Glendale's Guardians of Propriety

I couldn't tell you whether Robert Frost ever visited Glendale, but judging by the line, "Something there is that doesn't love a wall," he would have liked what he saw.

For nearly 80 years, it's been illegal to build a front yard fence in Glendale, a bougainvillea-without-borders community that favors wide open vistas.

But there is trouble in paradise. Glendale city officials have found illegal fences in 1,500 of the 49,000 residential parcels, and the town is split on what to do about it.

And as if that wasn't enough of a crisis, along came the Glendale News-Press with a Page One dispatch on two fence violators of note.

One was Mayor Gus Gomez. The other was Councilman Bob Yousefian, who ran last fall on a platform calling for the fences to come down.

It was a double whammy for Gomez, still the subject of a recall effort for ordering city flags to fly at half-staff in honor of the Armenian Day of Remembrance, which offended American Legion types.

Glendale, which once looked as though every resident was in the cast of "The Brady Bunch," has changed so much in the last two decades that whites are now just barely a majority. This has brought growing pains, and fastidious efforts to address them.

In the wake of the Armenian crisis came a City Council motion that a "Citizens Committee be appointed to research, analyze and report to the Council on an appropriate method to commemorate and recognize human atrocities (man's inhumanity to man)."

For convenience, some call it the Atrocity Committee, and it got off to a rocky start.

"At the first meeting," says one member, "the very first speaker stood up and said, 'There are too many Armenians on this committee."'

If it seems that a no-fences policy and the divisive sound of the previous paragraph are in conflict, that's what makes Glendale worth the price of admission.

That, and the fact that one of the leaders of the Gomez recall, a real estate agent named Joe Mandoky, drags a 12-foot-high wooden cross through city streets as part of his Christian ministry.

Gomez told me he bought his house five years ago with a retaining wall and railing already in place, and that to remove the railing would place him in violation of a retaining wall requirement.

"It's a Catch-22," Gomez says.

There's a moratorium on enforcing Glendale's fence ordinance pending review, but the council will soon have to decide whether to bring down all the fences. Gomez says he's not sure where he stands, but if he votes to save his own fence, I see another recall petition coming.

Councilman Yousefian has his own Catch-22. He lives temporarily at his parents' house, and his father is in no mood to remove the fence that protects his beloved rose garden.

"Let's put it this way: He's not very happy with me," says Yousefian. "I told him, 'Dad, when I got elected, my job was to do what my constituents want me to do, and they don't want fences."'

I decided to pay the elder Yousefian a visit, but stopped by City Hall first to brush up on the fence ordinance. In the lobby were fliers announcing even more do's and don'ts, including a "Don't-Feed-the-Pigeons" handout in English, Spanish and Armenian.

"Though many people enjoy their presence, conflicts can and do arise," warned the flier.

I saw no one feeding pigeons on California Avenue, but I did see Brian McCarthy tending to his garden in a yard with a 3-foot white picket fence.

McCarthy, a renter, said it was silly for the city to harass people about fences. He reconsidered when I explained the tradition of neighbors without borders.

"I guess I'm on the fence," he said.

Councilman Yousefian's father, who moved his family here from Iran in 1974, is anything but.

A slight man of 72, Mr. Yousefian nearly came out of his loafers when I asked if he intended to rip out the 2-foot wrought-iron fence that protects his impeccably manicured garden.

"This city is crazy!" he wailed, gesturing wildly and pointing out his prize roses.

"Look at this. Twenty dollars, each plant. Two thousand dollars for the fence. Eighteen years have fence and nobody's talking, and now I have to cut down. Why? Children will run through, smash plants. I don't understand."

I asked Mr. Yousefian his first name.

"Hamlet," he said.

"Hamlet?"

"You know Shakespeare?"

Hamlet Yousefian pointed out quite accurately that several neighbors were nowhere near as diligent about maintaining their property, and yet he was the one being targeted.

"This is no good crazy. I should get medal. Look at this, clean, nice, everything clean. I come from Persian country. I come to America because it's free country. This is no good."

I don't know which is the more repressive regime--Glendale or Iran. But in the interest of mediation, I suggested that Mr. Yousefian keep the fence and kick son Bobby out.

"But I like fence and I like Bobby," he said.

Something there is that doesn't love a wall.

He pays no rent, and works at City Hall.

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Steve Lopez can be reached at steve.lopez@latimes.com

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