Mary A. Castillo
What Councilwoman Cheryl Kinsman called the most controversial
issue in Laguna today made another appearance at the council meeting
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.