Neighbors say 'adios' to k-rails

Neighbors, including 17-month old Rowan Donofrio listening to a live band, gathered at the end of Big Briar Way for a party to celebrate the future removal of the k-rails from in front of their homes in La Canada Flintridge on Saturday, July 13, 2013. The party included a band and neighbors brought food and drink. The k-rails have been in place since early 2010 after the floods. (Raul Roa / Staff Photographer / July 13, 2013)

It's not been unusual in recent years to see k-rails in hillside neighborhoods of La Cañada Flintridge decorated for each season.

While living next to the mud-blocking barriers that were installed after the 2009 Station fire, residents have added festive touches: pumpkins for Halloween, inflatable animals wearing Santa hats for Christmas.

Now, one scuffed-up barrier at the end of the cul-de-sac on Big Briar Way has a new decoration: a sign that reads, 'ADIOS KRAIL.'

The La Cañada Flintridge City Council voted in June to remove the k-rails from all but one neighborhood in the city, an action that will free the residents of Big Briar and nearby streets from the barriers they have said devalued the neighborhood and caused blind spots. The barriers are expected to be removed in the coming months.

Residents who are members of the neighborhood group Haskell Highlands — who pushed city officials to remove the k-rails from their area — threw a small neighborhood block party to celebrate the decision.

On Saturday afternoon, neighbors walked up Big Briar Way and set up lawn chairs in front of the k-rail. Then they grabbed plates of food and drinks while local band Misplaced Priorities belted out popular covers of songs from the Rolling Stones and the Eagles, among others.

Richard and Mary Emily Meyers, who have lived in the neighborhood for 26 years, own the house that sits nearest to the k-rail. They remember when the Station fire burned dangerously close on a hill above their property. Richard Meyers, who plays in Misplaced Priorities, said he took the opportunity to liven up the barrier before crews had cleared the first onslaught of mud.

As a joke, he set up a fake arm in a hole in the k-rail and placed a shovel, which was stuck in the mud, in the hand.

"Those guys went crazy," he recalled of the workers. "It looked like somebody dropped a k-rail on this guy."

Since then, he said adding embellishments to the deteriorating k-rails had become a kind of obsession.

"We had fun with it," he said.

For the party, he brought out all of the holiday decorations he has used on the k-rails over the past four years. Faux flowers were placed in the top of orange traffic cones.

When they were installed in the neighborhood, the k-rails were white. Now some of them are beige in color, with cracks and chipped edges.

Residents don't deny that the barriers once served a purpose; in city meetings, they have thanked officials for installing them. But over the past year, they noticed that the area in their hillside neighborhood, which is adjacent to the Angeles National Forest, had improved.

An assessment by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service in April agreed, and a representative of the agency told city officials in a letter that "these temporary structures have served their purpose."

The City Council then voted to remove the barriers from the neighborhood.

Eldon Horst, chair of the Haskell Highlands group, told attendees of the party that becoming organized as a neighborhood helped achieve the victory of getting the green light to remove the mud-blocking barriers.

"I've gotten to know everybody here better than I would have if I hadn't been involved in this stuff," he said, "and that's worth everything to me."

Saturday's celebration was also designed to foster relationships between new and old neighbors.

Omar Del Cueto, who lives on White Deer Drive, said it's important for residents to come together.

"It's an outstanding example of an old-time American experience," he said. "It hearkens back to the 1950s."

While the k-rail in front of her home has become a burden, Mary Emily Meyers said that it did have one benefit: "It has been excellent in bringing the neighborhood together."

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Follow Tiffany Kelly on Google+ and on Twitter: @LATiffanyKelly.

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