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Judge orders man to open gate

The barrier across Forest Park Drive in Lincoln Heights blocks neighbors' access to their homes.

October 25, 2008|Bob Pool | Pool is a Times staff writer

A Lincoln Heights man who blocked a hillside street with a gate was ordered Friday to open it and leave it unlocked so neighbors can have access to their homes.

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge said Gardner Compton violated neighborhood residents' rights by preventing them from driving on the narrow roadway they have used for decades.

Judge David P. Yaffe said he will decide next month whether to make the ban on Compton's gate permanent.

Compton, a 76-year-old Emmy-winning former TV producer and writer, erected the steel gate across Forest Park Drive last week.

The one-lane roadway crosses property he owns through a private trust.

But improvements to the road must be made before he and other landowners on the hillside above Lincoln High School can construct new homes in the area. A dispute over who should pay for the street's widening and paving has simmered for years.

"This is a little test of property rights," Compton said of the gate earlier this week. "It's got everyone's attention."

Compton told Yaffe that he has offered to dedicate his portion of the road to the city.

He insisted that the gate was not preventing Forest Park Drive's 18 residents from coming and going from their houses because there is an alternate way in and out.

Residents have disputed that, arguing that the only other access is by foot over a steep trail and wooden staircase or across a field and up a steeply sloped hill -- a route that would require a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

The temporary restraining order was sought by residents Ilse Ackermann and her husband, Meeno Peluce. In court papers, they asserted they had freely used Forest Park Drive since purchasing their home in late 2002 from Compton.

"If they've been using this road for five years, why don't they have a prescriptive easement" that allows them to continue driving on it? Yaffe asked Compton. "They've used it openly and notoriously."

He ordered Compton not to interfere with either vehicular or pedestrian access along Forest Park Drive.

A representative of the Los Angeles city attorney's office attended the court session but did not participate.

Attorney Bruce Landau represented Ackermann and Peluce.

"We're a little outraged we had to acquire private counsel," Ackermann said afterward.

Peluce said the pair borrowed money from relatives to finance the case. "We're doing this on behalf of the neighborhood," he said.

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bob.pool@latimes.com

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