It wasn’t on the agenda, but it was certainly on everyone’s mind.
During roughly 13 minutes of public comment at a city council meeting August 6, seven Manhattan Beach residents came up to vocalize concerns about what has become colloquially known as “The Emoji House.”
The bright fuchsia two-story home on 39th Street in the city, which is decked with two giant emoji faces, has caused a massive stir in the sleepy suburb of El Porto, with locals calling it everything from a public nuisance to a safety hazard.
“I live two doors town from Manhattan Beach’s newest tourist attraction,” said resident Carol Madonna, who added there has been a significant increase in pedestrian and car traffic on the street from people hoping to catch a glimpse or take a photo of the house. “It is a very unwelcome addition to our neighborhood...we are all feeling a little threatened…”
The home was allegedly being used as a short-term rental, according to media reports.
Such rentals have been a hot-button issue Manhattan Beach and are currently illegal after officials underwent a lengthy process to uphold a long-standing ban on short-term stays to preserve the small-town beach feel of the city.
So when neighbors reported the activity, a city inspector fined homeowner Kathryn Kidd $4,000 in May.
Shortly after Kidd was fined, the home was painted to add the emojis—which include one with its tongue out and another with a zippered mouth.
Neighbors have since decried it as an act of retaliation, one they claim violates city laws against graffiti.
But current city code limits officials’ legal capacity to address the painting on the house as a sign, graffiti or mural and act accordingly.
“Right now, there’s nothing on the books that would allow us to make any change or force any change with what they’ve done with that house,” said City Manager Bruce Moe in an August 6 interview with The Beach Reporter. “As it stands now, we need to go through that process to determine what we can actually enforce.”
Until then, however, there is little the city can do to force Kidd’s hand in repainting the house, despite adjacent homeowners' protests.
“I don’t even know why we’re talking about mural laws. This is not a mural, this is graffiti...this was somebody giving a big F-U to her neighbors,” said Greg Doll, who lives on 39th. “Every other mural I’ve seen in the city actually tries to do something artistic and beautify the city. This is just a slash and burn, destroy the relationship with your neighbors, make them suffer.”
But, Kidd urged her motivations for painting the home were not nefarious, despite her neighbors’ allegations.
“After hearing the depressing news day in and out, I chose to paint my building with happy, fun colorful emojis,” Kidd said in an email to The Beach Reporter. “The world is full of hate and crime. Since, I live in the area, I wanted to have something fun and happy.”
Kidd also told media outlets that she did not realize short-term stays were illegal and that she accepted full responsibility for having done a short-term rental—a claim her neighbors refuted at the council meeting.
At the council meeting, Neighbor Kevin Wieland said his wife Susan had directly warned Kidd about the illegality of her rental and that the homeowner knew full well what she was doing was against the law.
“Her statements to the press that she did not know short-term rentals are illegal is laughable and a complete lie,” Wieland said at the council meeting.
He also noted that if Kidd’s true intention was to evoke happiness, that she obviously didn’t realize what her home’s new look had done to the street.
“If we were to believe her claim that she wanted to make everyone happy, then she clearly missed her mark and would have voluntarily removed the emojis,” Wieland stated. “It’s nothing more than a public nuisance and a personal attack. This is does not belong on our street or any other residential street in Manhattan Beach.”
City leaders are currently in the process of examining the city’s legal capacity to define what is a ‘mural’ or ‘sign’ following a recent initiative to add more publicly-commissioned murals around town.
Officials said the issue of the Emoji House will be going before the Manhattan Beach planning commissions at an August 28 meeting as part of the discussion about legally defining murals.
But residents of 39th Street remain adamant the city isn’t doing enough to intervene in the situation, which has become a viral internet sensation.
“There is a risk here for the city to do nothing, not only to public safety but to precedent,” urged neighbor Dina Doll. “This all got started because a neighbor was trying to help the city enforce rules...Inaction here is an action and I think this is a precedent the community does not want to have.”