Equipment rental company wins long battle with city for electrified security fence

Suffering rash of thefts, company was stymied by rule prohibiting electrified fences near homes


SEP. 26, 2019 4:07 PM

SAN DIEGO — A southeastern San Diego equipment rental business has finally won a long battle with city officials to install an electrified fence to keep thieves out.

The San Diego Planning Commission voted unanimously Thursday to overturn a previous city decision that prohibited United Rentals from putting in an electrified fence, based on concerns it could injure residents living near the business at 6144 Federal Blvd.

City regulations restrict electrified fences to industrial and agricultural zones, making it difficult for United Rentals to get permission for the fence because the 3.27-acre business is located in a commercial zone next to residential housing.

The Chollas Community Planning Group voted 9-1 in May in favor of granting an exemption to the city’s rules for electrified fences, but a City Heights resident raised concerns shortly afterward.

“Electrified fences are suitable features in rural and agricultural areas, owing to the small populations of individuals who understand electrified fences,” said the resident, Jim Varnadore. “They are not suitable features in urban settings filled with citizens who do not understand electrified fences, who often do not know what an electrified fence is.”

In July, city hearing officer Duke Fernandez rejected the proposed fence, prompting an appeal by the business and its security company to the Planning Commission.

Keith Kaneko of Electric Guard Dog stressed that the fence it wants to electrify is surrounded by a second outer fence that isn’t electrified, so only those who have already trespassed over the outer fence would be vulnerable to electric shocks.

Kaneko also noted that the inner fence will only be electrified in areas that don’t face housing, and warning signs in multiple languages will be placed at 30-foot intervals.

United Rentals has suffered a rash of thefts of equipment, tools and raw materials that have created chaos for the business and forced police to repeatedly visit the site, Kaneko said. Thieves often take metal from the site and sell it to recycling companies, he said.

He also noted that alternate security methods have been ineffective for United Rentals, which is located just south of state Route 94.

“Cameras record crime and don’t prevent it,” the company said in a letter to the city. “Guards are unreliable (don’t show up for work, sleep on the job and at times are complicit in the criminal action.)”

Paul Godwin, an official in the city’s Development Service Department, said the arguments made by the company convinced city officials that an exemption from the electrified fence rule is warranted.

He noted that property’s L shape means much of it is not visible from any streets, increasing the vulnerability to crime.

Commissioner Doug Austin praised the reversal.

“I want to thank the staff for actually reversing their decision and standing up and saying ‘Hey, this does have special circumstances’,” Austin said.

City officials said they aren’t sure how many electrified fences have been approved in San Diego.

Commissioner James Whalen said he believes they are rare and suggested most have been installed in agricultural areas to prevent theft of avocados and other fruit.