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Public gets say on hedge issue

Mary A. Castillo

When the City Council heard a proposal to adopt a zoning ordinance

amendment that will limit the height of hedges to that of fences,

citizens who stood on both sides of the issue were present to weigh


in on the discussion.

In a report, city staff members anticipated, that if the ordinance

passes, they will receive 20 to 30 complaints. They asked that a

part-time consultant be hired to meet the demands of the ordinance,


at the cost of $6,300 for the remainder of this fiscal year.

Council members voted to revisit the ordinance, after some more

revisions, at the Dec. 3 meeting. .

The proposed ordinance would limit hedges to 4 feet in the

frontyard and 6 feet in the side and backyards only if those hedges

would affect a neighbor’s view, sunlight or public safety.

Enforcement would begin when a resident files a complaint. The

city would review the complaint and if they found sufficient evidence


that the hedges affected the complainant, the limit would then be


At its meeting on Oct. 1, the council approved a revised version

of the ordinance that moved it closer to final approval.

The move stunned members of the community who thought that the

issue had been killed by the Planning Commission. No one against the

amendment was present to speak at that meeting.

Opponents argued that the ordinance did not clearly state whether


the complainant or the hedge owner would share the costs.

“How far do you want to go?” Landscape architect Bryan Menne asked

the council.

He felt the ordinance was turning the City Council into an entity

similar to a housing association and would turn residents against one


“There are only 3,000 or 5,000 in this category,” he said. He

suggested that the ordinance would satisfy only a few hard cases.

Karen Schwager felt that the ordinance valued view equity over a

resident’s right to privacy.

“I think privacy is an extremely important part of having a

hedge,” she said. “This is more of a briar patch than a hedge


Ann Christoph argued that the ordinance was too vague in its

definition of a hedge and asked if limits could also be imposed on

shrubbery, trees or flowers planted within a resident’s yard.

“I recommend that you not adopt it,” she said.

“This is common sense in full swing,” said Dave Connell, who

favors the the ordinance. “You cleared concerns people had that

mislead others to believe that hedges would be cut all around town.”

Frank Boudreaux took the podium stressing that this is an

ordinance that the community needs.

“I love trees and I love the ocean as well,” he said. “When I

first moved to my place I could see the ocean, but now I see ficus.”

He felt that if his neighbor’s hedge was trimmed down just a

little, he would be able to see the ocean and, with his neighbor,

enjoy the privacy of the ficus trees.

Gail Walker of the Laguna Beach Board of Realtors endorsed the

ordinance but asked that the city distribute implementation and

enforcement guidelines to realtors and property owners.

Mayor Wayne Baglin passed around a draft he crafted to council

members. He argued that he wants to simplify the process and create a

permissive ordinance that would only enforce exceptional cases.

“In this town we’ve always tried to strike a balance between the

property owner’s right to freedom and privacy and the neighbor’s

right to views,” Councilman Steve Dicterow said.

“This is a fair, balanced solution,” he said.

* MARY A. CASTILLO is a news assistant for the Coastline Pilot.

She covers education, public safety and City Hall. She can be reached