MONTEREY PARK — In this suburban community, chain-link fences don't always make for good neighbors or good citizens.
For 12 years now, the city has forbidden chain-link fences in front yards. But the 1976 law, according to city planner M. Margo Wheeler, has been haphazardly enforced and many residents aren't aware that it exists.
Now the Planning Commission and Wheeler, whose office two months ago took over enforcement of the chain-link law, have asked the City Council to give all property owners one year to get rid of the fences.
But council members, taken aback as much as some residents who first heard about the law from Wheeler at Monday night's council meeting, postponed taking any action, saying they wanted city officials to do more research into what can be done to solve the problem.
"I think (the law) is very unfair," council member Patricia M. Reichenberger said. She noted that the house where she grew up, at the corner of Alhambra and Emerson avenues, had a chain-link fence for years and that it contributed to the property's protection and value.
Yet, Wheeler said, the law apparently was enacted because city officials considered the fences to be unsightly and un-suburban. "They look cheap in a front yard," Wheeler said in an interview Tuesday. "Most affluent cities won't allow them."
Under existing law, Wheeler said, fences of wood, wrought-iron or brick are allowed around the front yards of Monterey Park.
The city has apparently never ordered any resident to remove an existing fence. But residents building fences have been warned about the law.
Resident Verne H. Heitman told the council the aesthetic question was crazy. Chain-link fences, he said, are not an eyesore. But he suggested vines or landscaping could be planted around the fences if the council thought that might resolve the issue.
But residents who know about the fence law, Wheeler said, have complained about other neighbors who have chain-link fences or who try to erect them. "I get continuous complaints about these illegal fences," she said.
Wheeler said she has no idea how many chain-link fences violate the law. One problem arises, she said, because the 1976 law does not order homeowners to take down existing fences; the law merely says they are illegal.
Nor, she said, did the city require permits to erect the fences when they were legal. So, she said, her code enforcement officers have no way of knowing when a particular chain-link fence was installed.
"The government should be careful about telling people what they can put and can't put on their property," resident Phillip Bear told the council.
Another opponent, Saul Leff, suggested that it was absurd for the council to forbid chain-link fences in front yards. He told the council that he counted 43 such fences on his drive to the meeting Monday. If the council tried to ban those fences, he said, the City Hall chambers "will be loaded to the outside" with protesting residents.
From the time Leff bought his house 40 years ago on New Avenue, there has always been a chain-link fence around the front yard, he said. In fact, he replaced his fence about 10 years ago--2 years after they were illegal, he said.