The Emoji House, Good Neighbors and City Council (Part I)

Posted by Mike Michalski on Sunday, August 18th, 2019.

My neighbors are listening to great music.  Whether they like it or not.
~   Unknown

With the Manhattan Beach City Council out of session this week, we thought it might be worth opining on what makes good neighbors and a desirable community and Council’s role in furthering those goals.

A recent survey by Realtor.com found that three-quarters of people believe they have good neighbors. As you might expect, they found that being a good neighbor is all about embracing common courtesy.

Of course, we can’t help but reflect on this topic with a contrary example – the now nationally famous ‘emoji house.’

If you haven’t heard about this, here’s a brief summary:

The current owner, Kathryn Kidd, bought this fairly nondescript El Porto duplex at 216 39th Street back in December, 2017, for $1,250,000 (see photo below).

However, when Kidd started using the units as illegal short-term rentals, the neighbors reported her to the city and she was ultimately fined $4,000.

Then the story took an ugly turn.

To get back at her neighbors, Kidd decided to paint the front façade of her duplex a retina-burning pink with two large yellow emojis. One of the emojis has a zipper for lips, commonly used to signify “Shut up!”

Now the property is national news and a tourist attraction of sorts.  But to the immediate neighbors, it's something else entirely.

The hue and cry over Kidd's visual assault on her neighbors soon reached the City Planning Commission at a July 10 public hearing and dominated the public comment section of the City Council meeting of August 6.

Some of the comments at the latter from neighbors on the block include:

  1. An "unwelcome addition to the neighborhood."
  2. A "personal attack against our neighbors on the street."
  3. "This is not a mural, this is graffiti." 
  4. "A big F-U to the neighbors."
  5. "I feel threatened" as a homeowner on the block. 

Laughably, Kidd disingenuously insisted, "I'm not trying to offend anyone.  I did it for the purpose of being happy, being positive, and I think it's cute and quirky and kind of funny."

However, this was clearly a lie as the 'artist', a former graffiti tagger (what a  surprise) named Bobby Rodriguez, pictured below, had posted on a since-deleted Instagram post a picture of the duplex with the following comment, "Are your neighbors constantly ratting you out? Have they cost you thousands in fines? Have you wanted to tell them off lately? Why risk a case, when you can hire me to paint them a pretty message?"

But what can the city do about Rodriguez's artwork, given that it's on private property?

Despite a neighbor's assertion that this is graffiti, that term is defined in the city code as an unauthorized word, figure or picture, while this work was clearly authorized by the property's owner. 

Immediately after the August 6 Council meeting, the City Manager, Bruce Moe, issued a statement saying "Currently, the City’s Municipal Code does not prohibit paintings, murals, graphic displays, etc. on residential structures." (see full statement here).  Moe did note (as did the city attorney at the Council meeting) that the Planning Commission will be looking at this issue in the context of amending the City's sign ordinance to address murals.

The Planning Commission next meets on August 28 and will, hopefully, come up with a recommendation for City Council to adopt.

Contributing to the overall lack of civility throughout this process is the commenting on social media - originally started by Kidd herself (!) who posted, on June 10, a gaslighting question on the popular site NextDoor, asking "Does anyone know about the emoji house on 39th Street?"

Lost in all of this is a simple principle - the fact that while you may have the legal right to do something obnoxious, that doesn't mean you should do it.  But we've seen a number of instances of the latter recently, all in the name of freedom of expression, political free speech, etc.

But, in the process, we're also seeing, ever-so-slowly, the erosion of common courtesy, civility and neighborliness.

More on this topic in Part II.

UPDATE:  Looks like the emoji duplex went back up for sale after we published this post (it was also offered for sale in the first quarter of this year at $1,999,000).  New asking price - $1,749,000, a hefty (40%) increase over the December, 2017 sale.  Probably not trading anytime soon, even at that new price.

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This entry was posted under Manhattan Beach, and Smell The Coffee.