Views should take precedence over vegetation, even heritage trees, regardless of when or where the vegetation was planted, according to many participants at subcommittee meetings to develop a revised view ordinance.
A mayor's subcommittee is working on the revisions. An update will be presented to the City Council on Tuesday, after which more revisions will be made before the next committee meeting June 28.
Suggestions of view equity were met with disdain from members of the audience, many of whom had lost cherished views over the years or had neighbors who refused to even listen to requests to lace, or prune, trees.
"Vegetation and views are not economic equals," Marianne Blum said.
Homes with views cost more, but there will be a cost to process view-obstruction claims. City Manager John Pietig's draft budget, to be reviewed at 3 p.m. Tuesday, states that the preservation program could cost more than $300,000 a year.
"In the old days, we would have just put a bullet in the tree and the trees died," Robert Ross said.
Village Laguna President Ginger Osborne received a hostile reaction from the audience after recommending that applicants who want vegetation removed should pay the costs.
South Laguna resident Richard Picheny asked whether the environmental effect of chopping down air-cleansing trees was considered and was met with derision.
"We don't need trees; we have ocean breezes," said Cliff Drive resident Sandra Desmond.
The committee is listening to all sides but is determined to find a reasonable remedy for the unjust loss of views, according to committee Chair Larry Nokes.
"That is the sweet spot we are trying to find," Nokes said.
"We want to come up with an enforceable ordinance, nothing Draconian or that will change the character of the city [but] something to regulate tress and views in responsible ways."
He cautioned that the work on the ordinance is not done.
Citizens for View Preservation and Restoration argued the ordinance is overdone.
Group member Dave Connell pronounced the latest draft ordinance too complex, with too many steps and too much city involvement.
"Simple and straightforward will negate the need for a lot of equivocal wording," Connell said. "A blocked view is a blocked view."
The group advocates elimination of vegetation, including heritage trees — those that meet certain criteria to be preserved and cannot be altered — and any blockage of a view from "viewing areas." Viewing areas can be in all rooms of a residence and the yard, according to some residents.
Committee members are divided on the distance limits. Landscape architect Bob Borthwick said 500 feet was an appropriate distance, beyond which an obstructed-view complaint could not be made. Architect Morris Skendarian opted for 1,000 feet.
The committee is also wrestling with the appropriate trigger date for a complaint about view loss. Should it be the date a property was purchased, when the house was built, or as far back as when the lot was created?
Committee member Susan Whitten favors the date the lot was created or no date at all for the ordinance.
"Recent property owners should not be penalized for being newcomers to Laguna, since many property owners do not maintain vegetation regularly or with consideration of neighbors' views," she said.
Committee member Chris Toy says he echoes Whitten's statement but warns that thousands of residents might disagree with the two of them.
Tree advocate Liza Stewart, whose ancestors were early Lagunans, fears the direction she thinks the committee is taking. She says the committee is leaning too much with the view advocates, who may not be discerning in their complaints.
"But I am in a minority here," Stewart said.
The committee still seeks community input on the draft ordinance. For more information, visit lagunabeachcity.net and click on View Equity Committee.