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City, homeowner disagree whether fence creates sight problem
The city has ordered John Griffin to either move this fence back another three feet to where it is five feet from the sidewalk or else cut off 30 inches. - photo by DENNIS WYATT

John Griffin has a six-foot high fence that the City of Manteca says is 30 inches too high.

The homeowner in the Chadwick Square neighborhood just north of McParland School was told it was creating a visibility issue.  While his home faces the 1900 block of Hyde Park Lane, the fence in question is along the side of his home on Devon Lane.

It is not making Griffin happy because:

• there appears to be no issues with sightlines as the side yard fence is along a pass through street that has no houses or driveways facing it.

• the closest intersection is 30 feet away.

• he inventoried at least 20 other violations in his neighborhood that he believes are either code violations or creating serious visibility concerns.

But what irks Griffin the most is what he believes is selective enforcement that singles out individuals on a complaint basis only.

“I’ve received nothing but compliments on how the fence design improves the neighborhood,” Griffin said.

The fence falls within the five-foot setback from the sidewalk’s edge where city rules dictate fencing cannot be taller than 42 inches. Once the setback reaches five feet, a fence up to 7 feet high would be legal. The rule was put in place for safety purposes to make sure there is always an adegquate sightline for vehicles whether they are on the street or backing out of driveways.

Griffin was told there are no variances. He also was informed that the city had received one complaint about the fence.

City Manager Karen McLaughlin confirmed that noting that the Community Development Department staff cannot grant a variance unless there are reasons delineated in the zoning code to allow them to do so. She said the homeowner could file for a variance but he’d have to come up with a way to justify it that can convince the Planning Commission they can legally grant an exception.

It would be an extremely long shot, though. And he’d have to pay a fee to have a variance request processed.  As it is, a contractor has told him it will cost $1,500 to move the fence back three feet to make it comply with city rules.

“There is the letter of the law which we are in violation but there is the spirit of the law which common sense will tells (you) we are not (in violation),” Griffin said. “. . . We understand the height requirement of the code is for safety and visibility but this fence poses no threat to either.”

What Griffin termed “selective enforcement” and acting on just one complaint is what frustrates him the most about the situation.

“It is appalling to me that we could write such trivial codes as to pit neighbor against neighbor in the name of the common good,” he said.

McLaughlin said the city’s code enforcement strategy is neither purely complaint driven or done en masse. Instead, McLaughlin said Manteca employs a “hybrid” approach.

Manteca avoids ‘Gestapo” approach for enforcement

She said using complaint driven enforcement alone by zeroing in on one property owner creates a situation where bickering neighbors can use code violations - and ultimately the city - to carry out their dispute. McLaughlin said if the city employed sweeping enforcement of all code violations it would be a “Gestapo” like approach.

Manteca has settled for the hybrid approach. That means when they do get a complaint, they go out and assess it. And if it is indeed a violation, they then make a look “as far as the eye can see” from that spot to see if there are similar code violations. If they are, they then cite those violators as well.

That is what happened earlier this year to Doug Zirpel who lives on a cul-de-sac near Sierra High. A city building inspector checking a re-roofing job several doors down noticed that his shade structure at the side of his nearby home was too close to the fence line plus had electrical work not done with a permit. As a result Zirpel was cited as where other nearby violators.

That prompted Zirpel to do a windshield inspection of the streets going to and from the cul-de-sac where he noted about 30 various code violations.

And while some may be violations, McLaughlin said staff when checking  will  discover what some believe are violations actually aren’t after closer inspection and reading of the appropriate code. She stressed she did not believe that code enforcement officers look over fences for violations.

In addition to enforcing city codes, Manteca’s code enforcement also concerns itself with state codes that set building standards that the city can’t allow deviations from

In Zirpel’s case, a city employee made the complaint. McLaughlin was unable to ascertain how the city received the complaint involving Griffin’s fence.

McLaughlin said it is the city’s policy to work with those who are cited for code violations. In the case of Griffin, he was cited in July with a 10-day compliance order. But after the city was contacted and Griffin indicated he couldn’t get the contractor back to move the fence until September, they were given additional time.

Zirpel has requested time on an upcoming City Council agenda to discuss the city’s code enforcement process.