I went to the VNC’s Board Meeting last night and I was going to post about it tomorrow evening, but then I received the email quoted below. Last night’s meeting brought up some serious questions about the manner in which the Neighborhood Council “represents” all of us who live here – which is a much bigger issue than the damn fences and hedges. The email suggests some actions that we can take – starting at tonight’s VNC meeting. If you care about making sure the Council abides by what the majority of Venice stakeholders want on any given issue – you’ll want to read this post. So here’s the story: (and please excuse the sarcasm in my tone. I simply can’t help it.)
The City of LA has a restriction on the height of fences or hedges on the front of residential properties. 3.5 feet is the height limit. About 75% of the properties in Venice do not comply. (and incidentally, many parts of the City are protesting this law – and having some success.) Some people don’t like that their neighbors are “breaking the law” and they feel that the VNC’s energy is well spent trying to figure out how to enforce this law, since their calls to the police or building code department go largely ignored. It seems the police would rather work at keeping violent crime to a minimum and building code department inspectors are busy making sure that contractors are building homes that won’t fall apart.
A Fences & Hedges Ad Hoc Committee was formed to investigate the problem and recommend ways to solve the problem. The finalized recommendations would grandfather in existing fences, leave some latitude for individual blocks to determine height requirements for issues specific to those areas, and put in place a notification system for new homeowners so that they know about the height restriction before they go spending gobs of money on building high fences. Many meetings have been devoted to this issue and the final vote of the Council was last night.
At the meeting, 27 “stakeholders” spoke in favor of the recommendations – citing reasons like individuality, security, artistic expression, architectural interest, and financial burdens if fences had to be replaced. Security seemed to be a big issue – apparently bottles and other trash doesn’t get thrown into yards with high fences, homeless people don’t sleep or defecate in yards that have high fences, and criminals evading the police don’t run through yards with high fences.
7 stakeholders spoke against the recommendations – their reasons being that they remember a time when there were NO fences and everyone knew each other and looked out for each other – of course this was some 30-40 years ago and some were remembering other towns entirely. Others said that a high fence encourages property crime, which police officers agree with (but the suggestion that drug dealers like to sneak into yards with high fences to deal drugs seems a little off to me. Why would drug dealers trespass on someone’s property when they can openly deal crack on 6th Avenue? Or in my alley for that matter?) I would like to note my impression that all of those 7 stakeholders knew the members of the Board very well and a few are running for seats on the board. Anyway – the board voted 9-7 against the recommendations.
So to recap: about 75% of homes don’t comply, 75% of the stakeholders who spoke last night want higher fences (so it seems safe to say that 75% of the property owners in Venice want to change the height rule), and 60% of the Board voted against the majority of the stakeholders in Venice. Oh and also, the Board gets to elect the new officers to fill the 2 current vacancies – and a few of the “against” stakeholders are candidates for those seats.
Whether you are for or against the fence issue is kind of irrelevant at this point – what bothers me is the appearance that The Venice Neighborhood Council isn’t representing the majority of the stakeholders if they personally disagree with what is being proposed. This is our most accessible level of government. It’s pretty important that the Council accurately and fairly represents us to the City. They are the ones who are supposed to be speaking for us on issues like, for example, laws that we want amended because neighborhood & societal dynamics have changed since the 1950’s.
So…here’s the content of the email that is making me stay up late posting this post:
The recommendations from the Fences and Hedges ad-hoc committee were not approved. We had support from 7 board members but 9 voted against, mainly due to the grandfathering of existing over height fences. Even though we had overwhelming community support in favor of the recommendations
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? The Land Use and Planning Committee (LUPC) will most likely enforce the 3 1/2″ fence height for new and existing fences. Given that the VNC and LUPC doesn’t support all stakeholders we should not support them.
Here are a few ACTION ITEMS I’m asking you to follow up on:
1 – Vote NO on all by-law changes this Thursday night 10/23 7-9pm @ Westminster Elementary School. I realize some of you spent 3 hours at the VNC meeting last night but this will take you 10 minutes! The main item to vote NO on is increasing LUPC from 9 to 13 members. The VNC will appoint the new members. They will appoint more people who will not support your fence/hedge choice.
2 – Send Councilman Rosendahl a letter asking for a moratorium on fence and hedge citations.
I talked to Arturo Pina (Venice’s field rep for Councilman Rosendahl) about my concerns. He agreed this issue would not go away and the councilman’s office is willing to work with constituents outside the VNC.
3 – Talk to your like-minded friends and neighbors in Venice. Ask them to send a letter and come out and vote Thursday night. Forward this information to neighbors you know are involved with saving their security and privacy.