The city's 14-month journey to a revamped view ordinance is nearly complete.
View Equity Committee members hope only a few tweaks are needed before the proposal returns to the City Council for a vote.
Residents filled City Hall on Tuesday night to provide input on the latest rendition, which aims to clarify the conditions under which residents can fight the save their property's views. It would give property owners a legal means to preserve existing views or restore a view that has been marred since the property was purchased.
Responsibility rests with property owners to take photos of their view, should they need to file a future claim.
The View Equity Committee, a council-appointed group formed at the behest of Councilman Kelly Boyd, considered information received at eight public meetings, visits to homes with affected views and cities with existing view ordinances, such as Rancho Palos Verdes, in developing changes to the ordinance.
"People don't have a remedy now," committee Chairman Larry Nokes said. "I want everyone to know I think we have the making of a very good remedy, something that is enforceable."
The current ordinance depends on voluntary cooperation without city involvement in enforcement and doesn't require the vegetation owner to participate in mediation.
It also does not allow residents who purchased property before Nov. 4, 2003, the date the ordinance went into effect, to claim that their views are protected.
The committee, which includes Planning Commission and Design Review Board members and two landscape architects, proposed removing that limitation and basing the legal rights only on the date of purchase of the property.
Under the proposed ordinance, residents may file a claim for vegetation that is 6 feet or higher and located within 500 feet of the claimant's property line. Property owners cannot file a claim for city-maintained vegetation or heritage trees.
Resident Ron Wisecup, who lives near the Montage Laguna Beach, said city vegetation should be fair game.
"It's a conflict of interest. The City Council is trying to pass a view ordinance, and my most offending neighbor is the city," Wisecup said. "I hope we can get an ordinance for city trees."
At the last view ordinance meeting in December, some Lagunans argued that they should have the right to protect multple views from a single piece of property. So the committee also worked that allowance into the proposed ordinance.
The committee also retained, at the public's request, the existing hedge height claim process as part of the proposed view ordinance because of its efficacy in solving disputes, the group said.
Trees will be considered a hedge if the crown of more than one grows together to create a view blockage, Nokes said.
The question of fees and who pays what has yet to be resolved. Rancho Palos Verdes, for example, charges a property owner $5,000 to file a view restoration claim if an agreement cannot be reached with the vegetation owner.
Council members and the public thought that fee excessive and also disagreed with placing added costs on claimants.
"The individual that is blocking the view, if he loses, he should pay the cost of trimming the tree," Boyd said. "Worst case scenario would be to split the cost."
Under the proposed ordinance, claimants must pay for the mediator and any restorative action while the vegetation owner would be responsible for paying for subsequent maintenance.
Residents also urged the council to consider the value of the trees along with the views.
"I hope the final resolution is one that doesn't lose sight of the beauty and character of our town from our views and trees," resident Charlotte Masarik said. "Shade and reduced noise comes from trees, so please keep that foremost in your minds."
Boyd and Councilman Steve Dicterow agreed to form a subcommittee tasked with reviewing testimony from Tuesday's meeting and make any revisions before returning the ordinance to council.
"I want to get it going and get it done," Boyd said.
The proposed view ordinance is available on the city's website at http://www.lagunabeachcity.net.