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2316.