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Fencing Contest : Homeowner Battles Neighbor, City Over Barrier They Say Is Too Tall

October 06, 1994|JOHN POPE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Patsy Barggren thought she had a pretty good argument for erecting the tall wood fence around part of her Long Beach home in 1991.

Her house had been burglarized several times, cars had been stolen, and she had been feuding with a neighbor, she said.

City inspectors OKd the fence in the early stages of construction. But they withdrew the approval after neighbors complained about its final height--the structure is 8-feet tall and the city allows only 6 1/2-foot fences.

Barggren has continued to defy orders to lower the fence, arguing that many residents have fences exceeding the limit. But a jury recently convicted her of violating city codes. The actress, who says she has appeared in television soap operas, is to be sentenced today in Long Beach Municipal Court and could face up to six months in jail, a $500 fine or both.

"Yes, I could have just taken the fence down, but I'm not a quitter," Barggren said. "I can't let it go. I believe I'm in the right and I've been treated wrong."

Barggren said she spent about $5,000 to build the fence--and about $25,000 in legal fees defending it.

She had it built about three years ago along the side and back of her property, which borders the Virginia Country Club in an upscale Bixby Knolls neighborhood. Her yard previously had been shielded by shrubbery and a chain-link fence.

George Boucher, a neighbor who often clashed with Barggren, complained to the city that the new fence, which is solid and topped with decorative latticework, was too high and obstructed his view. Boucher and Barggren, citing many instances of alleged harassment, have obtained Superior Court restraining orders against each other.

"This is a nice neighborhood, and (the fence) looks like a big barricade," said Boucher, a retired pediatrician.

In 1992, after city officials ordered her to remove or alter the fence to meet the height limit, Barggren asked city planners for a formal variance. The request was denied, and she appealed to the city's Planning Commission, which also turned her down.

In a report, Zoning Administrator Dennis Eschen noted that Barggren's home had been burglarized but said he found "nothing in the physical situation that creates any greater exposure for the site than any other property, or any other corner lot."

Barggren said she has continued to fight to keep her fence because she believes the city singled her out for prosecution.

"I have always thought that America was equal for everybody," she said. "But they're determined to treat me differently."

At the start of the Municipal Court trial last month, Judge Bradford L. Andrews denied a motion by Barggren's attorney to dismiss the case because of selective prosecution.

City Prosecutor John Vander Lans, who handled the case in the recent trial, denied that Barggren was unfairly targeted.

"Yes, there are many other fences not in compliance," he said. "Just as there are many people who speed. Some get pulled over and some don't.

Vander Lans said Barggren was treated the same as anyone who has been accused of violating a city ordinance. The difference, he said, is that Barggren refuses to comply.

"We've done everything we can to get her into compliance, but at some point the city has to say enough is enough," he said.

"The reason we have so few fence violations is that if we can settle the thing, that ends it," Vander Lans added. "But she refuses to do it."

Despite the jury's ruling, Barggren said she has no plans to remove or change her fence. She said she may take her case to federal court, charging that Long Beach officials have violated her civil rights to secure her property.

"I think there's still justice in the system, or I'll prove there isn't justice in the system," she said.

Vander Lans said he is surprised by Barggren's tenacity.

"In three years, most people would have just taken it down, you'd think," he said.

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