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**  A second window aside called by the page, entitled
“To the lawmakers responsible for California Assembly Bill 1404,
the Good Neighbor Fence Act of 2013

[ An HTML transcript of e-mail sent on 15 February 2017 follows, with recipient’s contact data removed to discourage spam. ]

Subject:  Re: From the Office of Senator Toni G. Atkins
From:  Deborah Taylor-Pearce <>
Date:  2/15/2017 10:05 PM
To:  Myrna Zambrano <...>

On 2/14/2017 2:33 PM, [Myrna Zambrano] wrote:
> Hi Ms. Taylor-Pearce, how can we be helpful
> at this point?

By fixing the law.

I quote here from a 7/19/2016 e-mail written by Leora Gershenzon, Deputy Chief Counsel, Assembly Judiciary Committee:

If you do not think that the new law provides sufficient protection between property owners then one course of action is to seek new legislation to change the law. Your State Senator or Assemblymember may be interested in any legislative proposal you may have.

(For an HTML transcription of Ms. Gershenzon’s complete e-mail, see Follow-Up No. 15 in the Updates section

of the Web page giving my Open Letters re. Assembly Bill 1404.)

I realize that it is perhaps unfair to put the responsibility of fixing AB 1404 on Toni Atkins — especially now that Assembly members like Brian Maienschein have 10 more opportunities for crafting signature bills than do Senate members, as documented by John Myers of the Los Angeles Times, with a Quick Link to his reporting here:

— but Brian Maienschein has shown that he is not up to the task; Toni Atkins did contribute to the passage of AB 1404 while in the Assembly; and as I have argued before, this is an important law with daily in-your-face consequences for all Californians.

I also believe it’s a smart political move for Ms. Atkins.

Not only will it prove her legislative prowess (John Myers reports that 5,103 bills were introduced in the last legislative session, with its 40-bills-per-member limit, about half of which were signed by Governor Jerry Brown; with the new 50-bills-per-member limit, and even more special-interest legislation absorbing everyone’s time in 2017, getting a truly good bill — without special-interest backing — enacted will require real skill).

Fixing AB 1404 will also prove that Ms. Atkins is accountable to her constituents, and is attentive to even their most banal concerns. Such shows of accountability help rebuild trust in our elected representatives, and will open new avenues for Ms. Atkins when she needs to negotiate competing public interests. If long-time homeowners know that she has been instrumental in securing our property rights under the law — and that, once again, we have the option to seek legal recourse in small claims court against predatory neighbors, as needed — we might be more willing to meet her part-way on other development issues. With solid legal protections in place, we should have less to fear from newcomers, from calls for higher density, and from other solutions being proposed to solve housing affordability problems in our neighborhoods.

If we accept the statistics put forth by researchers such as Martha Stout, author of The Sociopath Next Door (Broadway Books, 2005), as much as 4% of the U.S. population — 1 in 25 people — are without conscience “and can do anything at all without feeling guilty” or remorseful (cover, paperback edn., 2006). Critics have suggested that Stout’s “book occasionally appeals to readers’ paranoia,” that Stout’s number of sociopaths is inflated, and even if it’s not, that U.S. sociopaths are not distributed evenly throughout the population (e.g., they tend to cluster in particular fields, careers, and socioeconomic classes). Regardless, there are enough of them in every neighborhood to warrant protective legislation. Simply relying on altruism, or ethical appeals to the greater good and to people’s common decency and desire to do the right thing, will not protect the many who play by the rules from the few who do not.

There will always be those who skirt the law, or try to shape the law in their own favor. I have no delusions that Ms. Atkins or anyone else can legislate virtue or community, and indeed, am suspicious enough of this sort of thing that I would never encourage any government that represents or regulates me to attempt it. All I ask is that California’s Good Neighbor Fence Act include fair & reasonable protections, enforced by financial incentives in the form of compensatory fees, etc. (obtainable through some mechanism other than a lease, as demanded by my small claims court judge, which predatory neighbors will never agree to), making it costly for those who wrongly encroach on their neighbors.

If Toni Atkins can manage to author & get the governor to sign legislation like that — legislation crafted so well that even the most activist small claims court judge feels compelled to follow it — she will have earned my full support.

In slow haste,
Deborah Taylor-Pearce