Pampered kitties 1, unhappy neighbors 0.
That was the score in a Studio City "cat fight" Friday after a city hearing officer granted a New York City woman a zoning permit to keep 20 cats in a $100,000 guest house she built for them on an estate she bought on Laurel Canyon Boulevard.
Joe Perica, associate city zoning administrator, ruled against neighbors who circulated petitions opposing the permit, complaining that the cats would create health problems, bother dogs, disrupt traffic and attract coyotes.
But Perica said he would review the case in a year to ensure the cats remain indoors, a condition of the zoning variance exempting Francine Katzenbogen from the city's three-cat-per-household limit. Katzenbogen was also required to limit the number of cats to 20, provide proof that they have been spayed or neutered and dispose of cat litter daily.
Katzenbogen has converted a garage on the $1-million estate into a two-story, 1,200-square-foot pussycat palace, with six rooms, French windows, skylights, lounging platforms and scratching poles, painted in soft gray, with tile floors.
Neither Katzenbogen nor concerned neighbors left the hearing at the Van Nuys Woman's Club satisfied.
Katzenbogen said she is concerned that she will be blamed for stray cats that already roam the neighborhood.
Also, "I'm not thrilled" with the one-year review, Katzenbogen said.
Milton Schwartz, one of only four people who spoke against issuance of the variance, questioned whether allowing Katzenbogen to keep all her cats sets a precedent that will allow others to bring in more unusual animals--such as exotic pigs recently popular as pets--that would lower neighborhood property values.
Perica responded that "this case has a unique set of circumstances, and it is not to be used as precedent for other cases."
Perica noted that Katzenbogen would suffer a financial hardship if the cats were not allowed to live with her after she had spent $100,000 on quarters for them. He said he also granted the variance because of her large lot--nearly 40,000 square feet--in addition to the city practice of granting variances for other animals, and because he could not see where the cats would do any harm to the neighbors.
Perica said he would formally issue his ruling in two to three weeks, and opponents will have 15 days to appeal to the Board of Zoning Appeals.
Before she can move in with the cats--who now live with her in Brooklyn--Katzenbogen also must obtain a kennel license from the city Department of Animal Regulation. Now that she has the zoning variance, that should be routine, said Raymond Arjmand, a land-use and governmental affairs consultant hired by Katzenbogen.
Arjmand said the kennel permit process normally takes about two months, but he hopes to obtain the license in a month by appealing to City Council members for help, citing the troubles Katzenbogen has already faced.
Katzenbogen said she plans to spend several thousand dollars to transport her cats to California by private plane after the zoning appeal period is over, because she found that commercial airlines would not discuss carrying 20 cats simultaneously.
On a tour of her still-empty estate after the hearing, Katzenbogen said she sometimes regrets her decision to move here.
Katzenbogen said that when she bought the nearly 6,000-square-foot house in 1989, her real estate agent told her that city law limits the number of dogs per household to three, but that she could have more than three cats. She said if she had known then that she needed a variance, she might not have come to Los Angeles.
"This would never happen in New York," she said. "You could be living next to someone for 20 years, and you wouldn't know them. No one bothers anyone else in New York."