Roadside Clearance Mystery Deepens
What is it For? Arbitrary Enforcement?

A disarmingly named agenda item at the July City Council meeting threatens to change the appearance of the City and impose disparate enforcement on residents.

Prior to this year, the City had a 3 foot roadside clearance ordinance for vehicle access and visibility. Past Councils, and the ordinance language, clarified that vegetation blocking sight lines or impeding vehicle travel needed to be cut back 3 feet from the road. A vertical clearance of 13'6" above the road also was required.

While not strictly enforced, the ordinance and purpose were clear and followed common sense.

The July 14, 2011 item entitled
"AMEND MUNICIPAL CODE REQUIREMENT FOR EMERGENCY VEHICLE ACCESS" had a description of:


"Instruct the City Attorney to amend the Municipal Code to reflect that the thirteen feet six inches (13'6") vertical clearance is in effect from three feet off one road edge to three feet off the opposite road edge."

The 3 foot clearance is now required even if there are no sight line or vehicle impediments.

The Fire Chief presented a report stating that the current code was unclear as to how high the 3 foot required clearance on each side of the road is supposed to be, and that it should be the same 13'6" as over the road.

Upon questioning, the Chief responded that a mature tree in the 3 foot area does not have to be removed.

How a mature tree was less of a navigation or visibility impediment than a bush was not explained.

Whether fences and walls in the 3 foot area next to the street needed to be removed was not answered.

The purpose for the 3 foot clearance on roadsides was not clear. The ability to open cabinets on Fire Trucks was mentioned, and also for two Fire Trucks to pass each other on a road.

The Chief said that roadside vegetation pushes trucks toward the center of the street, without stating why. Is this because vegetation is in the travel lane, which isn't allowed anyway, or because Fire Truck drivers are not able to judge the close quarters?

Resident Norm Zezula commented that some roads are 30 feet wide or wider and the stated purpose of two trucks clearing was served without the 3 foot clearance.

Mr. Zezula also said that fences next to the roads are as much a safety hazard as vegetation.

Mayor Pro Tem Carroll said that we should enforce the existing ordinance before expanding the code.

Councilmember Francis said that the Chief inherited the new Fire Engine with a hydraulic ladder that takes extra space.

It has been suggested that the new Fire Engine is not suited for Heights roads and additional roadside clearance provisions are needed to use it in the City.

Councilmember Vipperman said it is important to get two Fire Trucks past each other at the same time.

He did not mention whether he thinks streets too narrow for this will need to be graded out and widened.

The Fire Chief mentioned Green View Rd as one needing the additional clearance.

The Council discussed if a street is wider than a certain amount, then it can be exempted from the 3' clearance. The Chief said, "I can go with 28 feet."

No Discussion of Narrow Roads

No mention or discussion occurred regarding what to do with roads that are too narrow for two Fire Trucks to pass, regardless of roadside clearance.

City documents show the Fire Engine is 10 feet wide. With zero clearance, a minimum 20 foot road width is necessary for two Fire Trucks to pass each other. Giving each 6" of clearance on each side would require a 22 foot wide road. A number of roads in the City are less than 20 feet wide.

Los Angeles County GIS shows Green View Rd, mentioned by the Fire Chief, has public portions around 20 feet wide and private portions 17 feet wide or less.

Citron Rd has portions 16 feet wide, and when trash trucks or school buses use the road, passenger cars have to back up or pull into a driveway to let them pass, as the road is not wide enough for both.

Portions of Dorothea are 19 feet wide or less. The public portion of Lamat has stretches of 18 feet width, the private can be less than 15 feet wide.

No matter how much roadside clearance is imposed on these roads and others, two Fire Trucks will not be able to pass each other.

Should they be exempted along with the 28' and wider roads?

Hillside Challenges

There was no discussion of the purpose of roadside clearance on the many roads cut into hillsides which slope up from and down from the road. Fire Trucks cannot ride a shoulder, and would either slide down the hill or be flipped by the upside, especially at night when, after streets are stripped of vegetation, the terrain is not clearly visible.

Possible Consequences of Fire Trucks Leaving Paved Road
Fire Trucks can slide off road on downhill side
Hillside Street Section
Fire Trucks can be flipped by slope on uphill side

Similarly, a Fire Fighter would have difficulty opening a cabinet door or retrieving a ladder when standing below the Fire Engine on a downhill side, or precariously balancing on the uphill side.

Arbitrary and Selective Enforcement?

Some Councilmembers repeated that they wanted the Chief to be able to cite those he felt were violating clearance needs.

With those needs unclear, changing, and subjective, the door is wide open for arbitrary and selective enforcement.

Repeated public comment at Council Meetings has speculated that the ramped up Code Enforcement and Crackdown on residents is a means to raise more revenue for the City.

Residents are unable to appeal citations before a City body and must do so before a contract hearing officer, at closed door hearing, described at Council Meetings as a "Kangaroo Court".

Future Code Hearing?

The City Codes, and past practice, have Code Amendments approved in Public Hearings.

It is unclear if the City intends to proceed with the new Clearance Crackdown Code in that manner, or if its passage on July 14th as an administrative item will be the only airing before citations are written on unsuspecting residents.