Flintstone House Owner Hires Lawyers to Fight Hillsborough Lawsuit

Over the top, yes, but illegal? "Flinstone House" owner Florence Fang is battling with Hillsborough over her landscaping design, especially the backyard, visible to drivers passing on 280. (Photo: Rachael Myrow/KQED)

She's not going down without a fight.

At 85 years old, Florence Fang says she bought her bright orange, non-rectilinear "Flintstone House" in Hillsborough (after it sat on the market for two years) because she loved its cartoonish unconventionality. So much so, in fact, that the retired publisher installed 15-foot dinosaur statues in the backyard and a "Yabba Dabba Do" sign in the front, among other things, to add to its festive feeling visible from the freeway.

"This house needed somebody to care! I take care of this house! I make the house live again! I make Flintstone live again!" Fang told a crowd of roughly 30 reporters who'd gathered to hear from her and her high-profile lawyer, Angela Alioto, on Thursday.

"The Federal Housing Act doesn't allow this kind of discrimination, doesn't allow this kind of harassment in your own backyard," Alioto  added, "She got the permit for the front of the house. She got the permit for the driveway. She got the permit for the retaining wall. They came out to close those permits and OK them, and while they were out here, they took a walk to the backyard. That same day, they wrote a stop order."

Alioto described the restrictions from the city's planning department as changing goal posts. "First, they wanted her to paint the mushrooms. They wanted the mushrooms to be brown. They didn't want colorful mushrooms," Alioto said.

From left to right: architect William Nicholson, Flinstone House owner Florence Fang, and attorney Angela Alioto.
From left to right: architect William Nicholson, Flinstone House owner Florence Fang, and attorney Angela Alioto. (Photo: Rachael Myrow/KQED)

"It was never good enough. There's also an inspector there who seems to think that the people who live in the town of Hillsborough 'need to speak English.' I want to take his deposition," Alioto said.

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Fang said the international publicity of her battle with Hillsborough has led thousands of supporters to write her to express their support. "American spirit is you dare to dream," she said. "You dare to challenge. You dare to make a difference. You dare to make a change."

Fang said she’s a law-abiding citizen keen to enjoy a “peaceful happy retired life.”

That's not how Hillsborough Assistant City Attorney Mark Hudak describes it. "This project was first seen by one of our town employees driving in on 280," he said, referencing the nearby freeway. "The permit she had at the time was for a very low wall in the front yard."

He added that Fang racked up three stop work notices and a code citation before the city proceeded to sue. “Mrs. Fang began a very large project which required a design review and building permits she didn’t have. If we let people build projects of this kind without getting permits, how can we ask others to get permits?”

Most of Florence Fang's eclectic landscaping choices cannot be seen from the street, including this installation facing the front of her house.
Most of Florence Fang's eclectic landscaping choices cannot be seen from the street, including this installation facing the front of her house. (Photo: Rachael Myrow/KQED)

Hudak said a settlement is possible "if she’s willing to make compromises that she has not so far been willing to make." Those include installing trees big enough to break up "the very blunt visual impact of this project... imposing the totality of her point of view on everybody else."

Can City Employees Deny Permits Based on Aesthetics?

Although Fang’s landscaping can’t be seen from her residential street, only from I-280, Hillsborough’s suit claims it constitutes a “highly visible eyesore … out of keeping with community standards.”

Fang was told to plant tree cover around the dinosaurs to hide them at least partially from public view. Hudak insisted, "It’s the same process whether you're installing dinosaur statues or Rodin statutes. With proper screening, she can get approval or more of what she has up there."

But he added her property is in a designated scenic highway corridor along the Crystal Springs Lake. San Mateo County has not raised concerns with Hillsborough, Hudak said, but Hillsborough will require Fang to demonstrate her backyard complies with the county's requirements just the same.

"De gustibus non est disputandum" is a Latin maxim meaning "In matters of taste, there can be no disputes." However, it has no bearing on the municipal permitting process in American cities.
"De gustibus non est disputandum" is a Latin maxim meaning "In matters of taste, there can be no disputes." However, it has no bearing on the municipal permitting process in American cities. (Photo: Rachael Myrow/KQED)

At the press conference, the architect of the house, William Nicholson, said he's proud of Fang and characterized city officials as bullies.

"Why shouldn't our architecture and our living environments be fun?" he said. "She is so strong and so resilient. The town officials don't know what they've gone up against."

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