Council puts limits on hedges

Mary A. Castillo

What Councilwoman Cheryl Kinsman called the most controversial

issue in Laguna today made another appearance at the council meeting

on Tuesday.


After a contentious debate, the council approved, 3 to 1, the

zoning ordinance that limits the height of hedges to that of fences.

Mayor Toni Iseman dissented, and Steve Dicterow was absent.

The hedge ordinance returned to the agenda after the council


requested additional revisions at its meeting on Oct. 15.

Those revisions include allowing hedges to exceed the maximum

fence height when they are not a safety hazard and do not affect

views from or sunlight to neighboring properties, and require the

complainant who challenges the hedge height to pay an administrative

fee of $200.

Only when a complainant can prove that a neighbor’s hedge is a

public safety hazard or compromises their view or sunlight, will the


height limits be imposed on the offending hedge.

The height limits for hedges, fences, walls, latticework or

screens are 4 feet in the frontyard (3 feet if it is on a corner lot)

and 6 feet in the side and rear yards.

Hedges within a resident’s yard also fall under those height

limits if, again, they adversely affect the complainant.

“I’m opposed to the ordinance because I feel it legislates

people’s privacy and property rights with what they can’t do in the


front and side yards,” resident Dave Schaar said during public


He strenuously argued that the ordinance would make outlaws of

most residents overnight and allow “Tree Nazis” to make a bad

situation even worse.

However, after several residents spoke out against the ordinance,

resident Ganka Brown took the podium. She claimed that her neighbor’s

trees were holding her hostage from her view.

“We have one person who doesn’t think I deserve a view or anyone

else,” she said. “We need a mechanism to deal with irrational


Georgina Valdez argued that the ordinance wouldn’t do enough to

protect residents’ views.

“We’re a long way from a comprehensive view preservation

ordinance,” Councilman Wayne Baglin said.

He stressed that Laguna’s topography made it difficult to create a

scientific, one-size-fits-all view ordinance.

But he drew audible groans of disagreement from the audience when

he answered criticism that the ordinance would get residents with

hedges in trouble with the city and infringe on their rights to


“You’re asking us to procrastinate because you don’t like [the

ordinance] the way it is,” he said. “I’m disappointed with people who

don’t read or understand the ordinance. This is a very permissive


He also pointed out that the people who opposed the hedge

ordinance had complained earlier about mansionization.

Baglin stressed that overgrown hedges can block views just as

effectively as large homes.

Together with Kinsman and Elizabeth Pearson, he stressed his

support of the ordinance.

The lone dissenter, Iseman, broke the tension when she quipped,

“I’m going to hedge tonight.”

She indicated that she had initially been in support of the

ordinance, but after hearing public comment and reviewing the bill,

she felt it needed further refinement.

“I suspect it will be back to haunt us,” she said.