Public sentiment skewed to extremes as Laguna Beach spent months fine-tuning and redrafting its view ordinance, which took effect last December.
Some residents predicted a stampede of claims by homeowners seeking to restore vegetation-choked vistas and speculators trying to increase property values by creating new views where none had previously existed. Other residents feared the draft law would be ineffective in resolving long-standing disputes.
Susan Whitin, then a member of the view drafting committee and recently appointed to the Planning Commission, dismissed such worries. “The interpretation of all of this gets down to real people interpreting real situations; it’s not divorced from our everyday lives,” she said in December 2013. “I have faith that the implementation will be sound.”
Whitin’s words could be seen as prophetic.
So far, eight view restoration claims have been filed, according to Tony Farr, the associate planner managing the program.
Two have gone through mediation, one claim was withdrawn, private discussions are under way on another and four are in various stages of being processed.
While the two claims that have so far gone through mediation did not yield agreements, in one case the neighbor trimmed the trees anyway and the claimant subsequently filed a view-preservation claim to record the new vista for posterity. The other claim that was unresolved by mediation will be heard June 1 by the View Restoration Committee, the first real test of the newly established city panel.
The City Council appointed the committee’s first five members to two-year terms in January. Doug Cortez, Ruben Flores, Ara Hovanesian, Katherine Koster and Chris Toy will settle view disputes where the parties fail to come to terms on their own or through city-facilitated mediation.
The new law provides recourse for property owners hoping to restore previously existing views obstructed over time by overgrown vegetation. It also establishes a preservation claim process for property owners to document existing views at city hall so they can be defended against future obstructions.
Four such claims have been completed, with a “record of views” documented in the related property files, according to Farr. Five others are being processed. Once a record of views is filed for a property, city staff sends written notice to affected vegetation property owners within 500 feet.
“I am very pleased with what it accomplished,” said Wendt Terrace resident Lee Reymer, who went through the restoration and preservation process. He noted that he was fortunate to have a cooperative neighbor, a good friend for 40 years, and that no animosity resulted from the negotiations.
Though the process was costly, he said the ordinance functioned as it was supposed to, which was “to restore the view and also to make it legally enforceable to retain it.” He also praised Farr for his effective guidance in helping him through the process.
Reymer had to pony up $500 for the mediation, and, when his neighbor subsequently trimmed the trees thwarting his view, he paid $630 to file a claim to preserve the re-opened vista for posterity, not only for him but also for future owners.
In addition to processing the filed view restoration and preservation claims, staff has been responding to calls daily and meeting with residents at City Hall to discuss the view ordinance. But so far, they are not overburdened, Farr stated.
Going forward, staff is compiling a list of possible tweaks in the language of the ordinance to submit to the City Council for consideration. They are also working on a draft view ordinance to govern city maintained trees that will be reviewed by the View Restoration Committee and City Council.