Inter-Departmental Correspondence

Department of Public Works



March 16, 2004


April 6, 2004



Honorable Board of Supervisors


Neil R. Cullen, Director of Public Works


Revised Location and Allowable Fence, Wall and Hedge Heights in the Public Right-of-Way - North Fair Oaks Area



Adopt a resolution revising the policy on the height of fences, walls and hedges (fence) that may be built in public road rights-of-ways or easements in the unincorporated area of North Fair Oaks, by:



limiting all fences to a height no greater than four (4) feet; and



requiring that fences, when approved to be constructed in the public right-of-way or easements be set back a minimum of:



one (1) foot from the back of sidewalk on streets that have improvements including sidewalks;



one (1) foot from the prolongation of the back of sidewalk line where there is evidence of old sidewalks (generally Second Avenue through 6th Avenue between Middlefield Road and Edison Way and 7th Avenue between Middlefield Road and Park Road);



eight (8) to nine (9)feet from the back of the valley gutter or curb line for streets where minimum road improvements have been constructed; and



twenty (20) to twenty-two (22) feet from the centerline of the road on streets where minimum road improvements have not been constructed, but where minimum road improvements may be constructed pursuant to the minimum road standards as approved by your Board for the North Fair Oaks area*.



The set back as required in c) and d) above would apply generally to 8th Avenue through 18th Avenue west of the Dumbarton Spur; 7th Avenue between Park Road and Spring Street; and Amherst and Loyola Avenues and will depend on the specific road as minimum road standards vary based on the location of the road in the North Fair Oaks area.


Previous Board Action




A Tree Planting Policy for the Fair Oaks area which requires trees to be planted at least eight (8) feet from the edge of pavement on streets with no standard improvements, in order to allow for parking and pedestrian access adjacent to the road where sidewalks do not exist.



Resolution 63037 which established allowable fence heights in the public right-of-way consistent with heights allowed by the Zoning Regulations; and



Resolution No.65329 which established minimum road standards to be used in conjunction with road reconstruction on streets in the North Fair Oaks area that do not have standard improvements.


Key Facts


The current fence policy as adopted by Resolution 63037 allows six (6) foot high back yard fences, and six (6) foot high front yard fences if a variance is approved.



There are double frontage lots in North Fair Oaks where the back lot line is adjacent to a public street, and where a property owner has built a six (6) foot high fence. The six (6) foot height fence is objectionable to the neighbors as the fence is not consistent with the allowable fence height on adjacent lots that have only single frontage, and where only a four (4) foot high fence would be allowed unless a variance was approved after a public input process.



The Fair Oaks Council (Council) has reviewed the fence policies and has recommended that fence height in the public right-of-way be limited to four feet and that fences be set back from the edge of pavement to allow for parking, and from the back of sidewalks to allow some landscaping in front of fences in areas where sidewalks have been installed.



Property owners on Spring Street contacted us and the Council after a property owner on Bay Road, with a backyard fronting on Spring Street, obtained a permit for and constructed a six (6) foot high fence immediately behind the sidewalk on Spring Street. The property owners were concerned not only with the aesthetics of the fence, but also that the fence was too close to the sidewalk and out of proportion to the height of the front yard fences of the adjoining properties.


We explained to the Council that the current policy was applicable in all the unincorporated areas of the County; and that property owners had appeared before your Board when you were considering the current policy and expressed the need for six (6) foot high backyard fences in areas where the properties slope down from the road. The property owners argued that the height of fence was needed in order to afford them some privacy or to prevent deer in the rural type residential neighborhoods from entering their property and destroying their landscaping. Examples of these areas where higher fences are warranted are Devonshire Canyon and Emerald Lake Hills. The Council appreciated the property owners' need for high back yard fences in hilly residential areas, but do not believe that they are needed in the Fair Oaks area as the area is relatively flat.


We also discussed set backs and the Council also agreed that fences should be set back from the back of walk not only to provide an area that can be landscaped, but also to facilitate the repair of the sidewalk if the need arises. The Council was also concerned that property owners on unimproved streets or streets where the minimum standard of improvements consisting of the travel lanes would or have been built, could "fence off " the public right-of-way that is commonly used for public parking and pedestrian access. The Council therefore recommends that fences be set back from the edge of pavement as recommended.


We agree with the Council's recommendations as there has been an occasion when we have had to relocate fencing to reconstruct sidewalks; and fencing up to the pavement can eliminate parking opportunities on the primarily residential streets in this area. The set back is also in keeping with the areas that are allowed to be planted as provided by the tree planting policy adopted by your Board for the North Fair Oaks area. Property owners wishing to construct higher fences can apply for a variance with the Planning Division of the Environmental Services Agency to construct a fence up to six (6) feet high on their property (i.e. property line fence). The variance procedure does require public notification and a public hearing.


Attached are examples of the allowable fence locations as approved by the Council.


Future Actions

We will review the fence policies and procedures as outlined in Resolution No. 63037 and return to your Board with a proposal to codify these policies and the proposed policies recommended in this staff report in the County Ordinance Code.


Vision Alignment

We believe our recommendation is consistent with the Shared Commitment to be a "responsive, effective and collaborative government," as the proposed revision in your Board's fence policy balances the property owner's need for security with the public's use of the public right-of-way.


Fiscal Impact

There is no direct impact to any fund of the County associated with the proposed changes in the fence policy for the North Fair Oaks area. There are possible indirect savings associated with the proposed changes as the reconstruction of sidewalks will be less costly if fences are no longer built immediately adjacent to the back of walk.


There is no impact to the General Fund.


The proposed policy has been reviewed and approved by the Fair Oaks Council, and a form of resolution has been approved by County Counsel.