A Laguna Beach City Council subcommittee appointed to craft an ordinance dealing with view loss has been meeting since February and was still hearing passionate arguments at a meeting Tuesday.
The subcommittee has the job of creating the ordinance without raising the hackles of environmentalists and property rights advocates, about 70 of whom showed up for the meeting in the council chambers.
Among the questions being asked and sometimes vociferously answered: What views should be protected, all or only those from ceremonial rooms? Should the distance of the blockage be limited to 300 feet, 500 feet or as far as the eye can see? Should a claim of view blockage be limited by date, and if so what date? Who should pay for restoration — the tree owner or the person whose view is restored?
And what exactly qualifies as a view that should be preserved or restored?
"A view is anything people want to look at," said Dave Connell, a long-time supporter of view restoration without restriction.
However, the majority of people who attend committee meetings lament the loss of an ocean view, complaining of a grievous cost to their quality of life and property values. Some speak up for trees.
"Trees inspire; they are the greatest living things on the planet," said artist Fitz Maurice.
Three groups responded with differing answers to hard questions at Tuesday's meeting.
"Some of you know I am not comfortable speaking in public, but what I am more afraid of is that this ordinance will pass," said John Thomas, representing the View and Tree Balanced Ordinance group.
The group recommends that claims be considered invalid if the complaint predates the ordinance's passage. It also wants blockages disqualified if more than 300 feet away and that the work be paid for by the claimant.
"There needs to be balance (between) trees and views, sunshine and shade and the property rights of all parties," Thomas said.
Woods Cove resident Greg Gilroy, speaking on behalf of the Citizens for View Preservation and Restoration, opened with a quote attributed to Supreme Court Chief Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes: "Your right to swing your fist ends at my nose," adding, "You have a right to a tree until it blocks my view."
Gilroy's group backs the homeowner's right to a view regardless of when the home was purchased and when or where the blockage occurs, and says the costs of the claim and restoration should be borne by the person who prevails.
"He loses, he pays," Gilroy said.
Claims should be reviewed on a case-by-case basis by a committee appointed by the council, Gilroy said, adding that the panel should not include a landscape architect but it should be advised by an arborist.
Laguna Nursery owner Ruben Flores represented the Beautification Council, of which he is the president.
"Laguna Beach has an environment that the residents bought into," said Flores. "Let's not make Laguna into something we are not: Corona del Mar, Cameo Shores, Rancho Palos Verdes or Tiburon.
The subcommittee reviewed the ordinances of the latter two cities for guidance for the Laguna ordinance.
"Restorative actions must be beautiful," Flores said. "We have seen Edison come in and do horrible things."
He said each neighborhood must deal with the issues separately to preserve the special character of the area, with education the key to proper selection of trees and their maintenance, under the leadership of the city.
The group recommends that evidence of a view be submitted for a claim to be valid.
"You can't show a 1930s photograph and say there were not trees there," Flores said. "There were no houses either."
Flores also said residents' taxes should not be used to pay for the claim process and that the entire ordinance should be put to a vote of the residents.
Public comment following the presentations ranged from take-no-prisoners espousal of removal of all blockage to stick with the current ordinance, which has been described as ineffectual and contentious.
"I learned a ton tonight," said Larry Nokes, chair of the subcommittee.
Meeting minutes will be available on the city's website, http://www.lagunabeachcity.net. The topic for the next meeting will be city trees, though the date has not been set.