Saturday, July 29, 2006

Hard to Believe

From: Los Angeles Daily News

SHERMAN OAKS - A teenage boy and his 5-year-old neighbor shoot hoops on a quiet, tree-lined street.

It's a quintessential image of suburbia.

But it's illegal.

Now, a not-so-neighborly fracas has developed along Matilija Avenue after a former City Council field deputy reported that some households were violating two obscure city ordinances by placing basketball hoops above the curbs outside their homes.

The city served the offenders with notices to comply. Nate Brogin refused.

"This is a great opportunity for kids to come out after school and break a sweat. Isn't that what a quiet residential street is for?" said Brogin, 52, a longtime community activist.

"This is fascism from the city to say, You can't do this."

The relevant laws are almost older than the modern San Fernando Valley. One, included in the original municipal code enacted in 1936, restricts people from playing basketball, catch or anything else on city streets.

"No person shall play ball or any game of sport with a ball or football or throw, cast, shoot or discharge any stone, pellet, bullet, arrow or any other missile, in, over, across, along or upon any street or sidewalk or in any public park, except on those portions of said park set apart for such purposes," section 56.16 of the municipal code states.

The other ordinance prohibits any structures from being placed on a public right of way, such as sidewalks or the grassy paths that abut curbs.

Thousands of homes across Los Angeles block these rights of way with basketball hoops and landscaping.

Citing these properties typically is not a priority for inspectors more concerned with illegal dumping, said Gary Harris, chief investigator of street services for the Department of Public Works.

"It's something we rarely enforce," Harris said. "It's complaint-driven only."

The complaints on Matilija came from Candi Kovacevich, a former field deputy for Councilwoman Wendy Greuel.

"We have city ordinances for a reason," Kovacevich said. "What if a drunk driver was coming down the street?"

Two blocks from Brogin's home and on an adjacent street, her house has a long, flat, smooth driveway and a cemented workout area in the backyard with a weight bench and basketball hoop.

Kovacevich reported several homes with illegally located basketball hoops.

In retaliation, she said, someone went around noting other violations - such as vegetation obscuring a street sign in front of her house - and phoned them in.

She trimmed back the overgrowth. Her neighbors need to come into compliance too, she said.

Brogin's portable hoop sits atop a patch of grass between his driveway and his neighbor's.

This strip, dubbed a parkway, is city property.

The hoop overhangs a 6-foot stretch of curb, too short for parking, and is along the same line as the large Modesto ash trees that shade this street immediately north of the Fashion Square.

"It's the best thing he's ever done, putting it out there. The kids are out there every day using it," said Bruce Jacobson, a transportation supervisor who lives next door.

"I don't know what the problem is. The whole thing is stupid."

On a regular basis, neighborhood kids meet for games in the 5000 block of Matilija.

Brogin's 18-year-old son, Michael, has lost about 30 pounds since the hoop went up last year.

"In the Valley, the reason it is very hard for cars to get from A to B, unless they go on major streets, is precisely so kids can play in the street," said urban historian Joel Kotkin, who lives on a Valley Village street where neighborhood kids often play football.

"If you cited people for every little thing," he said, "you would have to occupy this place like Baghdad."

Jill Banks Barad, president of the neighborhood council, called the ordinances "draconian" and said the city should look into rolling them back.

Meantime, Brogin is preparing for an administrative hearing regarding his refusal to take the hoop down.

If no resolution is reached Tuesday morning in Room 420 of Van Nuys City Hall, Brogin's case will be forwarded to the City Attorney's Office for possible misdemeanor prosecution.

He could face up to six months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.

"I don't care," Brogin said. "It is more important that my children and the children of the neighborhood have a place they can interact after school and get healthy exercise rather than being concerned about getting the strong arm of the city."