To Picket Fences

Of the 359 homeowners in my area, 112 are running afoul of the law in a deviously blatant way by committing the heinous “fence offence;” in other words, breaching Los Angeles municipal code sections 12.21 and 12.22 which limit front yard fence and hedge height to a maximum 3 ½ feet above grade. Now that’s a lot of criminal activity for one neighborhood.

With their pens and pads, my investigative team–three 17-year-old, out-of-work babysitters–scoured my neighborhood in search of scoundrels and found one very troublesome woman. This 74 year old widow named Barbara gave them a suspicious story about how her “charming wooden slats” were installed unknowingly by her otherwise law-abiding husband in 1987. My detectives measured the “offensive picket” at a full four feet –rather than the legal 3 ½ — above grade.

When pressed, Barbara confessed that she had just received a letter from the L.A. City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo asking her to “appear for a City Attorney hearing to determine if a criminal complaint should be issued against (her)… for an alleged (fence) violation.”

“It’s a stressful situation,” Barbara says. “It makes me feel like a felon. Shouldn’t there be a statute of limitations on fences that have been in place for so long?”

Fence snitches are on the rise, according to some local representatives. Meddlesome neighbors or quality of life protectors, depending upon ones perspective, protest fences by calling the city’s toll free number anonymously to tattle on their neighbors for wrought-iron, chain link and hedge indiscretions. Barbara’s picket caught the attention of authorities when complainants tipped off the Department of Building and Safety to another neighbor’s fence. A dozen families on the street received the ominous code violation letter.

My investigative crew told me to grab my polygraph and interrogation spotlight, and scurry to Barbara’s home for a “Guantanamo Bay style” probe. But when I arrived, I took pity on the wide-eyed senior, hinting “Have you ever seen Leonardo DiCaprio’s movie, “Catch Me If You Can?”

Of course, I would never advise Barbara to creep further into the recesses of crime by snubbing Mr. Delgadillo and tossing the violation notice in the trash. And I would hate for the fence fiasco to culminate in a showdown at a dusty printing warehouse in France, all on the taxpayers’ dime.

But I wondered– merely as a philosophical exercise–what would the city do if she were a “no show” at the hearing? How would the city react if Barbara faxed them a list of the other 111 high fences in our neighborhood, or better yet, the tens of thousands in L.A,?

Two things are certain: it would take a lot of out-of-work babysitters to compile the list, and it would start a revolution. Homeowners would not be willing to dismantle fences that cost them thousands of dollars to construct.

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