By Steve Caporaso and Marianne Blume
Over a year ago, then Mayor Kelly Boyd “raised a passionate plea to improve the city’s current view preservation ordinance, which he said, now has no teeth in it whatsoever and often pits neighbor against neighbor”. (See Jan. 12, 2013 edition). After one year of view equity committee meetings and numerous drafts of a new ordinance, the city has published the final draft which will be voted on March 25 at a special council meeting.
Citizens for View Preservation and Restoration (CVPR) is a grass roots citizens group formed to support this long overdue initiative. Over 200 homeowners have pledged their support for a strong, enforceable view ordinance that will provide a permanent solution to long standing view impairment problems. Sadly, the final draft falls far short of what was promised or expected. If approved on March 25, this ordinance will be a step backwards from where we are today.
The final draft is missing the “teeth” we were promised. For example:
If your view was blocked when you purchased your home, you will have no standing or hope for a remedy. (Many homes lost their views decades ago because the city allowed prior view regulations to lapse).
If you have views from a secondary residence, those views are not eligible for protection. (Guest houses are part of the culture and history of Laguna and deserve equal treatment).
If you are granted a view permit and your neighbor appeals the decision, you must agree to repay the city all of its expenses to defend the law. This “indemnification” is unprecedented for a code enforcement action.
If you are eligible now to use the popular and cost effective hedge height ordinance and the offending hedge includes “trees”, you will no longer qualify for this simple process. We must not weaken this section of the code.
If the city grants you a view permit which requires the offending neighbor to trim, maintain, or remove and replace his vegetation to preserve your view, your neighbor can withhold his consent and effectively void your permit.
If you choose to apply for a view application, you will bear 100 percent of the mediation, application and litigation costs, and the initial trimming or removal costs and the party who has neglected to maintain their vegetation (often for decades) pays nothing. This gives little incentive to the vegetation owner to cure the public nuisance he has created and neglected.
Currently we have an effective Design Review Board and hedge height process that is working to resolve view disputes. We need a view ordinance that uses the “lessons learned” and complements existing code. The draft view ordinance creates a separate, unequal process which conflicts with the effective “holistic” DRB process. It weakens the hedge height ordinance which has proven to be helpful to many homeowners.
When the first hillside homes were constructed on view sites in Laguna (1920s to 1960s), there were implied and written covenants that your view would be protected. The original sub-dividers prohibited lot buyers in writing from growing vegetation that “impaired” their neighbor’s views. Laguna’s unique topography affords us spectacular views. Today, there is no law preventing someone from planting large trees and taking your view away. Sadly, this new ordinance will do little to change that.
There is still time to fix these problems. Please join us on March 25 and demand our elected officials send the draft ordinance back to the city staff with a clear set of instructions to fix the problems and bring back a clean ordinance with “teeth in it”.
If we fix the ordinance and make it strong with full support of the code enforcement process, neighbors will work out their view disputes without bothering City Hall. As other cities with strong view ordinances have found, we will benefit from rising property values and city tax revenues and neighbor disputes will decline. The time is long overdue to make it happen in Laguna Beach.
For detailed analysis of the draft ordinance visit the CVPR website at www.lagunaviews.net
Both authors are members of the CVPR Steering Committee. Steve Caporaso is a four-year local homeowner and president of Architects & Engineers Services Company. Marianne Blume is retired and has lived in locally for more than 10 years.