Rancho La Vista Estates in the Ojai Valley came by its name honestly. From many of the homes, the view of the Topa Topa Mountains, which climb sharply out of the basin and pierce the clouds, is stunning.
Or at least it used to be.
Dave Olson, a professor at Cal State Bakersfield, can no longer see the mountains from the yard he designed specifically to take advantage of the panorama. For a few years now, he and his neighbors have been fighting a losing battle against the guy who bought the 400-acre Milner ranch and planted tall, fast-growing trees on the perimeter.
That would be TV and film producer Jerry Bruckheimer, he of “Pirates of the Caribbean,” “Beverly Hills Cop” and “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”
What Bruckheimer has done in the Ojai Valley ought to be investigated, these neighbors say.
“It has been a real theft,” said Karen McAuley, who for 16 years enjoyed her view of the mountains from her home on Tiara Drive. She also enjoyed the steady procession of neighbors who walked by each day to enjoy the natural wonder.
Now, that view is completely obliterated by the pepper and acacia trees at the end of Tiara, on the edge of the Bruckheimer property. It further irks the neighbors that Bruckheimer’s home is several hundred yards away from the trees, making them skeptical that anyone could invade his privacy from such a distance.
Also, the Bruckheimers are rarely at the multimillion-dollar ranch, according to neighbors. Yet the property values of the neighborhood homes -- which sell in the $500,000 range -- are decreased, real estate agent Sharon MaHarry assured me, because of the loss of their best feature.
“It’s such a thing in our culture to have wealthy and powerful people take what really is the people’s right to enjoy the environment,” said McAuley.
Jackie Kuehn, another outraged neighbor, seconded that motion.
“Jerry Bruckheimer does not own the pink moment,” said Kuehn, referring to the legendary sunsets in a place where views are at least as valued as the sense of community.
Bruckheimer, speaking through publicist Paul Bloch, expressed surprise at his neighbors’ wrath. Bloch said the Bruckheimers had received notes of appreciation from neighbors who were glad they moved in with the intention of preserving the spectacular spread, with its huge meadow, rolling hills and pond.
Bloch said Jerry and Linda Bruckheimer had their business manager send letters to neighbors in early 2007 explaining that they were enhancing security after some vandalism on their property. This was after neighbors became alarmed when tall poles were erected on the edge of the property.
“It appears our ‘story poles’ have generated questions as to our intentions,” said a letter from Bruckheimer business manager Rob Philpott. “We are considering the placement of additional trees and orchards on the land next to your subdivision. The poles were placed to help visualize the size of a tree.”
The letter went on to say:
“It’s our client’s desire to be a good steward for the land and a thoughtful neighbor.”
How thoughtful could he be, some neighbors wondered, if he was planting trees that would be 20 feet high or even taller and blot out the view from many homes?
Some sent letters asking for consideration, but the trees and shrubs were planted anyway, just inches from property lines in some cases, and they grew fast.
Kuehn, McAuley and others have been fighting and losing this battle since early 2007. They said they think of themselves as David going up against Goliath. But Olson, the Cal State teacher, sees Bruckheimer differently.
“He’s David, looking up, and he sees Bathsheba and he says, ‘You know, I have everything I want. But I could use a little more.’ ”
Nobody was more distraught than Josephine Dolezel, who’s in her 80s and lives with her husband, Joe, who’s in his 90s. They subsist largely on the organic produce Josephine grows in her yard, but Bruckheimer’s trees and shrubs stole the sunlight and greatly reduced her harvest of zucchini, tomatoes, watermelons and grapes, they say.
Last week, some of the trees and shrubs were trimmed next to Dolezel’s property, but part of the garden is still in shade. There was some trimming on Tiara Drive too, but not enough to restore the view. And residents fear that as more trees grow taller, they’ll lose the views from even more streets, as well as from the community pool and tennis courts.
Their complaint to the county was rejected because tree heights are not regulated when the trees are used as fences, but they’ve now raised $2,000 to appeal the verdict.
And I don’t get the sense that they’ll give up this fight any time soon.
I mean no disrespect when I say they’re as tenacious as the stars of one of Bruckheimer’s recent movies, “G Force.” To summarize the animated action flick: A team of crusading guinea pigs stops at nothing to save the world from a diabolical millionaire.