The Beverly Hills Planning Commission shot down a potential extension of allowable wall, fence and hedge heights for private residences after determining there were more public safety risks than benefits to such a change.
The City Council already recently increased allowable heights through an October 2022 ordinance to enhance the security of residential properties. The Council later asked the Planning Commission to study and consider a further height expansion.
The ordinance passed in October only applies to the central area of the city, where crime levels and security risks were deemed to be highest. It generally increases the maximum allowable heights in rear yards and alley-adjacent side yards from seven or eight feet to 10 feet for walls and fences and 16 feet for hedges.
The Planning Commission held a study session at its Jan. 12 meeting to discuss potential additional height changes for walls, fences and hedges in the central, hillside andTrousdale Estates areas of the city.
Commissioners heard comments from the Beverly Hills Police Department (BHPD) as well as residents in favor of and opposed to additional height expansions before deciding they were not necessary.
“I’m not interested in pursuing this further,” said Planning Commission Chair Myra Demeter. “I do not feel that there’s any value in our time in discussing changing the heights of hedges, fences, etc., in any of the areas. I’m happy with the way it is.”
Commissioners did, however, note the need for more clarity – and a possible extension – on maximum allowable camera pole heights and asked staff to return with a report on this at a later meeting.
Members of the public who were in favor of increasing the height levels in the additional neighborhoods were largely interested in enhanced security.
“The community should have the ability to protect and secure our collective properties given the increase in home invasions,” wrote resident Andrew Gitkin in a written comment to the Commission. “Having the ability to reinforce our rear alley walls with higher hedges to deter crime is very important.”
The BHPD generally supports the use of hedges, fences, and walls for security, but does not have a specific height recommendation, according to the staff report. The department did note that a potential downside of taller barriers is that they may make it slightly more difficult for police to access properties in an emergency.
Commissioners discussed additional safety drawbacks to higher heights including the potential for suspicious individuals to hide behind these barriers and for increased collisions when vehicles pull in and out of properties.
Some community members also brought up these safety concerns as well as potential fire concerns.
“An increase in a fence height would not give the owner more security, but would rather make it more difficult for the fire department to access the property,” said Karen Platt, co-president of the Trousdale Estates Neighborhood Association. “Trousdale is in the highest possible wildfire risk area. Most of our residents have had their fire insurance canceled. We are highly concerned about a fire running through our neighborhood.”
Ultimately, commissioners were not convinced that there are adequate safety issues to merit height increases.
“We live in a very safe place and yes, there are going to be people that are going to be afraid of things that most other people wouldn’t be, but there’s not much we can do about that,” said Commissioner Peter Ostroff.
Commissioners also spoke to the need to preserve the aesthetic appearance of neighborhoods and not unnecessarily harden the look of residential areas.
“I think that there is a balance between aesthetics and what we want our city to look like and security,” said Demeter. “I do not believe that our city should depend upon the height of hedges, etc. solely for its security. I think that there are other methods.”
Other security methods that were discussed during the meeting include camera systems, motion sensor alarms, maintaining landscaping so it communicates an active presence and having a dog.
The commission recommended that residents worried about security reach out to BHPD, which can deploy personnel to inspect private properties and provide recommendations on crime prevention through environmental design.