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City Moves On Fence Ordinance Enforcement

More than two years after passing perhaps Richmond’s most controversial ordinance ever, it appears that City staff is moving to implement it. Residents have begun receiving mailers reminding them that permits are required for all fences and that amnesty for existing non-conforming fences may be requested by self-registering prior to June 15, 2006. The return address on the flier is for Vallier Design Associates, the City’s consultant for registration of fences. For fence questions, contact the Richmond Planning Department at 510/620-6706, or email ichoi@ci.richmond.ca.us.

A copy of the flier is attached. A history of the fence ordinance can be gleaned by clicking on the E-Forums listed below. Also copied below is the full text of the current Fence Ordinance, with Section 15.04.810.035, fencing Amnesty, highlighted.

15.04.810.033 Fencing Definitions. The following terms are hereby defined for the purposes of this section:

“Fence” means a barrier that functions as a means of protection or confinement or obscures sight to provide privacy, including a wall (solid concrete or masonry, thick and substantial), hedge (vegetative, continuous and substantial), or structure made of metal, wood or similar material (relatively thin).

“Pilaster” means a vertical component of a fence that is larger in horizontal cross section than the rest of the fence and made of more substantial materials, usually providing intermittent enhanced support as well as serving as a decorative element.

“Picket” means a repetitive vertical element of a fence with a small horizontal cross section.

Yard, front, rear and side: See Section

“Opacity” means the proportion of a fence construction that is opaque, including pilasters and pickets.

“Fence height” means the distance from the grade at the base of the outside of the fence to the top of the highest component. Where a fence is constructed on top of a retaining wall, the height shall be measured from the outside base of the retaining wall, where the yard is on the high side of the retaining wall, and from the top of the retaining wall, where the yard is on the low side of the retaining wall.

“Sight triangle” means the area enclosed by a triangle formed by the intersecting property lines of a corner lot at a street intersection for a distance of 25 feet or by an alley intersecting a street for a distance of 15 feet that obstructs a driver’s view of approaching, merging or intersecting traffic.

15.04.810.034 Fencing Location.

A. Fence Location on a Lot. Fences may be erected, placed or maintained along or adjacent to a lot line or within a yard. A fence located on a property line shall be considered as being within the yard adjacent to that property line. The fence owner shall be responsible for properly locating all property lines before construction of any fence.

B. Fence Encroachment Onto Public Property. No portion of any fence shall encroach upon or project into any public right-of-way or other public property without the fence owner first obtaining from the City an encroachment permit or agreement.

C. Prohibited Fence Locations. No person shall place, construct, maintain, or cause to be placed any fence that may endanger the public safety, including but not limited to the following:

1. Fire Hydrant Access. No fence shall obstruct free access to any fire hydrant.

2. Sight Triangle. No fence that is a visual obstruction may be constructed or maintained within the sight triangle (see Section 14.64.050). A fence shall be deemed to be a visual obstruction if any part of it over 42 inches high has opacity in excess of 20 percent.

15.04.810.035 Fencing Amnesty.

A. Existing Nonconforming Fences. Existing nonconforming fences existing prior to the date of adoption of the ordinance codified in this section shall be deemed approved, with the following exceptions, until the property owner requests property enhancements that require discretionary review or the property is sold:

1. Front yard fencing over 6 feet in height;

2. Front yard fencing which is solid (in excess of 50% opacity) over 3'6" in height;

3. Any portion of fencing in the sight triangle over 3'6" high with an opacity of more than 20%;

4. Any dilapidated fencing as described in Chapter 9.22 of this Code or fencing constructed of materials or components not allowed by this chapter.

Fences not conforming to the deemed approved requirements must be modified or removed within 6 months of the adoption of the ordinance codified in this section.

B. Existing nonconforming fences shall be registered and, if conforming to the deemed approved requirements, permitted in a process determined by the Planning Director.

15.04.810.036 Fencing Permit Requirements.

A. A fence permit is required to construct any fence of any height. A building permit (Chapter 6.02 and California Code of Regulations, Title 24) is required to construct any fence 6 feet or more in height.

B. An application for a fence permit may be obtained from the Planning Department and shall be filed with and approved ministerially by the Planning Department if it conforms to the provisions of this chapter.

C. A building permit to construct a fence more than 6 feet in height conforming to the provisions of this chapter shall require submittal of a fence permit application and any additional documentation required by the Department of Building Regulations. See Section 6.02.150(B)(1)(b).

