Flintstone House lawsuit settled — the dinosaurs can stay

The Flintstone House in Hillsborough. Post file photo by Emily Mibach.

This story was originally published in Thursday’s print edition of the Daily Post. To get all of the local news first, pick up Post in the mornings at 1,000 Mid-Peninsula locations.

Daily Post Staff Writer

Fred Flintstone will get to keep his dinosaurs after the town of Hillsborough and the owner of the Flintstone House, Florence Fang, quietly settled a lawsuit from the town that claimed her dinosaur sculptures and other landscaping changes had violated local code.

The settlement agreement said that Fang gets a $125,000 from the town. And the agreement says that when she files new permits for the offending backyard changes for the home, they will be approved.

The home is located on Berryessa Way and can be seen from I-280.

The controversy began in late 2017 when a code enforcement officer noticed that Fang, the former owner of the Independent and Examiner newspapers, had added the large metal dinosaurs and made other changes to the property.

In addition to the dinos, town officials took issue with a sign that says “Yabba Dabba Doo,” figures of Flintstone characters, a staircase, a parking strip, a deck and other additions to the home’s front and back yard.

Since Fang’s work involved more than 10,000 square feet on the property, it was determined that she should have sought the planning department’s approval for the changes, according to documents filed with the initial lawsuit from March 2019.

The town issued three “stop work” orders, which led to the lawsuit.

Racial discrimination alleged

Fang countersued the town, claiming she had been discriminated against based on race. At an April 2019 press conference at the Flintstone House, Fang’s attorney Angela Alioto said there are likely other residents who didn’t get permits for their statues or renovations but are not facing the same sort of harassment from the town because they are not Chinese.

“Or is it really about treating Mrs. Fang differently because of her dream and that she’s Chinese and this is Hillsborough?” Alioto said at the time.

The story attracted international news coverage. But the settlement, which was reached earlier this year, has received no media attention.

On April 12, the town council unanimously approved the settlement and the case was dismissed in San Mateo County Superior Court on April 27.

Gag order

But no announcement was made by either Fang or the city because of a gag order on the fourth page of the lawsuit, saying that neither side shall reach out to the press, and if the press does reach out to them, to respond with the following canned statement.

“The parties have reached an amicable resolution of the case to the satisfaction of all the parties, such that the improvements made to the Flintstone House will be permitted to remain.”

As part of the settlement, Fang agreed to dismiss her claims against two city employees who she said impeded her initial permit attempts and to drop the claims regarding racial discrimination. The settlement agreement states the $125,000 Fang is receiving is “solely to cover expenses incurred by Flintstone related to the lawsuit, and shall not be as a payment related to any claim for discrimination.”

Hillsborough was initially represented by Mark Hudak, who was replaced by attorney Scott Ditfurth. Former San Francisco Supervisor Angela Alioto’s firm represented Fang, with Alioto and Steven Robinson working on the case.


    • Take 280 all the time. I new the Flintstone house was recently sold and the neighbors were trying to get it torn down because they thought it was an eyesore but had no idea since 2017 Betty and Barney Rubble were almost evicted. Glad to know they will still have a place to call home in the town of Bedrock.

  1. Perhaps it would have been wiser and more judicious for the city of Hillsborough to shut down Mrs. Fang’s fatuous home amusement park, in order to comply with local zoning rules, by employing the copyright and conventions laws which would strictly prohibit the explicit private use and public display of all Flintstone cartoon imagery copyrighted by the animation company which still owns those rights, AKA, Hanna-Barbera.

    • I’m sure there are copyright lawyers who can tell me if I’m right (especially in Hillsborough), but If she’s not degrading their image or making any money — settlements for lawsuit expenses notwithstanding — from them, does that even apply?

    • 1) Town cannot bring a copyright infringement since they are not the copyright owner. 2) If the copyright owner brought such a lawsuit they would have to prove likeness, damages etc, and the public using Flintstones as a moniker is not enough. Hence a judge would likely rule that whatever copyright infringement exists, is “fair use”. That aside the statute of limitations probably ran out by now 3) The town settled because a) they did not want a discrimination lawsuit, or b) have it escalate into a 1st amendment issue adding to the existing common law cases against draconian cosmetic (non-safety) only building codes.

  2. It can be argued the final value and common public notoriety of Mrs. Fang’s property is now directly derived from the illicit installation of copyrighted cartoon characters (not the dinosaurs) publicly on display and easily visible from Highway 280, i.e., lots of witnesses. If and when Mrs. Fang decides to sell the property, regardless of its inclusion or exclusion of these trademarked Flintstone characters, isn’t Hanna-Barbera not lawfully entitled to compensation for some of its real estate market value within the definition of copyright law at the time of its lawful sale?

    • No, they’re not, and it’s clear you don’t know much about copyright law to even ask that. There’s nothing “illicit” about having the Flintstones characters on display on private property, and as the figures are not a permanent part of the property the notion that they add value to it should Fang sell the property is absurd. Sorry the case didn’t go your way but you’re really grasping at straws here for a reason to penalize Mrs. Fang.

      • It is far from “absurd” that the figures add value to the property. When I sold my mother’s house some of her sculpture was in the garden, and the buyer required that it be part of the deal. The value to us was far greater than the market value of the art. This scenario is likely to occur here considering the publicity that surrounds this property. Apparently you are better versed in copyright law than the art market.

    • Yo Max, when you get a minute, find a seat, pour yourself a tall cold glass of STFU, and try to figure out what happened to your soul. Anyone who can afford to live near enough to this house to complain about it in the first place, and who does anything but celebrate its whimsy and uniqueness, must be very unhappy indeed.

  3. It must be terrible living next door. Your views are spoiled. Tourists are parking and walking around. “Will you take our picture?” The town should have stood up to her and bulldozed this mess.

