Good fences make good neighbors.
The same goes for good laws.
Whoever is serving on the Manteca City Council when December rolls around might want to keep that in mind.
The current City Council made the right move Tuesday when they embraced a Community Development Department recommendation to clear up ordinance mumble jumble regarding set backs on side fences for corner lots by making everything uniform throughout Manteca.
The previous rules had different setbacks for fences of 5 feet and 10 feet depending upon the type of corner lot involved and the positioning of driveways. Staff was brutally honest. The intent was to end confusing both property owners as well as staff. In other words, the rules that were in place were about as people friendly and easy to follow as the federal tax code. You don’t need a lawyer or an interpreter of bureaucratese now to understand what you can and cannot do when it comes to placing a fence in the side yard of a corner lot.
It’s too bad the council failed to end confusion when it comes to 6-foot versus 7-foot residential fences when they had the opportunity presented to them by the Community Development Department to eliminate a source of significant confusion as well as animosity.
Over the years as homes evolved, so did what the city allowed for fence heights. It was 6-foot. Then 7-foot fences were allowed. Then it was switched back to 6 feet.
As you can imagine Manteca has a mish-mash of fence heights even in neighborhoods where homes were all built at the same time.
This has been a wonderful source of acrimony between residents and city staff.
The Community Development Department recommended going to a universal fence height. The Manteca Planning Commission — that includes Gary Singh and Jeff Zellner who are two candidates for City Council in the Nov. 8 election— agreed it was a good idea after extensive vetting of the pros and cons.
The City Council didn’t.
They sided with the Manteca Police Department’s position that 7-foot high fences were a safety issue for their officers. The department noted they had several officers incur injuries crossing fences including one on multiple occasions. Whether all of those injuries were from scaling 7-foot residential fences was never made clear because no one on the council asked.
No one asked why the question of officer safety wasn’t raised before the Community Development Department made their proposal since Manteca has an abundance of 7-foot fences in place for years.
This is not meant to distract from the police department’s position or even to say it isn’t a legitimate point. But if the City Council embraced every recommendation the police could offer on enhancing officer safety and reducing crime when it comes to development rules they’d be a lot of landscaping removed in Manteca.
At the end of the day the council made a judgment call. The long-term impact of that call made three months ago was made clear Tuesday when code enforcement staff stated the obvious — when a legal non-complying fence grandfathered in that was put in place when rules were different needs to be replaced, it will have to comply with the standards in place when the work is done.
That means ultimately every 7-foot high residential fence in Manteca will be history eventually, assuming, of course, someone complains if the replacement fence is also 7 feet.
It’s a safe bet this will create lot of unhappy campers as well as mumblings about a big disconnect between the city and its residents. In the worst case scenario, someone may spend $6,000 to replace a 7-foot high fence that had been in place for 20 or so years but has fallen in disrepair and a few years later someone complains and they are told it has to come out.
The point was made during discussions at both the planning commission and council levels that a 6-foot high fence is easier to look over for a police officer than a 7-foot high fence.
But here’s the rub: There are 72 police officers in Manteca to cover three shifts a day, seven days a week. Last year 2,117 bad guys were arrested in Manteca.
The odds are more bad guys will be looking over your fence to look for things to steal than officers looking over fences to look for bad guys.
A 7-foot high fence is a much better option for protecting one’s property from most crime than a handgun. That passive option for defending one’s home has now been taken away from citizens by the current City Council.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at email@example.com or 209.249.3519.