Higher fences doesn’t mean better neighbors

Supervisors approve planning commission’s recommendations on fence height

Plumas County homeowners can now have a fence up to 7 feet high without a building permit, according to members of the Plumas County Board of Supervisors.

But at least two longtime Quincy area residents were able to keep an 8-foot deer barrier fence around their garden without a county building permit.

It was public hearing time Tuesday, Oct. 15, as members of the Board of Supervisors prepared to decide on a vote over a recommendation from the Plumas County Planning Commission on changes to fence height.

The draft ordinance, approved by the Planning Commission earlier this year, would amend Plumas County Code Title 4 of Chapter 2 of Title 9 of the planning and zoning Section 9-2.407 concerning fences.

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In 2003, the California Building Code changed to allow for up to 7-foot fencing without a building permit, according to Becky Herrin, assistant planning director.

The previous height limit without a permit was 6 feet.

According to the planning commission’s recommendation, fences can now be up to 7 feet without a permit, except in front of a home. That height limit is 4 feet.

Lattice as part of the fence design counts as part of the overall height.

As the planning commission originally considered changes to the county code, Charles White, Plumas County Building Services director, proposed clarification.

“These proposed clarifications should ease problems resulting from code enforcement complaints regarding fence height as well as enforcement of required fencing around personal cannabis cultivation sites, as permitted and regulated by code,” Herrin explained in the background material presented to the Board of Supervisors.

This proposal would also be in the county’s General Plan.

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The General Plan involves wildlife fencing considerations. No fencing in rural areas can be built that “is exclusionary or dangerous to wildlife,” except for property safety, human safety, crop protection or domestic animal containment.”

In reaching its recommendations to supervisors, the planning commission held public workshops in February and again in March. Included in their research were copies of the “Fencing Guidelines for Wildlife,” Habitat Extension Bulletin No. 53, Wyoming Game and Fish Department and “A Landowner’s Guide to Wildlife Friendly Fences: How to build Fence with Wildlife in Mind.”

Julie and Pete Hochrein, who were before supervisors Oct. 15, had discussed their own garden fencing situation privately with two supervisors and others, but were not at the public workshops held by the planning commission.

During the public hearing, Julie Hochrein said she is a gardener and is concerned about deer getting into her garden. Her concern is that the proposal didn’t express gardeners’ needs to erect fencing that is high enough that deer can’t easily jump it.

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Gardening is on the rise in Plumas County, she pointed out. And it is being encouraged at many levels, and gardeners need 8-foot fences. She said she learned that from personal experience.

She then asked supervisors to change the planning commission’s recommendation for 7-foot fences to an 8-foot height limit without a building permit.

Julie Hochrein said she was talking about wire fences. “Wire fences don’t present a visual or safety issue,” she said.

Pete Hochrein followed his wife’s comments.

He said they have a vineyard and a garden area that are about a quarter-acre in size.

Pete Hochrein also said that they need an 8-foot fence and that could extend for gardeners to 10 to 12 feet on sloping ground.

He said that he talked to the code enforcer at one time about the fence and he was told it was exempt. Now there are issues with the current code enforcer.

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From the description, it seems that the Hochreins left some of the fencing stakes at a higher length and that is one of the objections.

Supervisor Sherrie Thrall said she sat in on the discussions during the planning commissions workshops. “Were these concerns brought forward by the people here today?”

Herrin responded that the Hochreins weren’t present at the workshops. Those workshops had been properly noticed in the legal section of all four Plumas County newspapers as required by law.

Supervisor Jeff Engel asked if the Hochreins brought any pictures of their fence to show them?

Pete Hochrein didn’t present photos. He did say that foxes could get through the fence but deer couldn’t get over the 8-foot fences.

Pete Hochrein added that a vineyard in Oregon that he’s familiar with has a 10-foot fence. “We didn’t want to go that far,” he added.

“I’ve been out to the property to look at their fence, you can see right through it,” Supervisor Lori Simpson explained. “I feel that we could try to work with people when they are trying to grow crops,” she added.

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Supervisor Kevin Goss said that he had also seen the Hochreins’ fence. “I have a 6-foot fence,” he said. “They (deer) just hopped it and ate all of my tomatoes. I could see that an 8-foot fence would have kept them out.”

White was in the audience before the supervisors. He said the analysis required by the state was for fences up to 7 feet.

By trying to change the recommendation from a 7- to 8-foot fence without a building permit would mean, “we’re going to go down a big wormhole,” as the state picks it apart.

In changing the height, White said there are setback issues and other considerations to be realized.

County Council Craig Settlemire asked if there was an analysis in making distinctions concerning fencing materials. Possibly the difference is between a woven wire fence versus a wooden fence.

White said he didn’t want to go into all the issues concerning fences. Settlemire said he didn’t see any analysis for the building code. But White said they weren’t before the board to discuss fences in excess of 7 feet.

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Settlemire said that the General Plan does state that people can have fencing to protect crops. But further analysis is needed for 8-foot fencing, according to White.

Herrin said that the Hochreins and anyone else could build an 8-foot fence with the proper building permit.

Thrall pointed out that the board was only hearing from one couple in the whole county. “It must not be a problem for everybody or we’d be packed with people.”

Herrin added that another reason for the permit process is to allow the county to make sure the fence isn’t going into a deer migration area.

The first reading of the proposal was waived.

Then Engel asked how much a building permit would cost. Herrin said it would be $147.

At length, supervisors approved the new change to the ordinance.