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Eric Garcetti and the Politics of Division

RETHINKING LA - Councilman Eric Garcetti’s district is home to LA’s most prolific code enforcement bully, a man who harangues the staff of Building & Safety, Housing, Public Works, Transportation, and Planning, manipulating their enforcement authority and using it as a weapon against select members of neighboring communities.
Building & Safety responded to a recent public records request by releasing 515 pages of emails from this bully, revealing a selective focus on property owners in surrounding neighborhoods who have insulted his design aesthetic and demonstrating the downside of a complaint driven system of code enforcement, one that allows bullies to engage in relentless code harassment.

One case features a retired couple who have lived on Oxford Avenue for 41 years. A decade ago, LA’s code harassment bully set his sights on them and began his relentless pursuit of code enforcement justice, complaining that their fence, which is the same height as the surrounding neighborhood fences, was in violation of the city’s fence restrictions.

The neighboring residents, all with matching fences, didn’t receive any complaints.

On October 4, 2002 the City Attorney rejected the over height fence case and stated “No public safety threat, personal safety at risk if lowered/removed.” One would think that this would be the end of things, after all, the case had proceeded through the system and a decision had been rendered.

But the complaints continue, selectively applied to property owners with obsessive tenacity that disrupts the lives of his targets to the point of absurdity.

This battle is hardly a secret battle, in fact the bully regularly emails Commissioners, General Managers, Neighborhood Council members, Council office staff, Department staff, and Councilman Garcetti in his ongoing code harassment actions.

The upside of this ongoing barrage of code enforcement abuse is the fact that the victims have organized in fighting back. They have knocked on doors, they’ve formed a coalition, and they’ve gone to City Hall, all in an effort to engage their City Council representative, Eric Garcetti, in the decade long battle between the bully and his victims.

Last year, members of the besieged community took their case to City Hall where they met with Councilman Garcetti and asked for his assistance in stopping the destructive impact of the code harassment bully. Garcetti was joined by Special Assistant City Attorney Jane Usher and Building & Safety’s Governmental Relations Chief, Dave Lara.

Within hours Garcetti had tendered a City Council motion that called on Planning and the City Attorney to work on a planning tool that would address “the community’s desire for higher than normally permitted fences for public safety purposes.” In addition, the motion asked that Building & Safety hold any fence height cases “in abeyance until the Council takes final action in regard to this issue.”

Whew! This should have been the beginning of the end but LA’s Champion of Code Harassment simply adjusted his strategy, putting Housing and Public Works to work as his allies, after all, they were not addressed in Garcetti’s motion.

To make things worse, Building & Safety simply ignored Garcetti’s motion and subsequent letter calling for a moratorium on fence height/front yard code enforcement, arguing that they are bound by law to respond to all complaints.

The code enforcement harassment continued and property owners were hit with inspection fees and non-compliance fees for fences that were taller than three and a half feet.

Dr. Grace Harper, Building & Safety’s Code Enforcement Bureau Chief, explained that they were not bound by the Council action nor by Garcetti’s request for a moratorium, claiming that the Department was actually bound by law to respond to complaints.

When challenged on the legal imperative to respond to complaints, Harper came up empty-handed, ending the mythology of the legal imperative.

Garcetti was apparently unaware of the disconnect between his faith in the efficacy of a City Council motion and the reality of a complaint driven cost recovery system of code enforcement.

The citations continued.

When faced with a choice between hobbling the code enforcement bully or ignoring the victims of code harassment, Garcetti went with the “divide and conquer” strategy, sending select noisy members of the community letters assuring them that there is no lien on their property and “the fees related to the citation are held in abeyance pending the results of the proposal to establish an over height fence district.”

The letters came with a verbal admonition not to tell others of the Council Office communications because other members of the community won’t like the language.

Community members had previously requested that letters be sent to all members of the community who had been the subject of a complaint, investigation, citation, and order to comply. Council staff responded by suggesting that those on the receiving end should simply contact the Council office, a suggestion that was soundly rejected in favor of the request that all victims get a letter.

Six months later, the victims of selective code enforcement are now recipients of selective reprieve.

Garcetti’s solution to this decade old problem is a complete failure of leadership that allows a bully to continue to prey on his victims, first under the cover of the local Neighborhood Council, then under the cover of the local Homeowners Association.

The selective delivery of City Services is a powerful tool for manipulating the community, typically used to silence opponents and buy endorsements from supporters.

Garcetti has been aware of the dramatic and divisive situation in his district for a decade and it is incumbent on him to act decisively in resolving this abuse of power, in controlling the code harassment bully, and in protecting members of the public who are entitled to the even and fair application of the law.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: You can also find him on Twitter and on Facebook.) Photo Credit:

Tags: Stephen Box, Rethinking LA, Eric Garcetti, bully, neighborhood bully, enforcement bully, City Hall, Building and Safety, Pubic Works, Planning, Transportation, Neighborhood Council

Vol 10 Issue 29
Pub: Apr 10, 2012