Enforcement of height limits for front-yard fences and hedges continues to be a puzzling issue for community leaders in Venice.
After requesting an ad hoc committee earlier this year to develop recommended revisions to existing fence-height regulations, the Venice Neighborhood Council voted 9-7 Tuesday, October 21st, to reject the committee’s recommendations.
The City of Los Angeles law on frontage barrier limits states that front-yard fences cannot be higher than three and a half feet from the ground, with certain exceptions. Neighborhood Council members note that the law, which was adopted in 1981, has not been actively enforced throughout the city over the years but it has become a growing issue in Venice.
Many residents have argued that they have fences higher than allowed for reasons of privacy and security. Residents say the high fences in front of their homes are essential for preventing onlookers from peering into their property and protecting their children while they play in the yard.
Council members say the issue is somewhat complicated, as they want to be able to address the concerns of residents while respecting citywide law.
“The law is the law, and if you’re an elected official your job is to uphold the law or work to change it,” Venice Neighborhood Council president Mike Newhouse said.
The Ad Hoc Fences and Hedges Committee was charged with evaluating the issue and proposing recommendations that addressed various resident concerns. Among the main recommendations were that a “grandparent” protection be provided for existing structures over three and a half feet, referencing Santa Monica law, and that neighborhoods be allowed to establish “overlay districts” to define their own height limits.
Other recommendations were that the council distribute a community-wide survey to provide a basis for community support and that a notification procedure be established informing new property owners of the neighborhood regulations.
Some Neighborhood Council members who voted against the recommendations said they had an issue with the “grandparent” proposal because it would have allowed some properties to keep the high fences, but not others. Council vice president Linda Lucks said the grandparenting plan would lead to “spotty enforcement” and added that the advisory council should not put forth such a recommendation.
“It didn’t feel right to me,” Lucks said of why she voted against the recommendations. “I don’t think it’s our place. If people want the law to be different then they should go to the city to have it be changed.”
Council member Stan Muhammad, who also voted against the proposal, said the fence height regulations have been an issue for residents in the Oakwood Neighborhood. He also believed that a grandparenting clause would not lead to equal enforcement.
“If we’re going to really enforce the law, then we need to do it across the board,” Muhammad said.
Resident Steve Freedman said he thinks residents who spoke in favor of the committee recommendations did so because they essentially allowed them to keep their high fences, but he called the grandparenting idea “unfair.” The advisory council should not have addressed such a divisive issue, he said.
“I think this is obviously a controversial matter in the community,” said Freedman, who noted that his Oxford Triangle neighborhood has not faced problems with the issue. “The Neighborhood Council may do well by making policy where there is a consensus.”
Newhouse said he was disappointed in the council’s decision to reject the recommendations, which were a “comprehensive solution to a very difficult problem.” The council president believed the grandparenting clause seemed to be the most practical solution to the issue and added that he would have cast the deciding vote in support if it had been a tie.
Ad hoc committee chair Jed Pauker said committee members felt the grandparenting clause was an effective way of dealing with the situation and they tried to consider all sides of the community when developing the recommendations. While the council narrowly opposed the suggestions, Pauker said he was encouraged that the community is working to resolve the fence height issue.
“I’m hoping this is an indicator that (the issue) is spreading out to the community as a discussion and not a shouting match,” Pauker said.