    • Don’t like living next door? Don’t buy a house next to one of the most recognizable landmarks on 280. Why is the solution to bulldoze someone’s home rather than for the neighbors of said home to just not be uptight whiners who can’t mind their own business?

  4. I love the Flintstone house. I think to bring on the stress to these neighbors and make them swell up like balloons, someone needs to to make a giant pancake house with a food-colored waterfall on top (with artificial syrup scents), and then a red and white KFC bucket house. It would be great, and finger-licking good!

  5. Yes, Grabnar, you’re absolutely correct. It isn’t copyright law that I should be citing here. More precisely, it should be copyright “infringement”. Which is not to be confused with patent infringement, intellectual property infringement, or trademark infringement. Is it your definitive position that the copyrighted Hanna-Barbera characters will NOT become a “permanent” fixture to the property if and when sold? If so, how could even you know that? Explain…….

  6. So very very very happy this has been settled in Ms. Fang’s favor!

    I have loved everything she has done to this iconic home. It bring me joy each time I start my long work commute and see her home from 280. The charm and whimsy is contagious.

    And BOOOO! To the uptight Hillsborough neighbors.

    As for the copyright nonsense, to be clear none of the Hanna Barbara characters are not at all visible from 280. I wish they were…

    Hoorah for Ms. Fang her retirement joy is now secure for her enjoyment…and ours

  7. Before “The Flintstone House” started being called “The Flintstone House”, it was a more natural adobe color, and there were no statues on the property. It stuck out like a sore thumb then (I always thought it should have been built someplace like Santa Fe, NM) but it was tasteful and intriguing.

    Personally, I can’t stand what has been done to the place, but I don’t own the house. I’m glad the courts have stood by the owner, and reminded the city of Hillsboro (and some of it’s residents, who clearly have too much time on their hands) that they have no right to force their taste on anyone.

    So…yabba dabba doo, Ms. Fang! Continue to let your freak flag fly!

  8. Another example a corrupt, racist, city bureaucracy in California continuing to erode personal property rights. Kudos to Mrs. Fang for having the fortitude and resources to fight for her beliefs and rights.

  9. I support the property owner but I don’t think this home is historically accurate. I think Fred and Barney were neighbors. Where’s Barney’s house? Perhaps Mrs Fang could get an ADU permit from the town for the Rubble home?

  10. Governments should NOT be allowed to enter into “confidential settlements” – Public Money = Public Record.

  11. Her claim of racial bias is manipulative and
    an assault on those deserving of protection from discrimination.
    The house is a hideous eyesore and should be bulldozed.

  12. A lot of assumptions are being made on the Town’s motivations. I do not know all the details of this specific case, but the Town of Hillsborough is likely more concerned over compliance with the land use ordinance, rather than shutting something down on preference alone and especially without following required procedures – that would be an arbitrary and capricious violation of law (i.e. they’re likely not looking for ways to stop Fang from using her property within the bounds of law simply because they don’t like it). If the scope of work is such that permit requirements were triggered, then code enforcement will issue stop work orders until permits are submitted (which is what sounds like happened). The plans would need to be modified until the ordinance is met by right or with conditions. Secondly, if any nonconforming situations exist on the lot, Fang would not be allowed to expand the the noncomforming situation, and may be required to bring the existing nonconforming situations into compliance if the scope of work meets specified thresholds. The burden of proof would be on Fang to demonstrate that the Town’s interpretation of the ordinance is wrong, and would usually go to a Board of Zoning Appeals even before the possibility of a judge. In this case, however, it appears Fang may have ignored the Town’s stop work orders, which is what initiated litigation from the Town. Fang’s racial discrimination suit likely didn’t hold because they would have to first prove that Hillsborough was arbitrary and capricious in its application of the ordinance, let alone prove motivation. However that sounds like the direction they were going with claims about other neighbors not getting permits. But first of all, not all statues may be subject to ordinance – again, it usually depends on the scope of work. And if other violations of code exist in the neighborhood, it is likely because they are either non-conforming situations that will eventually be required to meet the ordinance, or simply because of the fact, and this is important, code enforcement is typically reactionary (investigations are often prompted by responding to calls from other neighbors). Proving motivation beyond that – that this situation was motivated by race would be difficult. The most they could do is demonstrate it was arbitrary and capricious application of ordinance, from which one could only infer motivations. The Town also appears to have met due process requirements. To me this is a case of her having a unique property that is probably going to result in scrutiny from some neighbors. I personally think it looks like a sweet little house on a hill, but it certainly stands out, and its unconventionality is almost certainly going to bring a greater amount of attention, especially if she’s making additions.

    • Thanks for the analysis. Hillsborough’s design review committee is supposed to have the power to turn down proposals it believes to be out of character. Decades ago, the drc turned down a fence we proposed to screen the motor court. Participants on all sides were white so racial discrimination was absent. They said it would have been visually jarring. Since then, we planted a perimeter hedge that is now over 20 feet tall. Hillsborough design review doesn’t cover landscaping. Over the past nearly 40 years, most of the neighbors have become Asian, especially women (not many men around). I haven’t noticed any racial discrimination amongst neighbors. The few non whites I have befriended (it’s not the sort of town where neighbors get together) have never had problems with city staff. I am sorry Ms Fang felt they singled her out because of her race. I suspect she was cited because of complaints from neighbors who prefer House Beautiful’s vision of suburbia to hers.

  13. The house is probably the only remarkable thing about Hillsborough. Hope the town stops harassing the lady, and someday celebrates the joyful place instead.

  14. The quasi-legalflexing, pretentious comments here are more of a riot than the house! Then the LGBTQ+? OMG Thank you all for the laughs!

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