The Beverly Hills City Council has put off a decision on changing the rules that govern walls, fences and hedges around private homes.
Building inspectors were told to continue their policy of not issuing citations to residents whose too-tall fences violate the municipal code, and the matter was referred to five neighborhood groups for further consideration.
The action came after the Planning Commission recommended raising the height limit for hedges, a move intended to provide more security while retaining the verdant look of the city's residential areas.
"This could create a lot of civil unrest," said Mayor Edward I. Brown, warning that neighbors would be incensed by 15-foot barriers between houses.
If adopted, the new rules would be "a major departure from the city's longstanding philosophy," Planning Director Irwin Moss Kaplan said, adding that they would have "a dramatic impact on the streetscape."
The proposed changes would be most dramatic along side and back property lines, where the existing 8-foot limit would be increased to 15 feet. The limit for front hedges would be increased from 6 to 8 feet.
The Planning Commission also recommended doing away with the existing requirement that walls, fences and hedges be set back at least 20% of the length of the property.
Instead, an eight-foot hedge would be permitted at the very front of the property. If the homeowner opts for a fence, it could be located two feet behind the front property line but the top four feet would have to be made of see-through material.
As the code stands now, any front wall, fence or hedge within the 20% setback cannot exceed three feet, a provision violated at about 20% to 40% of the homes in the city, According to City Council member Benjamin H. Stansbury Jr.
"It's a question of relinquishing open space for security reasons," Stansbury said. "It's a trade-off. Everyone would like to see everyone else's yard open and their own yard shut."
When the issue came up at a recent study session, four of the five City Council members spoke in favor of the proposed changes, but Brown, who will leave the council when his term expires in April, opposed it.
"We've got a consensus but we're deferring to our lame duck mayor," council member Donna Ellman said.
"The people are looking for privacy," council member Annabelle Heiferman said. "I'm hearing they want higher fences and higher shrubbery for privacy." The mayor based his opposition on aesthetics, saying that "one of the beauties of Beverly Hills is seeing the flow of gardens."
"The smaller the lot, the worse it's going to look," Brown said. "It's going to create tunnel-like streets and lots."
Councilwoman Charlotte Spadaro suggested allowing higher hedges in some neighborhoods but not in others, with exceptions to be granted on appeal.
After discussion, the issue was referred to Vision 20/20, a set of five neighborhood groups whose representatives are discussing revisions to the city's general plan for submission to the council later this year.
City Manager Edward S. Kreins said neighbors who favor the existing policy have complained about lack of enforcement, but council members said an unofficial moratorium on issuing citations to violators should be continued.
"That doesn't bother me," Stansbury said. "We've shown we're powerless to stop this in any way."