CityWatch, Sept 16, 2011
Vol 9 Issue 74
Los Angeles is the Capital of Contradictions and all it takes is a fence to prove that point.
On the one hand, the Residents in East Hollywood have found themselves targeted by Building & Safety and the City Attorney because they dared to build over-in-height fences around their homes, their property, and their families in order to protect themselves from criminals.
On the other hand, the Residents of Runyon Canyon have the local City Council office supporting a fence that would protect an entire neighborhood against the threat of...gasp...tourists!
As the residents of East Hollywood plead for a reprieve from the City Attorney’s enforcement of the Building & Safety citations, their request falls on deaf ears while the residents of Runyon Canyon will have their case heard next week in the City Council's Public Works Committee.
East Hollywood residents have two gang injunctions in place but the City Attorney’s Neighborhood Prosecutor is unable to actually enforce the injunctions and abatement actions, leaving squatters, drug dealers, gangbangers, prostitutes and thieves free to work their trade. The City of LA is kept busy cracking down on the residents who build over-in-height fences to protect themselves from these people.
Runyon Canyon residents have endured “security issues such as loitering, littering, drinking and smoking” due to the popularity of the area for tourists, the folks who come from around the world to spend their hard earned money in our community. As Tourism moves to the #1 position in job generation, ahead of international trade, manufacturing plants, film and TV studios, aerospace firms, and colleges and universities, the City of LA responds by criminalizing tourists.
That’s right, it turns out that the tourists are a greater threat to the residents of Runyon Canyon than gangbangers are to the residents of East Hollywood.
The absurdity gets thicker.
In East Hollywood, the City Attorney’s office instructs locals to simply apply for a “Fence District,” something that doesn’t exist, that doesn’t have an application or implementation standard in place, that has no established fee, and that is simply a theoretical proposition at this point.
One might argue that there already are “Fence Districts” in place. For example, Monroe Street has 20 homes and 16 of them have over-in-height fences, resulting in a de facto “Fence District.”
While the legal experts debate the uneven application of LA’s municipal code, it’s important to note that 24 years ago, Van Nuys Municipal Judge Kenneth Lee Chotiner dismissed an over-in-height fence case, noting the ubiquitous nature of over-in-height fences and calling for “standards to guide prosecution of these offenses.”
East Hollywood is still waiting on those standards while Building & Safety is still citing residents.
In Runyon Canyon, the City Council motion relies on the California Vehicle Code (CVC) which says in section 21101.4 that a local municipal authority can close a street to the public if it’s found that “there is serious and continual criminal activity” in the area recommended for closure and if it is determined that it is the traffic that contributes to the criminal activity.
The City Council motion clearly articulates that the “serious and continual criminal activity” in Runyon Canyon consists of “loitering, littering, drinking and smoking” but no mention is made of whether the tourists are on foot or in vehicles.
While the legal experts debate the nature of “serious crime,” it’s important to note that 17 years ago Judge Fred Cook of the 2nd District Court of Appeals ruled against the City of Los Angeles and the Whitley Heights Civic Association in their gated community proposal, opining “we doubt the Legislature wants to permit a return to feudal times with each suburb being a fiefdom to which other citizens of the state are denied their fundamental right of access to use public streets within those areas.”
At the time of the Whitley Heights case, the City of LA had over 100 pending applications for street closures.
The debate over public space and private space is not new, neither is the idea that gated communities and walled off homes may have an immediate benefit to those on the inside but not to those on the outside.
While the debate over “crime prevention through environmental design” (CPTED) simmers, it’s imperative that the City of LA consider the rulings and decisions that have established legal precedent and that serve as the standard for City Hall actions and decisions.
Most importantly, the City of Los Angeles must treat the residents fairly and equitably, delivering city services consistently and applying the law evenly.
It’s not just the mark of a Great City, it the law.
(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net .)