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Editorial

When eccentricity and building codes collide

Alan Kimble Fahey's fantastical structures built without permits may be eccentric and eye-catching, but no one should be allowed to bypass laws they consider onerous or irrelevant.

May 28, 2011
  • Alan Kimble Fahey wants to turn part of Phonehenge West, named for his career as a phone service technician, into a museum, and another into a library and gift shop. He also has plans for a crafts workshop for disabled children. But Los Angeles County wants it torn down for code violations.
Alan Kimble Fahey wants to turn part of Phonehenge West, named for his career… (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles…)

For many seeking privacy and space, the high desert of the Antelope Valley is an oasis from the urban density of the rest of Los Angeles County. Lots are large; neighbors are few. Many residents chafe at restrictions, such as zoning and permitting laws, that they consider onerous and irrelevant.

But few have defied those regulations like Alan Kimble Fahey, a determined eccentric who has spent years expanding his house on 1.7 acres in Acton into a colorful extravaganza of structures with wings and bridges, a tower and a yurt-turned-aviary for his chickens, turkeys, and hens.

His project calls to mind the work of another eccentric who spent decades crafting a giant, fantastical structure. But unlike Simon Rodia's Watts Towers, Fahey's compound has not been declared an artistic landmark (at least not yet). And despite a flourishing Facebook page of admirers, Fahey is currently on trial in an Antelope Valley courtroom on 14 criminal misdemeanor counts of maintenance of unpermitted properties and unlawful use of land, which could bring him seven years behind bars.

The district attorney's office has said that none of the structures, except the original house and garage, is legal and safe.

Though Fahey's energy and creativity are admirable, he did disobey the law to build a collection of structures without proper permits. And these are residential structures — he and his family live in them — so safety is not just a theoretical issue.

In explaining how it all came to pass, Fahey describes jumping through endless hoops trying to get permits in the 1980s. We sympathize with him. But then, when building inspectors left him alone for two decades until 2006, he admits he went ahead and built as he pleased. He says his structures are extremely safe.

But flouting the system, even when it is frustrating, is not the way to go. The Antelope Valley may be a refuge, but it's not the frontier. It's subject to L.A. County codes.

Fahey speculated in a phone conversation Thursday that if he loses his case — but doesn't end up in jail — he might simply leave town and move to Colorado to pursue his architectural fantasy there. If he does stay, it would be nice if Fahey and county officials could work out some kind of compromise — although it probably would mean tearing down a good portion of what he's built.

Fahey has many supporters who believe reform of the building codes is necessary. They can take their complaints to both the Acton Town Council and Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich. But even if the community opts to encourage broad personal freedom in architecture, its rules must still be tempered by adherence to safety standards.

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