Council Takes On View Ordinance
• Hearing Date Had Been Changed to Assure Public Turnout
BY BILL KOENEKER
The Malibu City Council is slated to hold a public hearing on the proposed view restoration ordinance at its meeting on Monday night, Sept. 26.
The agenda item was to be originally heard this summer, but was postponed after Councilmember Lou La Monte said that summer was not the optimum time for public participation.
The citywide view restoration ordinance is described by municipal planners as a proposal "establishing a private right of action for property owners to restore pre-existing views that have been significantly obstructed by landscaping on neighboring properties."
The majority of the Malibu Planning Commission in June was able to tether together a proposed citywide view restoration ordinance using various parts from other cities, staff and commission recommendations.
A majority of the planning panel turned down a proposed ordinance that would have been more closely modeled after a Rancho Palos Verdes law.`
One commissioner said she could not support such a measure because she did not think most of the Malibu voters supported PV's ordinance. Measure E, the ballot advisory measure approved by nearly two-thirds of the voters did not go far enough in assessing the public's wishes. It did not ask if private views should be subsidized by the public treasury. There are lots of people who do not support private restoration with public funds. PV views were designed for everyone. We do have a path to gain views. I support baby steps. This is a baby step," said Commissioner Joan Mazza.
Another commissioner took a different tack. Panelist John Mazza replied he wanted to point out one version of the proposed ordinance was based on keeping the ordinance revenue neutral, because he did not endorse spending public money on a mediation process.
Commissioner Roohi Stack said she agreed with House and endorsed the staff recommended measure. "We can start in small steps. Palos Verdes is not Malibu. It is not a planned community. We are using public money for private views," she added.
Commissioner Lisa Toledo said she agreed with Mazza. "It is not necessary for the city to offer free mediation. A good service can be gotten at a good rate. I don't think we spent enough time on fee structures. I don't know if we spent enough time on the revenue neutral process. I don't know if we placed a value on the process," she added.
Chair Jeff Jennings said the ordinance had been on his mind for a long time and acknowledged it is a difficult problem.
"What we are doing is creating winners and losers. When we rezoned land when we downsized, we did not affect properties already built. I don't want to put the city in the middle," he said.
A vote was taken on the Mazza motion and the measure was defeated with Mazza and Toledo voting yes and House, Jennings and Stack dissenting.
Subsequently, the staff-recommended motion was made and the measure was approved on a 3-1-1 vote with Stack dissenting and Mazza abstaining.
Mazza said he was not voting because there was no exemption for folks like Judy Decker, who could be imposed upon by five or six claimants who could potentially cause fiscal damage if they all at one time or another demanded she reduce or remove her foliage and she or others like her had to defend themselves in court.
There were various elements in the staff-proposed ordinance that the commissioners found consensus.
Claimants are permitted one primary viewing area with one view.
Any initial and maintenance costs should be borne by the claimant with any costs of new plantings to be borne by the foliage owner. Removal shall be considered only as a last resort, unless volunteered by the foliage owners were among some of those items.
The impetus for the proposed ordinance came from the voters on April 8, 2008 when an advisory measure asked the citizens, "Should the Malibu City Council adopt an ordinance that would require the removal or trimming of landscaping in order to restore and maintain primary views from private homes?" The measure was approved by 60 percent of the voters.
The then city council decided on June, 2008 to create the View Protection Task Force to gather public input on what should be included in the citywide ordinance.
The now defunct task force met for almost a year and ultimately approved a proposed draft ordinance which was forwarded to the planning commission. During the public hearings and workshops there were some speakers who urged the commission to adopt a proposed ordinance, which was crafted by the municipal task force charged by the city council to vet the issue.
Speakers were on the task force and suggested that the task force's recommended ordinance would better serve the city.
The now defunct task force met for almost a year and ultimately approved a proposed draft ordinance while two members of the task force prepared a minority report. One of those panelists was La Monte, now a council member. The other was part-time Malibu resident Suzanne Zimmer, who helped La Monte craft a minority report that differed sharply from the majority's recommended ordinance.
Former task force chair Sam Hall Kaplan, and former task force members Barry Tyreman, Leon Cooper, Marilyn Santman, and Lucille Keller all joined forces to urge the commission to recommend adoption of their proposed ordinance.
Speaking about the ordinance that was proposed by the staff and ultimately adopted by the commission, the task force chair said, "The proposed ordinance is flawed. It is not resident friendly and does not fulfill the measure approved by the voters. The task force ordinance is reasonable…and will best serve the city," Hall Kaplan said.
It was Jennings and Mazza that led the debate during the various hearings about what the panelists should approve or not approve.
Jennings said the process was asymmetrical in the sense that the claimants, gained views, while the foliage owners simply lost their trees and maybe privacy.
"We should come up with some mechanism that the plaintiff ought to pay for it. The foliage owner should get some relief," he said.
Mazza said he agreed with one of the speakers, Judy Decker, who urged the commission to include a hardship clause or exemption for senior citizens and those on fixed incomes.
"This doesn't provide what 60 percent of the people voted for," he said.
Mazza said he much preferred what he called the "basic guts of the PV ordinance," such as a mediation paid for by the involved parties and a process where the issue, if not resolved would go to the planning commission and it would be appealable to the city council.
Jennings said the city would be creating a right that does not exist and he felt uncertain about the efficacy of mediation.