The strands of Christmas lights strung across a suburban Orange County street were meant to unite neighbors during the holidays. Instead, the brightly colored decorations have left them entangled in red tape.
The canopy of lights that bring a festive glow to a Wagon Wheel neighborhood when the sun goes down are an “unpermitted encroachment” in the eyes on county officials, who’ve ordered them removed.
But residents in the subdivision tucked in the foothills of Trabuco Canyon said they have no plans to take down the lights that zigzag above the street -- despite warnings that they could be fined or even prosecuted if they fail to remove the display by nightfall Wednesday.
"They're going to cut that?" asked resident Dannielle Jubb, waving toward the aerial decorations. "This is America."
As residents chatted on the sidewalks and children darted across the manicured lawns Monday night, some wondered why their block had suddenly become the focus of county scrutiny. "Like, really?" said Christy Gruner as a decorated palm tree glowed on the lawn behind her. "It's just lights, people."
County officials said it is far more complicated than that, however. The strands of lights that stretch across the streets from home to home are a potential fire hazard and could make it difficult for emergency vehicles to navigate the quiet community.
"We don't have issues with any of the other lights," said Nadia Haidar, a county spokeswoman. "We fully support that."
However, since giving residents notices that the lights must come down -- and drawing the outrage of the community -- the county has offered to work with residents on getting a permit for the street decorations. Officials said they would consider extending the Wednesday deadline and waiving permit fees.
But even that gesture has become tangled.
"It would be unrealistic to have 34 different homeowners come and apply for a permit," Haidar said. "It would be more ideal if the homeowners' association came to the table and offered themselves as the single permittee."
That may not happen since the association’s board of directors isn’t scheduled to meet again until next year, said board President Jason DeMond.
"We want the holiday spirit," DeMond said. But “the association has zero involvement."