D. When a fence is constructed by a contractor, that contractor shall be licensed by the State of California in a category appropriate for the type of fencing, including B-1, C13, C23, C27, C28 or C29. A contractor or owner who fails to obtain a fence permit or a building permit before beginning construction of a fence or who constructs a fence not in conformance with this chapter may be penalized as described in Sections 1.04.100, 1.04.110 and Chapter 2.62 or other applicable provisions of this Code.

15.04.810.037 Fencing Height Limits. Fence height shall be limited by its location as specified below in Table 15.04 - 1.

Table 15.04 - 1

Allowable Fence Heights

Location of Fence

Maximum Basic Height

Maximum Height Exceptions


Front yard

4 feet (48 inches)

6 feet (72 inches) if nonview-obscuring (not in excess of 50% opacity) above 4 feet (48 inches)

Front yard fences above 4 feet (48 inches) in height require the approval of the zoning administrator permit.

Side yard

6 feet (72 inches)

8 feet (96 inches) high

The exception is only applicable if both abutting residential structures have at least 10-foot side yard setbacks, or if a residential parcel abuts a commercial or industrial use.

Rear yard

6 feet (72 inches)

8 feet (96 inches)

The exception is only applicable only when rear yard is abutting an interior side yard.

Within the sight triangle

3' 6" (42 inches)




15.04.810.038 Fence Design. Fences shall be constructed, designed and maintained as follows:

A. Permitted Materials. Fences shall be constructed of wood, metal, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), masonry or other permanent materials designed for permanent fencing. No more than two types of related fencing materials shall be used in any fence or wall. Fences constructed of wood shall have posts in contact with ground of preservative-treated wood conforming to ASTM D1760 treated with waterborne preservatives to a minimum retention of 6.4 kilograms per cubic meter (0.40 pounds per cubic feet) and components and components not in contact with the ground treated with waterborne preservatives to a minimum retention of 4.0 kilograms per cubic meter (0.25 pounds per cubic feet) or shall be of heartwood of a decay-resistant species such as redwood or cedar.

B. Fence Maintenance. Every fence shall be kept in good repair, consistent with the design thereof. The property owner shall be responsible for landscaping and maintaining the area, if any, between the property line and the owner’s fence. See also Chapters 9.22 and 2.62.

C. Hazardous and Prohibited Materials. Fences shall not incorporate electrically charged wire, barbed wire and razor wire (see Section 11.88.020), chain link (with or without slats or vinyl or other coatings), woven wire mesh (“chicken wire”), welded wire mesh, woven wire (“hog wire”) rope, cable, railroad ties, landscape timbers, utility poles or any other similar materials or materials not specifically manufactured for permanent fencing.

D. Posts and Supporting Members. All fence posts and related supporting members of the fence shall be erected so that the finished side or sides of the fence shall be facing the adjacent property or public right-of-way.

E. Painting and Staining. All wood fences shall be painted or stained, except when constructed of the heartwood of a decay-resistant species such as redwood or cedar. All ferrous metal fences, except hot-dipped galvanized steel) shall be painted with a three-coat system consisting of a corrosion-resistant primer and two finish coats, with preparation and application as recommended by the manufacturer. All other metal fences, including aluminum hot-dipped galvanized steel, shall be painted with at least a two-coat system intended for that purpose.

F. Gates.

1. Gates with locks that are routinely locked shall be equipped with a doorbell device capable of notifying the occupants within the residential structure or a telephone number that can be used to notify the occupants.

2. Entry features over front yard gates (e.g., open latticed arbors and trellises), not exceeding 8' in height, 3' in depth or 5' in width are allowed when located within the required front yard but outside the site triangle.

3. When a rear yard abuts an alley, the alley facing side of a solid fence shall be clearly labeled with the house address number.

G. Historic Structures. All fences in parcels with historic resources shall be consistent with the scale and character of the buildings as described in Section 6.06.072 and shall require administrative design review.

15.04.810.039 Exceptions to Fence Height Regulations.

A. Upon a property owner’s application, the Zoning Administrator may grant an exception to the front yard fence height requirements imposed by this chapter. Such exception shall be made only after public noticing of the proposed fence and the completion of a site visit and administrative design review (Section 15.04.930) resulting in the following findings:

1. The proposed fence will not create or exacerbate a public safety hazard;

2. The proposed fence is of design, materials, scale and color that are compatible and harmonious with the subject site, site improvements and other properties within the immediate vicinity;

3. Front yard fencing that prohibits access to the home shall be equipped with a doorbell device