Woman Wins 9-Year Battle Over Illegal Fence--Law May Change

Times Staff Writer

A Canoga Park woman who refused to tear down an illegal fence in her front yard and who, in protest, gathered evidence of similar zoning violations at the houses of city officials, has won a nine-year dispute with Los Angeles inspectors.

The city attorney's office said Monday that it dropped a complaint against Barbara Fabricant for having a six-foot fence around her front yard because such walls have become common in the city.

In addition, prosecutors called for an overhaul of enforcement of fence height regulations by the city's Department of Building and Safety.

Fabricant, 61, had marched into Van Nuys Municipal Court with snapshots that she claimed showed oversize and illegal fences and hedges at the homes of former City Atty. and now Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner and City Council members Joy Picus, Marvin Braude, Joel Wachs and Hal Bernson.

Limited Enforcement

Until procedures are changed to avoid inconsistent enforcement, the city attorney's office will only prosecute "emergency situations" involving privately owned fences that are public safety hazards, Deputy City Atty. Theodore Heyck said.

Until now, zoning enforcement officers have reacted to complaints about front-yard fences higher that 3 1/2-feet in residential areas, ordering such fences removed and lodging criminal actions against homeowners who fail to comply.

A neighbor filed such a complaint against Fabricant's six-foot masonry fence in 1978, alleging that the fence obscured her view as she pulled out of her driveway, causing her to strike her 15-year-old son, who was riding a bicycle on the sidewalk.

Fabricant removed the top portion of her block fence and replaced it with wrought iron, but refused to lower the fence to 3 1/2 feet.

Then, three years ago, she obtained officials' home addresses through city election records and photographed hedges and fences that were similar--or taller--than her own.

Protestations of Innocence

Although spokesmen for the officials insisted at the time that the hedges and fences were legal, Fabricant retorted: "If I'm a criminal, so are they."

The evidence wasn't necessary when Fabricant showed up at Van Nuys Municipal Court last Thursday. The case was dropped before it went to trial.

"I'd gone out to her neighborhood and counted approximately 27 other houses within one block in either direction that appeared to be in the same violation in varying degrees," Heyck said.

"If we file against her, we file against everyone in the neighborhood. Does the city wish to proceed against an entire neighborhood?"

Heyck said homeowners' views toward fences, privacy and personal protection have changed in the last 20 years and "perhaps the code should be amended to reflect people's attitudes today."

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