A standing-room-only crowd crammed into the first meeting of Mayor Kelly's Boyd's hand-picked View Equity Committee held Tuesday at the Third Street Community Center.
About 40 residents came to share their complaints about view loss, uncooperative neighbors, impacts on insurance, safety hazards and what the majority felt was a wishy-washy ordinance to preserve views. Tree defenders were in the minority.
"There is always tension between people who really, really love views and people who really, really love trees, but I am not sure it has to be either/or," said Larry Nokes, a practicing Laguna Beach attorney and resident and named by Boyd named to chair the committee.
Nokes opened the meeting with a brief discussion of ordinances enacted by the cities of Tiburon and Palos Verdes that have "more teeth" than Laguna's and have passed muster with the courts.
He plans to present the Palos Verdes ordinance at the next meeting of the committee, which is set for 4:40 p.m. Feb. 19, at the center.
"I can save you time," resident Dave Connell said. "In the mid-'90s, a citizen's committee prepared a 10-page safety and view ordinance. Read it. It will help you a lot."
Connell urged the committee not to base view blockage on distance from a home .
"Three hundred feet is nothing with a 60- or 70-foot tree [blocking the view]," Connell said.
Copies of the Connell group draft proposal are available at lagunabeachcity.net or davconn@Cox.net.
The Connell group proposal was approved by the Planning Commission but not the City Council.
One reason the council did not approve the proposed ordinance was the issue of a court challenge related to claims of blockage by vegetation that existed prior to the passage of the current ordinance in effect, raised by City Attorney Philip Kohn.
David Marter said he just can't understand why it is all right for someone to buy a home with existing trees in their view and then try to bully neighbors into cutting the trees.
"I have been painted an uncooperative tree person," Marter said. "I have been harassed. I'm angry. Yeah."
Boyd said that neighborhood contention has escalated since the ordinance was approved.
"It is time we all got together and developed a workable ordinance," he said.
He selected Planning Commissioner Ken Sadler, Design Review Board member Roger McErlane, landscape architect Bob Borthwick, attorney Larry Nokes, architect Morris Skenderian, Emergency Disaster Preparedness Committee member Sue Kempf, landscape architect Susan Whitin and South Laguna resident Chris Toy to come up with the answers.
Just defining view is going to be a challenge, Morris Skenderian said.
"I would like to see a definition of view that isn't just white water," Beautification Council member Joanne Sutch said.
Third generation Lagunan and landscape owner Liza Steward questioned whether the city's new ordinance would go as far as Palos Verdes to preserve views.
"Will it address flag poles or just go after trees?" she asked.
The Palos Verdes ordinance allows the city to remove trees on private property. However, neither Palos Verdes or Tiburon ordinances say property owners are entitled to an unobstructed view from every room in the house, Nokes said.
"Removing a tree is the last resort," Nokes said.
Property owner Dennis Myers said he would be a happy guy if he could cut down just half the roots and half the foliage off a neighbor's tree, which has cost him money.
"A few years ago we decided to underground and I was charged a premium because of our view," Myers said.
But then the view was blocked by the neighbor's tree and his insurance was cancelled because of the foliage.
"I have never understood why we only have specific heights for buildings to preserve views, but not for landscaping," Annette Wimmer said.
Design Review Board member Robin Zur Schmeide suggested the committee should review the city code to what is within the board's purview and give it more tools to control landscaping projects.
Top of the World resident Gary Schwager recommended the committee also include the protection of public views in its deliberations over the next few months.
The next meeting will be held at 4:30 p.m. Feb. 19 at the community center.