Note to Fred, Wilma, Barney, Betty, Bamm-Bamm, Pebbles and Dino: get in your foot-powered car and scram, you are not welcome in this town. Or at least, outside standing on your own lawn.
You may have heard about the famous “Flintstones House” owned by a publishing magnate in a posh San Francisco suburb. The Associated Press reports that there is a court battle, not over the brightly painted, fanciful house itself, but over the large sculptures, signs and other hardscaping that adorn its front and back yards.
They include big mushrooms, space aliens, a life-sized Fred Flintstone that stands near the front door, statues of Barney and Betty Rubble, Wilma and another Fred. A sign that reads “No Dino Allowed” sports a purple cartoon dinosaur. A garden of giant metal prehistoric animals awaits anyone who dares climb a steep staircase that is considered unsafe by the town’s officials. There’s also a giant orange, purple and red “Yabba Dabba Do” sign by the driveway.
Tourists love the home and its yard decorations, but the town of Hillsborough is animated over it, and not in the colorful Hanna-Barbera way. It calls the multimillion-dollar property a public nuisance and an eyesore and recently filed a lawsuit to force current owner Florence Fang to remove the unpermitted garden installations. The 84-year-old does not live in the house but uses it to entertain.
Controversy over this eccentric estate has garnered international media coverage. An online petition to preserve the home and its yard décor has thousands of signers. The 2,730-square-foot house itself is not at issue, just its outdoor accoutrements.
Fang’s attorney, former San Francisco supervisor Angela Alioto, says “snobby” officials are out to squelch her client's constitutional right to enjoy her yard and promises a vigorous fight.
“Mrs. Fang has made people smile, she’s giving them joy,” the story quotes Alioto as saying. “What’s not to love about Dino, who acts like a dog? What is wrong with these people?”
The bulbous red and purple house, designed by architect William Nicholson to look just like the Bedrock homestead of the 1960s cartoon “modern Stone Age family,” was built in 1976. Fang, a philanthropist and former publisher of the San Francisco Examiner, bought the home in June of 2017 for $2.8 million.
Mark Hudak, an attorney for the town, says the ‘burb prides itself on its rural, woodsy feel. Rules are in place “so neighbors don’t have to look at your version of what you would like to have, and you don’t have to look at theirs,” he was quoted as saying. “Whether she is building a project with amusing cartoon characters or Rodin statues or anything else, she still has to go through the process like everyone else.”
It’s a classic story of government versus private property rights. Government has the right to enforce public safety codes, and to ensure property owners don’t impinge on the rights of other property owners, said Tim Iglesias, a property professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law, in the story. He noted that private property has been regulated in the United States since colonial times.
According to the story, Fang ignored three work-stop orders issued by the city and an administrative order to remove the installations by Dec. 5, 2018 but did pay a $200 fine.
“This is a situation where a very wealthy, sophisticated homeowner has basically thumbed her nose at the city consistently,” Iglesias reportedly said. “If they let her get away, then all the other wealthy people in Hillsborough can say, ‘Hey, I can do whatever I want with my property. Who cares about the planning department?’”
Attorney Alioto says Fang’s constitutional rights to free speech and religion were violated, and she’ll respond to the lawsuit with a counter-claim.
“They want everything removed. They want the dinosaurs removed,” Alioto was quoted as saying. “They wanted her to put a tree in front of the dinosaur, so you couldn’t see the dinosaur.”
Property owners flout permit regulations all the time, David Levine, a specialist in civil litigation and remedies at the University of California Hastings College of the Law, said in the story. Usually, they just pay a fine and correct any safety issues.
As to who will win this epic battle, Levine reportedly said, “You have to figure out: Who’s the twit? They’re going to rule against the one that’s being a twit. Is the twit the homeowner that ignored all the orders or the twits saying, ‘We don’t like Wilma and Betty?’”