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Fences causing controversy

Complaint arises land-use questions about residents using a stretch of city-owned land, formerly used by Red Cars, between Lake and Alabama streets.

December 21, 2011|By Mona Shadia
  • A city-owned stretch of land between Lake Street and Alabama Street in Huntington Beach has received a complaint regarding fenced-off areas that should be available for public access. The area used to be where the Red Cars ran before the Pacific Electric Railway disbanded.
A city-owned stretch of land between Lake Street and Alabama… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

When Michael Novratil and his family moved into a house on Alabama Street two years ago, they got a special bonus from the city: a piece of municipally owned land in the backyard, complete with a fence, that provided a perfect place for their dogs to run around.

Now, Novratil may have to find a new place for his dogs to play. The city, responding to some complaints and inquiries, has ordered all the fences to come down by Jan. 12.

Walking down the well-manicured Lake Street where embattled former Bell City Manager Robert Rizzo used to live, one wouldn't know about the alley stretch hidden between Lake and Alabama.

Years ago, the famous Red Cars owned by the Pacific Electric Railway ran through there. When that stopped, the Huntington Beach Co. gave the railroad stretch to the city in 1987. And since then, nothing has been done with it — so residents began using it for themselves.

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The alley, which stretches horizontally between Utica and Indianapolis avenues where a Southern California Edison power substation is housed, has been divided by residents, with each household taking over the area directly across from it.

Although there aren't any official agreements between the city and the residents who live near the land, the city has allowed residents to use it as long as permanent structures are not built on it, according to Director of Public Works Travis Hopkins.

"It's city property, and the city hasn't programmed it or scheduled to do any improvements on the property," he said. "So the city has allowed adjacent property owners to use it, but not put any permanent structures there."

But some have gone beyond what the city has allowed. Residents near the Edison substation, where a fence and a gate had been installed by the city to discourage illegal dumping, have fenced off their own areas and erected another gate at the opposite end of the alley, closing some of it from public access.

That has gotten under the skin of resident Diane Amendola.

The 68-year-old, who doesn't live near the city-owned land area, said she likes to walk through there because of how serene and peaceful the area looks with the birdhouses, trees and gardens that some residents have installed.

But one day, while trying to take a shortcut, she ran across the welded gate and couldn't get through.

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