The volatile topic of regulating the size and scale of fences and hedges was among those that dominated a recent meeting of the Venice Neighborhood Council.
There are limits on the height of fences throughout Los Angeles, but Venice residents who want to maintain or build frontage higher than currently allowed — not higher than 3.5 feet off the pavement — say their taller fences serve as a form of protection as well as establishing boundaries of privacy.
Jed Pauker, who spoke on behalf of the Fences and Hedges Ad Hoc Committee, told the audience that one important aspect of the recommendations that were made was that the suggestions came from local residents who know their neighborhoods well and not from city employees.
“These were people who are experts in their own neighborhoods and that’s what these recommendations are designed to provide,” Pauker noted.
The committee recommended that the board distribute a communitywide survey to provide a factual basis for community support and made a number recommendations that the Neighborhood Council consider proposing to the city, including:
— provide “grandfather” protection for existing structures over 3.5 feet in all sub areas;
— enable neighborhoods to establish Specific Plan Fence Height Overlay Districts to define their own frontage barrier height limits; and
— establish a notification procedure regarding neighborhood regulations for new property owners.
Colette Bailey, who worked on the ad hoc committee, addressed the need for all parties to be flexible, given the divisive nature of the subject.
“We need to find common ground on this issue, because there really isn’t any way to [design it] one way or another without a lot of animosity in the community,” Bailey said.
Bruce Birch thought that the proposed recommendations were “harmless enough,” but also wanted to know how the Neighborhood Council would go about presenting its findings to the Los Angeles City Council, which will have the final say in implementing the neighborhood’s suggestions.
“What is the city going to do with this?” Birch asked. “What are they going to do with the [Neighborhood Council’s] recommendations?
“Unless the city is indicating that they are going to follow through with recommendations or improve the recommendations, unless they get on board, I don’t see us getting any resolution to the issue at hand.”
Councilman Bill Rosendahl said he was interested to hear what suggestions are laid out by his Venice constituents.
“This has caused tension in some neighborhoods,” Rosendahl acknowledged. “There are safety issues in some neighborhoods, while in others, character, scale and the height of a structure is more important.
“It is not an easy issue.”
Safety, as in past meetings, was a concern with many of the residents.
Celeste Chada, who lives on Bernard Avenue, said that while she supports social service entities near her home like soup kitchens, families also have the right to feel safe and are entitled to a degree of privacy.
“The residents who avail themselves to the methadone clinic and the soup kitchen affect the neighborhoods around them,” said Chada. “When you talk about safety, I have a two-year-old daughter and if I didn’t have a tall fence, she wouldn’t be able to play in the front yard.
“The neighborhoods that have tall fences are safe neighborhoods. I think that there should be a choice — if you don’t want a tall fence, don’t build one, but if you feel that you need one, then you should have that opportunity.”
The Neighborhood Council will vote on the recommendations for the community’s fences and hedges at its October meeting.
LAND USE COMMITTEE — Before the speakers addressed the council, a dispute regarding increasing the number of members on the board’s Land Use and Planning Committee erupted after the proposal was two votes shy of the necessary 14 needed for approval.
The decision to initially deny the proposal to expand the committee caused committee chair Challis Macpherson to resign.
Macpherson, who chairs what is considered to be one of the board’s most influential committees, took umbrage at the results of the failed measure.
“I quit,” she announced to the council, as she began loading her notes on a rolling luggage cart.
That set off a flurry of protests by some of the members, many of whom believe that the committee has performed an exemplary service for the residents of Venice.
Nick Karno, a community officer and Joseph Murphy, the board’s secretary, voted against the proposal, prompting Macpherson to quit.
Karno agreed to another vote, but Murphy was steadfast in his opposition to add more members to Macpherson’s committee.
Mike Newhouse, the board president, made an uncharacteristic personal plea to Murphy to reconsider his vote.
“I’m asking you to reconsider what you’re doing, Joe,” Newhouse implored. “What you’re doing is going to eviscerate the committee.”
But Murphy replied, “I’m sorry, but I cannot change my position.”
Murphy eventually relented and decided to vote with the majority, as did Karno, but not before stating his reasons why the committee should not be expanded.
“I’m disturbed by what appears to be a shift in the [Land Use and Planning Committee] function away from an impartial staff support to the board to what appears to me to be a biased political role,” the board secretary stated. “I believe that its role should be reconsidered and clarified along with the other substantive bylaw amendment proposals by an independent and broadly representative bylaws committee.”
Murphy then conceded that it was possible that the committee needed new members, but he maintained that it had strayed from its original function.
Ira Koslow, a community officer and a strong supporter of the committee, suggested that those who disagree with adding more members review the role of the committee through the bylaw process.
“If they’ve gotten off their base and you want to give them new direction, great,” he said. “This is legal. Nothing that we are doing here is illegal and against the bylaws of this board.”
The second vote to reconsider more committee members was unanimous, 14-0.
Bailey seemed confused by the decision to take another vote.
“Didn’t the stakeholders reject [the proposal]?” she asked the council.
“We didn’t have enough votes,” Newhouse replied.
Macpherson, who returned to the meeting, referred questions about the Land Use Committee’s role to its mission statement, which reads:
“This committee shall review, take public input, report on and make recommendations of actions to the Board of Officers on any land use and planning issues affecting the community.”
The board plans to consider the recommendation to expand the committee at an October 23rd town hall meeting.