For more than a week, David Graham basked in the glory of having finally beaten City Hall.
The 50-year-old Mar Vista accountant won a 16-month struggle on Sept. 20 to keep his back-yard masonry fence. Los Angeles building inspectors had said the fence was too tall, but a city zoning administrator ruled at a public hearing that it could stay.
Radio and television stations called for interviews. His story appeared in The Times. In his own words, Graham felt “this terrible mess is finally over.”
Then the mail arrived last Thursday.
Associate Zoning Administrator James Crisp had sent Graham a written version of his Sept. 20 ruling. And there was one big surprise.
Crisp wrote that Graham could keep his fence if he installed convex mirrors on either side of his driveway so “motorists using such driveway can see pedestrians and other vehicles.”
Never mind that Crisp never mentioned the mirrors on Sept. 20.
Never mind that Zoning Analyst Sarah Rodgers, who prepared a report for Crisp, concluded the fence “would not block . . . or interfere with driveway visibility.”
Never mind that Crisp praised Rodgers at the Sept. 20 hearing as “one of the best investigators we have got” and endorsed her findings.
“I went out and looked at the fence, and I have no problem with it whatsoever,” Crisp said at the hearing. “Neither did Sarah Rodgers.”
Graham, whose 16-month ordeal with the city began when he accused a building inspector of asking him for a bribe, said the city is determined to make life difficult for him. City officials have denied the alleged bribe solicitation ever took place.
“They just won’t let this thing go,” Graham said in an interview Thursday shortly after opening Crisp’s letter. “All I want to do is be left alone. Is that asking too much?”
In a brief interview outside his office, Crisp said it was not unusual for zoning administrators to add conditions to an approval after “sitting back and thinking about it.” He described the mirror requirement as “fully reasonable.”
“You do have a visibility problem there,” he said. “We don’t necessarily mention all of the conditions of approval at the hearing.”
Crisp walked away and refused to answer additional questions after he asked a reporter if he would be quoted in a story.
Graham, who has lived in his home on Minerva Avenue for 15 years, said he would fight the mirrors just as he fought the original citation ordering him to remove his fence. In defending his fence, Graham amassed a collection of photographs showing dozens of illegal fences throughout the city--including one across the street. Now, he said, he will show that none of the other offenders have been ordered to install mirrors.
“I will put the mirrors up when everybody else does,” he said.
On the practical side, Graham acknowledged it might be easier to mount the mirrors and avoid further confrontation with the city, but he said he fears that the city would continue to bother him anyway.
“The first time somebody takes them or breaks them, I will be cited,” he said. “They won’t let this end. I just know it.”