Survey says: not in my backyard.
Or front yard. Or side yard, for that matter.
Results of a recent questionnaire revealed that while a sampling of Los Altos Hills residents overwhelmingly want to maintain the town’s rural character and wildlife corridors and a majority responded that fences could impede those, when it comes to limiting their size, residents are split.
“When it comes down to, ‘Should I be allowed to fence 2 acres?’ you can see people beginning to say they have property rights that are far superior to the intent of the town,” said Councilman John Radford. “That’s certainly my interpretation.”
Councilman Gary Waldeck initiated the survey, which a five-member ad hoc group prepared, after questioning earlier this year whether residential development in Los Altos Hills had deviated from what the town’s founders laid out in a document urging “as little change as possible.”
Fences, he said, can obstruct natural wildlife movement and force animals into unwanted places, like streets or backyards.
Waldeck said the city council could begin publicly discussing the survey in January. Whether that will include re-examining fence ordinances for new construction isn’t certain right now. He said the committee at this point is just gauging town sentiment.
“The idea of barrier fences is not generally well received by people,” he said. “One idea is to say you can have a fence at the property line but keep it short so it doesn’t look like compound, or put it in closer so you still have a defensive area, which is what a security fence provides. … I don’t know what the outcome will be.”
According to the survey, which prompted more than 600 responses via online questionnaire-builder SurveyMonkey, 93 percent answered affirmatively to, “Do you agree that one intent of our founding documents was to preserve our rural environment?” and 89 percent agreed the rural environment and protection of wildlife is important.
But when asked if town officials should have the authority to limit the percentage of a lot 2 acres or larger that may be fenced, respondents were nearly evenly split. Reponses became significantly more positive when choosing whether fences should be subject to setback rules.
Roger Spreen, a member of the ad hoc group and chairman of the town’s Open Space Committee but speaking as a resident, said he was pleased with the results.
Answers “are consistent with the town’s declared values towards preserving its rural feel (as spelled out in the General Plan, etc.). That was the basis for the town council forming the ad hoc committee in the first place, so I think it validates the council’s concern that we at least evaluate whether we’re being effective in preserving those values,” he wrote in an email to the Town Crier.
“It means it is indeed a reasonable use of our time on the committee to examine whether our fencing policies are helping preserve our town in the way we expect,” Spreen wrote.