Responding to testimony by residents who say they need fences higher than currently allowed in front of their property for privacy and protection, the Venice Neighborhood Council has called for a working group to explore potential revisions to the fence height regulations in the City of Los Angeles.

A 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 exemptions. The height regulations have become a growing issue in Venice, as residents have been seeking variances to the limits more frequently in recent months, while others have complained that their neighbors’ fences are too high.

After the Neighborhood Council formed a Fences and Hedges Task Force to look into the situation, the task force developed various recommendations for enforcement of the law, including that substantial fines be issued if the property does not comply after being cited.

But at a community meeting attended by nearly 200 people last month, residents objected to the recommendations, saying that they need high fences, primarily for privacy and security reasons.

Rather than move forward with the controversial task force recommendations, the Neighborhood Council voted Tuesday, February 19th, to form a Fences and Hedges working group to spend six months further evaluating the issue and develop recommended revisions to the 27-year-old law. The recommendations should consider the diversity of neighborhoods in Venice, the council directed.

The group will be comprised of seven to ten people, including concerned residents and representatives of the Neighborhood Council, City Councilman Bill Rosendahl’s office, the city attorney’s office and city planning and building and safety departments.

“Considering everything, we thought that the best thing to do was to have everyone who was involved in the issue work together to come up with a common-sense solution,” Neighborhood Council president Mike Newhouse said of the working group.

Based on the turnout at the community meeting, the Neighborhood Council learned that many people in the community object to the existing fence height regulations, Newhouse said. But he added that council members’ “hands are tied” because, while they understand the resident concerns, there is a law that limits fence height.

“Three-and-a-half feet is the law of the land,” Neighborhood Council Land Use and Planning Committee chair Challis Macpherson noted.

While they were pleased to learn that the Neighborhood Council did not move forward with the initial task force recommendations, many residents would have liked the council to drop the issue altogether.

Neighborhood Council member Stewart Oscars said he voted against forming a working group because he felt an ad-hoc committee would be more effective in addressing the divisive issue.

Some, such as resident Steve Freedman, said at the community meeting last month that the advisory Neighborhood Council should not get involved in the citywide issue. The Neighborhood Council is addressing only the concerns of the Venice community, which may not reflect the concerns throughout the city, Freedman said.

“Neighborhood Councils are not there to enforce city ordinances,” said Freedman, who added that he has not noticed a fence dispute in his neighborhood. “It’s presumptuous for one Neighborhood Council to take up a citywide issue.”

Newhouse said the Neighborhood Council wants to ensure that any recommendation it makes regarding the fence height issue will take into account the majority of residents’ feelings.

BILLBOARD INSPECTION — In a separate action, the Neighborhood Council voted to send a letter to Rosendahl, urging him to initiate an immediate emergency inspection of all billboard support structures in the community for permit status and need of repair or demolition.

The proposal was sparked by a recent incident in which a billboard collapsed at a parking lot near Lincoln and Venice Boulevards due to apparent structural support failure, damaging nearby vehicles, Neighborhood Council members said.

Calling it a matter of public safety, Neighborhood Council members claim that a significant number of billboard support structures are visibly rusted, which has caused concern that other billboards could topple and endanger the public.