View Restoration Ordinance Gains Clarity


In city council chambers on Monday night, the View Restoration Committee’s latest attempt to finalize a view ordinance for the maintenance of public trees finally was met with success.

In the latest iteration of a process, which committee member Ara Hovanesian said was occurring for the “umpteenth time” and spanned over months and three public hearings, the committee cemented language governing how more than 1,000 trees on city property would be maintained from a view perspective moving forward.

A previous draft ordinance, which was presented at the committee’s Oct. 5 meeting, had been modified for the current forum by City Associate Planner Tony Farr and Director of Community Developmen, Greg Pfost for review by the committee members and interested residents.

Unlike previous ordinance hearings, attendance from the community was sparse with only two individuals commenting on the proposal, both members of Village Laguna (an organization with a mission “to preserve, enhance, and celebrate the unique village character and cultural heritage of Laguna Beach”).

Charlotte Masarik from the Village Laguna Board of Directors read an open letter from the board signed by the group’s President, Johanna Felder.

“We oppose applying view complaint procedures to public trees,” said Masarik. “Our trees are an integral part of the city’s character.”

Most notable in Masarik’s remarks was a reference to the city only receiving one complaint in the last year from a resident with an obstructed view caused by a city tree, which was ultimately resolved by the parties.

“Why should we write a new ordinance,” asked Masarik? “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” Farr later informed the committee that a second complaint had recently been filed to the city.

Committee members reviewing the updated ordinance found the revisions from the October meeting integrated, and made only “minor changes in the grammar but no changes to the procedures established,” said Farr.

The final ordinance sets out a 500 foot noticing process, but removes restrictions on appeal procedure, so any property owner may file, not just those within 500 feet of a disputed city tree potentially causing a view impairment.

Other modifications included adding commercial properties, as well as residential to the draft; the assignment of city staff as the deciding body for claims, with final appeal to the city council and specific language on what constitutes a significant view impairment.

Concluding the proceedings, the unanimous 5-0 vote sent the package to the city council for review, with Pfost setting a tentative Jan. 12 slot on the agenda. While finally passed, the future of the ordinance is not altogether clear.

“I’m not sure the demand for this ordinance is really there,” said committee member Doug Cortez. “The City Council has asked this committee to look at this, and we have a duty to respond to and give them something, but I have no objection to raising the issue with the council that we need to demonstrate there really is a need for this ordinance. I don’t know if two or three people being unhappy each year justifies a new chapter in the municipal code.”

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