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Trump, town on opposite sides of the ficus fence

Times Staff Writer

Donald Trump thought that some homes overlooking his Rancho Palos Verdes golf course were so unsightly that he ordered them hidden from view with a row of ficus plants.

Trump may know real estate, but he doesn’t know Rancho Palos Verdes law, according to city leaders.

They say that the vegetation, some of which is 12 feet tall, violates a city code that protects residents’ ocean views. The City Council is scheduled to consider a measure at tonight’s meeting that would force Trump to trim or remove the ficus.

It is the second time that Trump has run afoul of City Hall over ocean vistas in the last two years.

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“Why is a man of his resources wasting time bickering with the city?” asked Mayor Tom Long, who said he had received more than 300 angry e-mails about the trees, the biggest outcry since the course erected a 70-foot flagpole in 2006 that some residents said blocked their views.

The debate has become so pointed that the city and Trump can’t even agree on what to call the plants. The city maintains that the plants are hedges.

“They’re bushes!” Trump insisted in his best “You’re fired!” tone.

Although median home prices in Rancho Palos Verdes are nearly $900,000, Trump said homes that overlook the course were an eyesore that distracted golfers.

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“They could use a coat of paint,” he said. “They use the homes as storage sites and it’s inappropriate. People come from all over the world to play the course and they don’t need to see that.”

Long said that a few of the homes could use minor repairs because they are in a landslide-prone area. But he said that Trump’s comments were offensive.

“There’s no need for that,” Long said.

Views are a big deal in Rancho Palos Verdes, an incorporated town of nearly 41,000 between Palos Verdes Estates and San Pedro.

Residents, unhappy with the slow pace of local politics, gathered enough signatures in 1989 to put a measure on the ballot that required the Planning Commission and City Council to consider whether future projects would interfere with existing views. Even now, the city has a view-restoration mediator.

“It’s one of the biggest planning issues we have here,” Long said.

Trump was well aware of the view ordinance. Many citizens objected that the flagpole, which far exceeded the city’s 16-foot height limit, interfered with their sunset views. The city and Trump eventually reached an agreement that left the flagpole on the course, which also includes a 45,000-square-foot clubhouse.

So when golf course employees planted several batches of ficus for a golf tournament in April, residents immediately began complaining to City Hall.

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Councilman Steve Wolowicz, who has visited the area, says some residents’ complaints are justified.

“Clearly, there are some homes where their view is affected,” he said.

Trump maintains that he doesn’t have to ask the city for approval.

“Do we need permission to plant bushes?” he said.

Some Rancho Palos Verdes council members said they were tired of Trump’s habit of planting first and asking later.

“He does what he wants and then says ‘Please let me’ later,” Councilman Douglas Stern said.

“It’s penny-wise and pound-foolish,” Long said. “He could have a great image in this city, but he has a mixed one because he keeps on getting in these kinds of fights.”

The golf course was the focus of controversy in 2006 when an illegal sign on the 405 Freeway near Sunset Boulevard pointed motorists to the golf course. Trump said he had nothing to do with the sign.

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Trump sought to have the street that goes into the golf course, Ocean Trails Drive, renamed Trump National Drive. But that idea also encountered neighborhood opposition.

The billionaire is wrangling with Rancho Palos Verdes over proposed additions to the course that require geological approval.

It is unlikely that the council will resolve the issue soon. Late Monday, Trump’s representatives requested a continuance because their representative had had a heart attack.

The council probably will take up the matter in December. Council members expect the complaints to keep coming.

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jason.song@latimes.com


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