Protests Put Off Rulemaking on Public Trees

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The city’s View Restoration Committee delayed a final decision on a proposed revision to a view ordinance covering 1,000 city trees until Oct. 5.

Members of the committee, newly charged with adjudicating claims by property owners over blocked views, said they wanted to consider public comments and dig deeper into the issue before recommending a revision to the ordinance for the City Council to approve.

Currently, the ordinance allows for a property owner to file a complaint over a view obstruction against another owner based on certain conditions, said Gregory Pfost, director of the city’s community development department. “What is not covered at this time is what the process is for a property owner to file a view restoration complaint regarding a tree on city-owned property,” he said.

The committee, established when the City Council enacted a long debated view restoration ordinance last year, convened on Sept. 1 to discuss an unresolved matter: a process for a resident to address view obstruction involving a tree on city-owned property. “With the 1,000 plus trees that the city has under its direction, many can impact a property owner’s view,” said Pfost.

Ara Hovanesian chairs the five-member committee that includes: Katherine Koster, Doug Cortez, Ruben Flores and Chris Toy.

The proposed ordinance would strip away current exemptions for city owned trees in the downtown and in public parks, but retain them for designated Heritage trees, species of large size, historical significance or unique appearance.

on the City Council’s official Heritage tree list. The proposed ordinance would apply only to vegetation within 500 feet of the complaining resident’s property, and would require public noticing to other potentially impacted parties also within 500 feet.

Public sentiment was strongly against the proposed revision to the ordinance with multiple speakers challenging the wisdom of the committee’s approach. “The most iconic and visible parks such as Heisler should be exempt from the view ordinance. Certain places are just too important to jeopardize,” said Bob Borthwick.

Verna Rollinger said that “the ordinance is based on a notion that I cannot agree with. We are considering trees that belong to the public be trimmed or removed for private gain,” said Rollinger, referring to home values buoyed by unobstructed views.

Echoing those comments, Barbara Metzger passionately called Laguna city trees “part of our heritage, these maintained trees belong to all of us, and giving individuals the right to challenge their existence is essentially a gift of public benefits to one person at the expense of 24,000,” she said.

But, the sentiment was not unanimous. Ganka Brown said that the Committee “had been assaulted by a very small group in this town who really want to press their views on everyone else,” she said, calling for a process where every individual has representation.

The committee tabled the ordinance for further discussion until their next meeting. In the interim, committee members and city staff intend to research and consider not only public comments, but also examine where certain city trees might be excluded. “It was my personal intent and the committee’s to try to find a balance. We have never had the intent to clear cut anything,” said Koster.

Pfost said the City Council will likely consider a proposed ordinance revision in October.

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