DIAMOND BAR — Since February, a 6-foot fence has stretched across Grand Avenue just a few feet inside the Los Angeles County line.
Officials in Diamond Bar and San Bernardino County have regarded it as a chain-link version of the Berlin Wall, with traffic, not ideology, as the divisive issue.
But last week Diamond Bar City Manager Robert Van Nort said he is willing to negotiate a settlement that would bring down the fence and allow commuters from the rapidly growing community of Chino Hills to pass through Diamond Bar.
Officials on both sides of the dispute said last week that a compromise could involve Diamond Bar's removal of the fence and San Bernardino County's pledge to complete road improvements in Chino Hills to siphon off traffic from Grand Avenue. Such a deal would also end a legal battle in Riverside County Superior Court that threatens to be long and costly.
"The City of Diamond Bar wants to sit down and see if we can resolve this and settle it without going to court," said Van Nort, adding that a more conciliatory posture was adopted by the City Council during the closed session portion of its Tuesday meeting. "The council just realized it's just better to try and resolve it between ourselves than have the courts do it."
Avoid Legal Battle
San Bernardino County Supervisor Larry Walker, who represents Chino Hills, said his side has always been willing to settle the suit, providing Diamond Bar agreed to remove the fence.
"We'd be glad to avoid (a legal battle), but Diamond Bar has made it clear that they're not willing to reach any settlement," Walker said. "Diamond Bar won't take down the fence."
San Bernardino County sued Los Angeles County in April, claiming the fence was an illegal obstruction of a public right-of-way and seeking a court order to tear it down. Efforts by the city to have the suit dismissed have been unsuccessful. The two sides are scheduled to meet again in Riverside Superior Court on Monday.
The fence and wooden barricades were installed under orders from Supervisor Pete Schabarum five months ago, when Diamond Bar was an unincorporated area. Schabarum said the move was necessary to protect the safety of Diamond Bar residents. Traffic on Grand Avenue is expected to increase by 12,000 cars a day after the extension is opened.
When Diamond Bar became a city in April, newly empowered local officials inherited both the fence and the suit. The fence has been a target of vandals, including one driver who reportedly tried to ram through the obstacle. Last month, the council considered adding a concrete barrier, but scrapped the idea.
Meanwhile, the suit threatens to become a financial albatross for a fledgling city experiencing temporary cash flow problems. Diamond Bar's budget allows for $120,000 in miscellaneous legal costs. Attorney's fees for a protracted lawsuit could be more than twice that, Van Nort said.
"It's more important for the City of Diamond Bar to resolve this now, than to spend fees we don't have," Van Nort said, adding the city will bear the cost, if an equitable settlement can't be reached. "The council has not said they're going to abandon anything."