CHARLOTTE LAWS - DREAM AND ACHIEVE TOGETHER
Fence is No Offense
By Charlotte Laws
the 359 homeowners in my area, 112 are running afoul of the law in a
deviously blatant way by committing the heinous "fence
offence;" in other words, breaching Los Angeles municipal code
sections 12.21 and 12.22 which limit front yard fence and hedge height
to a maximum 3 ½ feet above grade. Now that’s a lot of criminal
activity for one neighborhood.
With their pens and pads, my investigative team--three 17-year-old, out-of-work babysitters--scoured my neighborhood in search of scoundrels and found one very troublesome woman. This 74 year old widow named Barbara gave them a suspicious story about how her “charming wooden slats” were installed unknowingly by her otherwise law-abiding husband in 1987. My detectives measured the “offensive picket” at a full four feet —rather than the legal 3 ½ -- above grade.
pressed, Barbara confessed that she had just received a letter from the L.A.
City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo asking her to “appear for a City Attorney
hearing to determine if a criminal complaint should be issued against (her)...
for an alleged (fence) violation.”
a stressful situation,” Barbara says. “It makes me feel like a felon.
Shouldn’t there be a statute of limitations on fences that have been in
place for so long?”
snitches are on the rise, according to some local representatives. Meddlesome
neighbors or quality of life protectors, depending upon ones perspective,
protest fences by calling the city’s toll free number anonymously to tattle
on their neighbors for wrought-iron, chain link and hedge indiscretions.
Barbara’s picket caught the attention of authorities when complainants
tipped off the Department of Building and Safety to another neighbor’s
fence. A dozen families on the street received the ominous code violation
investigative crew told me to grab my polygraph and interrogation spotlight,
and scurry to Barbara’s home for a "Guantanamo Bay style" probe.
But when I arrived, I took pity on the wide-eyed senior, hinting “Have you
ever seen Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie, “Catch Me If You Can?”
course, I would never advise Barbara to creep further into the recesses of
crime by snubbing Mr. Delgadillo and tossing the violation notice in the
trash. And I would hate for the fence fiasco to culminate in a showdown at a
dusty printing warehouse in France, all on the taxpayers’ dime.
I wondered-- merely as a philosophical exercise--what would the city do if she
were a “no show” at the hearing? How would the city react if Barbara faxed
them a list of the other 111 high fences in our neighborhood, or better yet,
the tens of thousands in L.A,?
things are certain: it would take a lot of out-of-work babysitters to compile
the list, and it would start a revolution. Homeowners would not be willing to
dismantle fences that cost them thousands of dollars to construct.
Barbara could then create a directory of every property with any sort of code
violation. In fact, we have one now: it’s called the phone book.
a Realtor for the past 17 years, I have never sold a home that complies with
every Building and Safety rule. There are enclosed patios and guest houses
that are not “built to code;” there are water heaters, roofs and air
conditioners that have been installed without permits. It can be illegal to
park too many vehicles in the driveway or store too many items in the garage.
to a number of break-ins in the area, Barbara wants to retain her picket for
security. Fence proponents tout other benefits, such as increased privacy and
the flexibility to transform front yards into grassy play areas for kids and
pets, especially when pools swallow up the rear of a lot. Hill-adjacent
properties as well as those that have succumbed to expansion or mansionization
may not have room for a yard without enclosing the front.
many years have passed and too many fences have been built for Los Angeles to
attempt a perilous, impractical and costly u-turn back to the “Leave it to
Beaver” days when neighborhoods had unobstructed front lawns. One third of
all home-owning Angelenos cannot and should not be inputted into a “fence
Barbaras of this city should not be frightened by official notices, turned
into scofflaws and labeled “casualties of the process,” as one fence
snitch calls her.
city could encourage residents to drape existing fences with greenery to
capture the pastoral quality of the yesteryear or require them to contribute
$100 annually to a neighborhood beautification fund in return for the right to
ignore the law.
city could even change the law to accommodate higher fences and mature hedges;
after all, an owner has paid for her front yard, so she should, within reason,
be able to use it as she pleases.
"fence" controversy has traveled beyond Los Angeles to the
California communities of Burbank, Santa Monica, Richmond, and Glendale where
angry homeowners have flocked to city council meetings—often breaking
attendance records--to voice their dissatisfaction with what they perceive to
be arcane and restrictive rules. The issue is likely to continue weaving its
way across America since most communities limit front-yard fence heights to
three to four feet while property owners routinely disregard the laws.
I said good-bye to infamous L.A. picket, Barbara whispered in my ear.
tell Mr. Delgadillo, but I wish my fence were higher. Then I could take out my
trash in my nightie.”
I nodded, "Why should a person have to get dressed just to walk out her own front door?"
Santa Monica Daily Press
on August 26, 2005
Burbank Leader (section in the L.A. Times in the Burbank/Glendale area) on August 27, 2005
The Canyon News on August 28, 2005
Apartment Age Magazine - January 2006 edition. To the Adobe Acrobat Version at their website.
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