In a land with a complaint-driven system, the man with government contacts is king.
Some East Hollywood residents are learning that lesson all too well, as one resident in a particular neighborhood has called in more than 100 complaints over the last few years. Those calls have led to citation after citation, with some property owners receiving as many as 14 for illegal parking, fence height and landscaping from the city’s Building and Safety Department and Parking Enforcement.
Last summer, ticketed residents began to organize, and this month, the group visited city hall to ask for help from Council President Eric Garcetti, 13th District, who has introduced a motion to create a fence height district for the neighborhood.
Clarence Cowan said he was among the first to receive a citation, for a hedge on his property that he kept neatly trimmed. The hedge, which had been on his property for the last 25 years, was apparently too tall, he said. The cost: $200 or so.
“It just floored me,” Cowan said. “I didn’t know what to do.”
He said he cut the hedge to four feet, and an inspector came out to verify that it was the appropriate height. However, others in his neighborhood began receiving citations, such as his neighbor, whose fence was evidently too high, though it had been on the property for 21 years, Cowan said.
This was especially of concern as he has another property in the area that has a fence. Despite the amount of crime and vandalism in the neighborhood, residents had no recourse or way to express their grievances, Cowan said.
“We’re at our wit’s end with what to do,” he said. “There’s nothing you can do about it. It’s almost like extortion.”
Resident Sun Yu felt similarly. After receiving a permit to build a driveway and park her car on her front-yard setback in 2006, she began receiving citations and letters threatening to revoke her permit, she said. In all, Yu received 14 citations for parking in her front yard, though many have been dismissed.
In 2008, the city did revoke her permit, and during a “quasi-hearing,” city employees threatened to throw her in jail if she didn’t comply, she said. The driveway had cost $7,000.
“How would I know there was something else I needed to do? It was just some man who was just yelling,” Yu said. “You lose your right to due process.”
Everything seemingly settled down after that, she said. But in June, Yu said she received two more parking warnings.
“That’s when I thought, ‘This is not going to go away,’” she said.
Yu said she began meeting with the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council and learned that she was not alone. She said it appeared that mostly minorities or those who didn’t speak English were the main targets.
“The complaint-driven system [the city] runs on is broken,” Yu said. “It’s not appropriate anymore.”
Yusef Robb, the deputy chief of staff for Garcetti’s office, said the staff has been working on the issue for months.
“We sympathize with the folks receiving citations,” Robb said.
He said the council was slated to vote on the fence height district motion Wednesday. Robb said the district would be the first of its kind. In the interim, Garcetti has asked the Department of Building and Safety to accept no new cases until the council acts.
Robb confirmed that one individual had been responsible for almost 150 complaints. He said if the complaint is legitimate, however, the city must respond, and that the city slips into “dangerous territory” when it allows staff members to pick and choose when to write citations.
“We think there’s, oftentimes, a better way for neighbors to settle their differences,” he said.
Robb said the office will continue to work with East Hollywood residents to ensure that they’re not cited excessively any more.
“It has taken some time, given that this has never been done before,” he said.
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