Letters to the Editor
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, a full six inches over the legal limit.
When pressed, Barbara confessed she 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." "It's a stressful situation," Barbara said. "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?"
Fence 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. Barbara's picket caught the attention of authorities when were raised about a neighbor's neighbor's fence. A dozen families on the street received the ominous code violation letter.
Of 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. But 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.?
Due 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. Hill-adjacent properties or as those that have succumbed to expansion or mansionization may not have room for a yard without enclosing the front.
Too 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 of unobstructed front lawns. It is unnecessary for 1/3 of all home-owning Angelenos cannot and should not be inputted into a "fence offender database." The 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. The city could encourage residents to drape existing fences with greenery to capture the pastoral quality or require them to contribute $100 annually to a neighborhood beautification fund in return for the right to ignore the law. The 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.
The 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, and owners routinely disregard the laws.
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