A fight over a neighbor’s fence is the most provincial of problems. But complaints of abuse of power last year against former San Leandro Councilmember Lee Thomas and his attempt to extend a fence on his property may have been a reason why he was upset in the November Election by the challenger who exploited the controversy for his own gains. Now the issue is back in full relief, but with a twist.
Thomas took the application for his fence to the city’s Board of Zoning Adjustments last summer, but later dropped the request. But Thomas is feeling some sense of vindication this week after a report showed the opponent who defeated him, Councilmember Victor Aguilar, Jr., admitted to the San Leandro Times that he had not obtained permits to build a fence on his own property not far from Thomas in District 3.
“Where is my next door neighbor’s outrage who appealed my application permit, got petitions signed, and sent strangers to my house to harass me about applying for a fence permit?” said Thomas.
Aguilar, Jr. used Thomas’s fence issue to great effect during the fall election, suggesting the incumbent councilmember was using his power for his own benefit. Aguilar, Jr. even addressed the Board of Zoning and Adjustments in opposition of Thomas’s fence around the same time he was illegally building a fence on his own property.
On Thursday, Thomas blasted Aguilar, Jr on the community website, Nextdoor, along with those on social media who had been highly critical of his fence plans.
“I find it interesting this morning that you have a current council member that built a fence with no permits during the same time frame I was applying for a fence permit legally,” Thomas wrote. “The councilmember now states he was oblivious to the city zoning code but he went to great efforts to involve himself in my fence permit process and speak out against it,” Thomas wrote.
“Where is my next door neighbor’s outrage who appealed my application permit, got petitions signed, and sent strangers to my house to harass me about applying for a fence permit?”
In the article published Thursday, Aguilar, Jr. appeared to offer blithe disregard for illegally building the fence, and added he would tear it down and rebuild with proper permits, if required by the city.
Aguilar, Jr’s victory last November was one of the biggest surprises in the entire East Bay. He narrowly defeated Thomas by 528 votes in what was a sleepy campaign that featured very little spending.
The controversy involving Thomas’s fence, along with his support for a market-rate apartment building project in Estudillo Estates unpopular with neighboring homeowners, is viewed as possibly reasons for an upset very few saw coming.
This story has a million holes in it. What really happened was Thomas upset his neighbors and many in the city. He sought to build a large fence in front of his house and right next to his neighbors driveway. No one else in his neighborhood had such a fence. Thomas fence would have blocked the view of the street when his neighbor tried to exit her driveway. Hundreds signed a petition protesting Thomas fence. Thomas disregarded their views and pushed ahead. The neighbor had to spend over $1,000 to fight Thomas. He never apologized to her. He never offered to reimburse her. Years before the election, Aguilar built a fence on backside of his house with the permission of his neighbor to keep peeping toms away. While many voters knew about Thomas treatment of his neighbor, Aguilar did not make the fence an issue in the campaign. Aguilar was part of the clean slate group of candidates. They ran on a platform of rent control and transparency at City Hall. Aguilar has kept to his word and is pushing for rent control on the City Council. Thomas was anti-rent control. That’s another reason why he lost the election.
My apologies to Robert Frost, the author of these lines,
He will not go behind his father’s saying,
And he likes having thought of it so well
He says again, ‘Good fences make good neighbors.’
In this time of discussion about walls in America, it is sad to see that this pathetic wall in San Leandro represents so much pain.