By Jennifer Erickson | LB Indy
Residents who want to help resolve local view disputes can apply for appointment to Laguna Beach’s newest citizen-led panel, the View Restoration Committee that is being established to arbitrate claims under the new and still-controversial view ordinance that takes effect Dec. 17.
Anyone interested in serving a two-year term on the committee must submit an application to the City Clerk by 5 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 12. The City Council will interview all applicants at their regular meeting on Jan. 6.
As prickly battles erupt between neighbors who fail to resolve their differences over view-blocking vegetation, the panel will step in to rule on whether property owners have submitted enough evidence to support their right to reclaim prized views and maintain original property values, or whether they are trying to inflate their property values by creating views they never paid for in the first place. But that’s only if an expert mediator can’t settle the dispute first.
The arbitrating committee should be comprised of “smart, honest, rational, objective and fair people” who will give participants in the process and the community at large a sense that the law is being interpreted and applied fairly, said local attorney Larry Nokes, who chaired the group tasked with drafting the ordinance. You need individuals “who can apply the ordinance, and who will not seek to impose a particular agenda,” he said.
Earlier this month, the City Council authorized engaging the same mediator responsible for resolving view disputes in Rancho Palos Verdes, whose court-tested view ordinance served as a model for Laguna’s. After a year of public hearings by a task force responsible for developing a new ordinance, the Council adopted the new law on June 17, but stipulated that it not take effect for 180 days to allow staff time to prepare a system for implementation, including hiring a new full-time associate planner to handle the view-related workload and retaining the services of a professional arborist.
The new view restoration and preservation ordinance replaces an existing law that went into effect on Nov. 4, 2003, and was derided for its lack of enforceability.
Under the new law, a homeowner trying to recapture a lost view has recourse to an enforceable result, provided that the obstructing vegetation is within 500 feet of his property and provided he can prove the view existed either at the date of the property’s purchase or at the time the original ordinance went into effect in 2003, whichever is earlier.
The re-written ordinance encourages neighbors to cooperate. The view restoration claimant must first prove that he tried to reach an agreement with the vegetation owner before coming to the city for recourse. At that point, the homeowner can file an application for a notice of intent to file a claim, which triggers a city-facilitated mediation. A majority of the view issues in Rancho Palos Verdes are now resolved in mediation, according to a staff report.
If the mediation fails, the claimant can then file an application for a view restoration claim, including evidence of the pre-existing views. The as-yet-unassembled five-member View Restoration Committee, will visit the property and hold a publicly noticed hearing. If they find that a significant view is impaired, they can issue a view restoration order, including a long-term vegetation maintenance schedule, and the vegetation owner must comply, subject to code enforcement. Both parties may appeal the decision to the City Council.