As the City of Los Angeles was sprawling beach-ward decades ago across the farms and pastures west of Downtown, nobody gave much thought to zoning or urban planning.
And so it is that the city today is playing referee in a dispute over who has the right to do what.
In West Los Angeles, residents of condominiums and duplexes and owners of the adjacent dog kennel and a veterinary clinic on South Sepulveda Boulevard are locked in just such a debate. The only thing separating the homeowners from businesses, where a cacophony of dog barking can become dauntingly loud, is an alley. The kennel has 55 outdoor stalls, many of which are used by the Friends of Animals Foundation, a nonprofit organization that pays to board animals that are displaced by owners who move or become sick. The veterinary clinic has 16 outdoor stalls, but uses only five on average, according to the veterinarian.
Residents of the condominiums claim that although their homes were built after the businesses, they are entitled to some peace and quiet. The business owners say they are being unfairly persecuted.
The AM & PM Dog Kennel, a commercial boarding kennel, has been in business on South Sepulveda Boulevard for 30 years. Veterinarian Norman Weiner, owner of the 33-year-old Bel-Air Animal Hospital nearby, said he doesn't understand why he is being made responsible for what he considers the mistakes of the builders and home buyers.
"This is sick and unreasonable," said Weiner. "Basically, the builder should have built a buffer zone of trees or something. He knew exactly what he was doing.
"I can empathize with the residents, but buyer beware. If you only look down (from a condominium's second or third floor), you can see you're right in the middle of an industrial area."
Residents, who have gathered 70 signatures on a petition, agree that the builders should be held accountable, yet they think something should be done now about the din of the 60 barking dogs.
Paige Levy is the president of a homeowners association that filed a lawsuit against the builder who sold them their eight-unit condominium building. Levy said she bought her $260,000 condominium under false pretenses in November, 1990, and is suing the builder for failing to disclose a "noise nuisance" problem in her sales contract, a potential violation of a California real estate law that requires sellers to disclose property flaws of which they are aware.
"We had a disclosure of everything but the dog noise, including freeway noise that is several miles away," Levy said. "At the time I bought, I drove around to look at surrounding businesses and there were no signs up (for the kennel). I knew about the vet, and that was not a problem.
"I moved in a few months later and started wondering what was going on, because there was a lot of barking. Then I realized it was a kennel because a sign went up (for the kennel). Now we are just trying to find a way to coexist. We are not trying to close their businesses down."
Levy said the builder, Eli Shiri of SNC Development, based in Chatsworth, declared bankruptcy and moved to Mexico. The homeowners association is pursuing the builder's insurance company for compensation in court, she said.
Still, litigation takes time and isn't going to provide a short-term answer to the noise problem. In the meantime, Weiner, the owner of the animal hospital, and numerous homeowners have been meeting at Councilwoman Ruth Galanter's office, seeking mutually beneficial solutions.
Martha Wyss, manager of AM & PM Dog Kennel, said the business is willing to do anything to resolve the problem and that she fears losing her permit to operate.
"We are trying very hard to put up inside panels on each cage to block out noise, but it's expensive," Wyss said. "We are looking for carpenters to volunteer their services, but the residents want us to put up a $30,000 wall." The wall was suggested by a private sound consultant hired by the residents.
They "said they might help pay for it, but no one's really come forward yet. We are willing to work with the residents and do whatever is necessary. We feed at 11 a.m. because people should be out of bed or at work by then and at 4 p.m. before people come home from work."
Veterinarian Weiner has agreed to double-pane the windows in his clinic, install ceiling fans and keep his dogs in at night to abate the noise.
Residents can pursue license revocation proceedings against the two businesses, a long and arduous path to resolution that most likely would degenerate into acrimonious relations. Both residents and business owners say they would like to avoid that course.
The other option, according to Lt. Derek Brown of West Los Angeles Animal Control, is a permit review procedure in which his department takes into consideration "the health, peace and safety of the surrounding community" before renewing a permit. The kennel's permit is up for renewal review this month, he said.
Brown, who conceded that he had received numerous complaints about the kennel and the hospital from surrounding residents, said: "These are the situations that give you gray hairs and worry because you can see both sides, and often the businesses have been there long before the residents. Somehow, you have to make it equitable for both sides. No one is a bad guy here."
City planners say they make every effort to separate residential zones from industrial zones with strip buffers and light office buildings, but where zoning has been in place for years, they say there is little that can be done.
Jim Anderson, senior city planner and manager of the community plan revision program, said: "There are lots of places like that around the city, where residential abuts industrial, and it usually doesn't work out. Unfortunately the city has developed that way. Ideally, if the noise is enclosed, it could be blocked out. Builders are doing what they do--maximizing their profits and building wherever they can."