For many Venice residents it’s simple.
The reason they have fences fronting their property that are higher than is allowed in the community is a matter of privacy and protecting their family.
“It is a privacy and security issue, bottom line,” resident Michelle Dunny told the Venice Neighborhood Council at a special forum on the fences and hedges issue Tuesday, January 29th.
Residents say the high fences in front of their homes are essential for preventing onlookers from peering into their property and protecting their children from suspicious passersby as they play in the yard. Some even brought their children out to the forum, which was attended by nearly 200 people, to stress their point even further.
But like it or not, a 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. The issue has become somewhat complicated for Venice Neighborhood Council members, who say they want to be able to address the concerns of residents while respecting citywide law.
Neighborhood Council president Mike Newhouse admitted that his hands are tied as a council member because, while he understands the residents’ concerns, there is a law that limits fence height.
“We don’t have the luxury of turning a blind eye to it,” Newhouse said of the fence height regulation. “When you’re an elected official, whether or not you agree with the law, you have to enforce it as it stands or you have to revise it.”
Newhouse added that the fence height law, which was adopted in 1981, has not been strongly enforced throughout the city over the years but it has become a growing issue in Venice.
Residents have been seeking variances to the height limits more frequently in recent months, while others have complained that their neighbors’ fences are too high, said Neighborhood Council Land Use and Planning Committee chair Challis Macpherson.
According to city planning department records, approximately two to three fence-height variances are requested in Venice every month, Macpherson said.
In response to the growing issue, the Neighborhood Council directed its Land Use and Planning Committee last year to form a Fences and Hedges Task Force to look into the situation and make recommendations. After researching the issue and receiving input from throughout the community, the Fences and Hedges Task Force devised various recommendations to ensure that the law is enforced.
“We have to find ways to enforce the law,” task force member Jed Pauker said. “The fact that the law may need some tweaking is another issue.”
Among the recommendations, which were supported by the land use committee, is that if a fence is higher than three and a half feet and has not received a variance, it must be brought into compliance. The city would be allowed to remove the front-yard fence if the property did not comply within 180 days of receiving a citation.
Another main recommendation is that if the property is not brought into compliance after being cited, “substantial” fines, such as $5,000 after 60 days, would be imposed.
Macpherson said the land use committee put forth the recommendations because the Neighborhood Council had requested a report on the fence issue.
“We wanted to respond to the request and get the information in front of the community to see what the sense was,” Macpherson said.
The Venice Neighborhood Council has not taken a position on the task force recommendations and before council members are scheduled to vote on the matter Tuesday, February 19th, they wanted to make sure they heard from the community. No action was taken at the special policy forum January 29th, but residents came out in force as a strong majority voiced their frustrations with the recommendations.
Security was a key argument amongst the residents with higher fences who said they need to be able to keep their family safe.
“My fence and hedge is the only thing that makes me feel safe on my property,” resident Karen Humphreys said.
Some, such as Ocean Avenue resident Chris King, said they would not put their family in danger and vowed not to lower their fence.
Others took issue with the recommended fines that would be imposed against properties that are not in compliance.
“Don’t come after me with exorbitant fines if I want to protect my kids,” resident Lou Ferreri warned.
But some of the residents at the forum said the fence height regulations need to be enforced to preserve the open character of Venice and prevent the streets from being walled off.
“It’s really important to have a sense of community and a sense of openness — not just walls,” land use committee member Robert Aronson said.
Another point of contention with residents has been the Neighborhood Council’s role in considering the enforcement recommendations. Some community members argued that there was not enough community input before the recommendations were created and said the advisory council should not dictate how they manage their property.
“This is not how you build a community,” resident Craig Smith said.
“I feel that the Neighborhood Council shouldn’t take a position on this,” said resident Steve Freedman, who added that he has not noticed a fence dispute between neighbors on his street.
City Councilman Bill Rosendahl acknowledged that there is not an easy solution to the fence height issue. The councilman said he has called for the creation of a task force with the Building and Safety and Planning departments to revisit the issue, which has been a problem throughout the city.
“The law needs to be looked at and we need to understand it enough to figure out what other options there are to give to people,” Rosendahl said.