A Canoga Park homeowner who refused to tear down an illegal front-yard fence because some city officials had similar walls at their houses has won a nine-year dispute with Los Angeles zoning inspectors.
The city attorney's office said Monday that it dropped a zoning violation complaint against Barbara Fabricant for having a six-foot fence around her Hatton Street front yard because such walls have become common in the city.
Fabricant, 61, had marched into Van Nuys Municipal Court with snapshots she claimed showed oversize and illegal fences and hedges at the homes of Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner and City Council members Joy Picus, Marvin Braude, Joel Wachs and Hal Bernson.
City prosecutors dismissed the zoning infraction against Fabricant and called for an overhaul of the enforcement of current fence-height regulations by the city's Department of Building and Safety.
The city attorney's office, meanwhile, will only prosecute "emergency situations" involving privately owned fences that are public-safety hazards, said Theodore Heyck, a deputy city attorney.
Until now, zoning enforcement officers have reacted to complaints about front-yard fences more than 3 1/2 feet tall in most residential areas. They have ordered such fences removed and lodged criminal actions against homeowners who failed to comply.
A neighbor filed such a complaint against Fabricant's six-foot masonry fence in 1978. Eva Zipper told authorities that Fabricant's fence obscured her view as she pulled out of her driveway and that she struck her 15-year-old son, who was riding a bicycle on the sidewalk.
Although Fabricant removed the top portion of her block fence and replaced it with wrought iron, she refused to lower the fence to 3 1/2 feet.
Three years ago, she said, she obtained officials' home addresses through city election records and photographed hedges and fences that she claimed similarly violated city zoning laws.
The photographic evidence wasn't necessary Thursday when Fabricant showed up at Van Nuys Municipal Court, said Heyck. 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? Against a large segment of the city?"
Heyck said homeowners' views toward fences, privacy and personal protection have changed in the past 20 years. "Perhaps the code should be amended to reflect people's attitudes today," he said Monday.
Some homeowners ordered to remove their fences have reacted passionately--and worse, according to zoning enforcement officials.
In May, Building Inspector Calvin O'Daniels was blinded in one eye when a Northridge homeowner allegedly punched him after being told that a fence next to a neighbor's driveway would have to be lowered to allow a view of oncoming traffic. Criminal charges against the homeowner are pending.
Van Nuys Municipal Judge Kenneth Lee Chotiner, who dismissed Fabricant's case, acknowledged that more homes seem to have oversize front-yard fences than in the past.
"I fully agree there do have to be standards to guide prosecution of these offenses. The city attorney and Department of Building and Safety will be meeting to formulate standards," Chotiner said Monday.
Official Notice Awaited
Ed Boyer, head of the department's investigation division, said his office had not been notified of the results of the Fabricant case.
But he said the impact would extend beyond Hatton Street if the City Council rewrites the fence-height law.
"I don't know if it should," Boyer said of the council. "There are possibilities of hazards and the unsightliness of fences that don't blend in. A lot of that is what zoning is about--to have houses in a neighborhood all blend in."
Fabricant said she is glad her fence fight is over.
But Zipper said she won't rest until Fabricant removes her wall.
"There are other violations in the neighborhood, but none is as offensive and hazardous as this one is," Zipper said. "They should cite other people so she could not claim discrimination."