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Good fence, good neighbor? L.A. OKs Getty House plan

Despite heated protest from residents and community groups in tony Hancock Park, Los Angeles officials this month approved plans to build a 6-foot fence along two sides of Getty House, the mayor’s official residence.

The fence, which would be taller than what zoning codes allow, was proposed by the Los Angeles Police Department after the Department of Homeland Security found that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s home was at high risk of a security breach and needed to be fortified.

But residents argue that such concerns should not allow the city to violate the zoning rules, saying a tall fence would destroy the architectural integrity and beauty of the community, known for its historic, European revival mansions.

“Let me ask you a question,” said John Welborne of the Windsor Square Assn., which has also opposed the fence plan, in an interview Wednesday. “Are you anti-stopping at red lights? It’s the law. When the city adopts a law that everybody should stop at the red lights, we support the city’s law, and we support everybody following the city’s law. We’re not anti-fence; we’re just pro-law.”

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Welborne said he and other residents hope LAPD officials and the mayor will decide against installing the fence. “It just means that if the city wants to spend a bunch of money, it’s entitled to,” he said. “The real question is if the mayor wants to have his special fence or not.”

Villaraigosa’s chief of staff, John Carr, stressed that it was not the mayor’s idea to install the fence and that he is only going along with what was an LAPD recommendation.

“The idea came from LAPD,” Carr said. “This is really to enhance the security there, and we’re trying to do it in a way that’s as pleasing as possible and have it be in line with what the neighborhood says.”

Carr said that he’s worked with various residents and organizations during the planning process and that the city has made several compromises. Officials originally wanted an 8-foot, 6-inch hedge, Carr said, but after neighbors protested, the plans were modified.

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Now, plans call for a 6-foot fence (6-foot-3 in some areas where the yard slopes) and 3 feet of hedge at the base. It will look like a wrought-iron fence. Carr said the look should blend in with the neighborhood’s style.

Although some residents still might not be happy with the plans, Carr said, he thinks that once the fence it complete, they may not be so concerned.

“The Getty House is a jewel of the city and an important historical facility. It’s a facility where we have lots of events, and we should have appropriate security there,” Carr said. “I think this will enhance that and still maintain the character of the house, and I hope people see that when we’re done.”

Carr stressed that other homes in the area have been awarded similar variances, pointing out that two other houses on the street have 6-foot fences.

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“We went through the process just like any other citizen would,” Carr said. “We followed all the rules and asked for a variance, and now we were granted one.”

Officials are hopeful that construction will begin by the end of July and finish in about three weeks, Carr said. He did not have a cost estimate for the project but said it would almost entirely be handled by city construction workers.

Getty House, built by Swedish immigrants in 1921, has long been a historic symbol for the city. Oil tycoons and actors have called it home -- including J. Paul Getty, the Barrymores and Lee Strasberg -- and the building was given to the city to serve as the official mayoral residence during Tom Bradley’s first term. Though Bradley and Villaraigosa are the only two mayors to call Getty House home, all of the city’s mayors have used the house for official functions.

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katherine.mather@latimes.com


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