Hello, Councilmembers.

I am Dr. Charlotte Laws, member of the Greater Valley Glen Council. I assume you received my letter in September 2005 urging that you raise the height for front yard fences and hedges. I have provided you today with an article that I wrote about this subject and my list of recommendations for the city.

Los Angeles codes which limit front-yard fence and hedge height to a maximum 3 ˝ feet above grade are obsolete and emanate from a time when crime was lower and conformity was the norm. Times have changed, and I believe these laws need to be reviewed and revised to accommodate a homeowner's need for greater privacy, security and self-determination.

For the most part, Los Angeles has not enforced these codes. A friend of mine with a 20-foot hedge received a letter from City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo, saying that he faced a substantial fine or a year in prison if he did not cut his hedge. He attended a hearing and told the judge he would prefer to go to jail. The judge said, “Have the hedge cut by Tuesday when Building and Safety comes to your house.” My friend did not cut his hedge, but the building and safety employee opted for the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy. She said she would pretend the hedge conformed with the law.

As an experiment, I surveyed the 359 homes in my neighborhood and found that 112 had hedges or fences that were not in compliance with the law. If this statistic translates across the city, this means one-third of all Los Angeles residents are not in compliance.

To enforce them selectively now—as is being done--results in an uneven application of the law. It can pit neighbors against neighbors, and it can be financially burdensome for property owners who do not have the funds to alter their front yards. Variances can be costly. Neighbors snitch on each other; this escalates into more and more snitching.

Our city has serious problems. Why are we wasting our time and money enforcing outmoded laws?

We are a diverse city with different cultures, crime levels and privacy needs. Some properties lack backyards due to hills, pools or placement of the home on the lot. In these cases, property owners may want to enclose their front yards to provide play areas for kids and pets. The city must allow flexibility on front-yard fences to accommodate cultural differences and the need for security and privacy.  

I have provided you with my list of recommendations for Los Angeles. Unless deemed dangerous, I think fence height should be raised to five feet, and there should be no limit on hedge height. Those that are currently higher should be grandfathered into the system, again unless considered dangerous by the city. I hope you will review all of my recommendations. Thank you.

1. Property owners with non-conforming barrier must pay the fence permit fee within 90 days of enactment of the new ordinance. (This amounts to a higher fee than the city required when most of these fences were first constructed). These homeowners will automatically be granted a permit unless their barrier is deemed hazardous (to be determined by the city).

2. Convex mirrors could be used in situations with limited visibility, such as when homeowners cannot see oncoming traffic upon exiting a driveway. Note: cars parked at the side of the road can also limit visibility, yet no one suggests parking should not be allowed.  

3. The new codes should allow front-yard fences and walls up to a maximum five feet from grade (light posts on top of fences can be higher). Front-yard fences and walls that are currently taller (and not deemed dangerous) are to be grandfathered into the system as long as the permit fees are paid within 90 days.

4. Front-yard hedges can be unlimited, as long as they are not deemed hazardous by the city.

5. The city should make exceptions in special cases, conducting a hearing for these exceptions.