CityWatch, July 1, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 52
RETHINKING LA - Mayor Villaraigosa’s recent success in navigating LA’s code enforcement and planning variance process demonstrates the uneven landscape of City Hall, one that favors connections and money while punishing residents of low-income and high-crime neighborhoods. Acting on the advice of the LAPD, General Services, and Homeland Security, Villaraigosa tendered a variance request for an over-in-height front yard wall last year, stirring objections from the Windsor Square Association and charges that the wall violates the Historic Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ) standards.
In a demonstration of the traditional “ask for the outrageous, settle for the offensive” strategy employed by the professionals who artfully manipulate the city’s plans, zones, and codes, Villaraigosa initially requested a variance for a 96” wall and then conceded to a 65” security fence.
As of this past week, the Mayor’s variance requested was granted. Nicely played!
Meanwhile, the residents of East Hollywood continue to grapple with their own public safety issues while the Department of Building and Safety cites them for over-in-height fences, issuing fines, penalties and orders to remove the offending structures.
The Mayor’s demonstration of variance prowess has prompted charges of inequitable application of the law, after all, the residents are willing to pay the same fee that the Mayor paid, they’re willing to accept the same limitations that he accepts, they want the same protection that he wants.
In town hall and neighborhood council meetings, representatives of the City of LA’s “Department of No” have repeatedly placed obstacles in front of the residents while lecturing them on their responsibility for public safety.
The community has responded with a series of solutions that address the underlying issue of public safety while resolving the specific code enforcement drama.
1) Implement a “Due on Sale” policy that allows residents in low-income, high-crime neighborhoods to pursue over-in-height fence variances without the immediate burden of an oppressive $4800 fee.
2) Implement a Public Safety focus that requires the removal of over-in-height fences that interfere with public safety while permitting over-in-height fences that support public safety. If the City of LA can’t figure out the difference, it’s time to slow down and figure it out.
3) Return the Neighborhood Prosecutor to the community, implementing public safety strategies such as nuisance abatements and gang injunctions that would address the public safety issues that are prompting residents to build security fences in the first place.
4) Declare a moratorium on Building & Safety’s complaint-driven enforcement strategy in favor a systemic standards driven approach to code enforcement. Citing one neighbor while ignoring the other is the best way to divide a community and breed contempt for the law.
5) Declare a moratorium on enforcement of Planning’s simplistic “one size fits all neighborhoods” front yard fence standard. Develop context specific standards that address the different character and personalities of individual neighborhoods. Most importantly, address the unique needs of each community. From horse property to hillside property to homes on busy urban streets, fence standards should reflect the local environment.
6) Consider the City Hall scrum that must be engaged by the public, (Mayor’s office, City Attorney’s office, City Council office, City Planning, Building & Safety, LAPD) all in an effort to protect one’s family and property. Something so simple gets so complicated and then the City of LA trips over itself fining and adding penalties when residents fail to navigate the system.
7) Join the residents of East Hollywood for Street Beat, “Taking back the streets, one step at a time!” Thursday evenings through the summer, from 7 pm to 9 pm, neighbors walk, they talk, and they connect with the community.
(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net .)