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Views Clash Over Denni Street Fence : Cerritos Tract Residents Want No Reminders of Country Cousins

Times Staff Writer

On one side of the wood fence along Denni Street lies Cerritos and a neat tract of upscale suburban homes, built just 12 years ago.

On the other side of the fence--in an unincorporated area of Orange County near La Palma--are a dozen or so 40-year-old frame bungalows set in a more rural atmosphere. Chickens and other barnyard animals wander through the half-acre lots along Denni Street.

And neither side is happy with the fence, which also separates Los Angeles and Orange counties.

Those on the Cerritos side want to rebuild the fence--dubbed by them as the “Berlin Wall"--to keep the farm animals, as well as rodents, skunks and opossums, from defecting to their side, and to block the view of the older, in some cases rundown homes.

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Residents of the Shadow Run subdivision say the Orange County side is an unsightly collection of abandoned cars and loud barnyard animals.

But those on the Orange County side say the fence should be torn down because it is an eyesore, and the 1,000-foot-long wooden barricade blocks their access to Denni Street, a public road. To get to their homes, residents are forced to use a narrow, paved easement that runs across the front of their properties.

“This is my property,” said Orange County resident Curtis Hare, speaking of the easement. “Therefore, it ain’t a street.”

Denni Street residents agreed to have the temporary asphalt road built almost two decades ago to allow traffic for a development project north of their neighborhood.

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The fence--which the Orange County residents call the “Great Wall of China"--came later. It was put up in the mid ‘70s by the Shadow Run developers when they built 63 stucco family homes on what used to be a cow pasture. The slat fence, built just inches from the property lines of houses that face Denni Street, is now beginning to fall apart, fueling the disagreement on both sides. Shadow Run residents want a new, concrete barrier built, while Denni Street residents hope the fence will come down once and for all.

Because it hides the homes on the Orange County side, the fence also prevents people and even emergency vehicles from finding them quickly, Hare said, adding that an ambulance driver responding to a call on Denni Street could not find the address until neighbors waved him in.

The fence also creates blind spots for motorists at both ends.

“We have had some major (accidents),” said Jim McMahon, president of the Shadow Run Homeowners Assn. “Probably a couple dozen accidents per year,” occur there, he said. (Police agencies that cover the area said they are unable to give accurate statistics on accidents because of the multiple jurisdictions.)

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McMahon and Hare live across the street from each other.

Hare, who organized a homeowners group after he moved to the area two years ago, said that because the street is essentially two roads together, a car trying to turn off the paved easement can easily collide with a vehicle turning off Denni Street.

But Shadow Run residents, while wanting street improvements, are opposed to having the fence eliminated.

“We would not buy that,” McMahon said, as long as the view of Orange County looks the way it does. The unincorporated 9.5-acre county “island” is governed only by county regulations, which have few restrictions on the appearance of residences.

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McMahon says the fence is necessary to protect Shadow Run property values. Homes on the Cerritos side sell for about $250,000, while Hare said he paid $60,000 for his small one-story home with a quarter-acre.

McMahon said also that streets around the tract are plagued by crime. McMahon said that drug trafficking, all-night parties and drag racing are common.

Hare agreed that some of those problems do occur in the area, but he has never seen any drug trafficking on his street.

As far as crime in the Denni Street area is concerned, “nothing has come to our attention” signaling “anything out of the ordinary,” said Lt. Russ Elsner of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. Sgt. George Boswell of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said they have increased patrols in the Shadow Run area at the request of Cerritos officials.

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Last month, Shadow Run residents presented a proposal to Cerritos city officials for a new fence and landscaping.

McMahon said the barrier can play an important role in restricting the access of Cerritos children to abandoned cars, animals and other potential dangers on the Orange County side. He said that since parts of the fence are falling down, the safety danger is greater.

“Sometimes kids think possums are toys and go chasing after them,” he said.

Some Orange County residents in and around Denni Street also keep chickens and ducks on their large lots, and they do occasionally wander on the other side of the fence, Hare said.

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Hare said neighborhood efforts over the years to get the fence removed have faced opposition from officials in Orange County, Cerritos and neighboring La Palma.

Hare feels that the neighborhood has been forgotten by the county. Residents on Denni and Marion streets have no sewer line, and they get their running water from a nearby well. It would cost $80,000 to hook up to the nearest sewer line “for my house only,” he said.

But Orange County officials say they are working for improvements in the island and hope to install sidewalks in about two years.

“The H/CD (Housing/Community Development Program Office) has been instructed by the county Board of Supervisors to fix up the area,” said Thomas F. Daly, aide to Orange County Supervisor Ralph B. Clark.

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Clark, in a letter last month to Cerritos Mayor Don Knabe, said he opposed replacing the fence with a “Jersey barrier,” a cement wall similar to freeway center dividers. Clark said in the letter that Orange County homeowners should have clear access to Denni Street.

The city favors retaining some sort of wall because it blocks off safety hazards on the Orange County side, not necessarily because it makes the Cerritos side of the street more appealing to the eye, said Cerritos Public Information Officer Michele Ogle. The wall proposed by Shadow Run residents and the city would have a wood-slatted chain-link fence atop a low concrete barrier, effectively blocking the view between neighborhoods.

Ogle said tearing down the wall would cause a safety problem since the paved easement is 18 inches higher that the road bed of Denni Street.

However, the difference in height could be evened with ease, said Richard Efker, senior civil engineer for Orange County’s Housing/Community Development Program. The county’s plan to build sidewalks and curbs would mean having to tear down the Cerritos-owned divider.

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