Loving holiday displays gone wrong

Some residents of Arch Beach Heights think it was heartless of the city to force the removal of a Valentine's Day display in their neighborhood.

The removal of a lighted heart displayed at a home on Oro Street is based on a section of the city code that forbids holiday decorations or lighting between Jan. 15 and Nov. 15. City officials said Tuesday the code will not be enforced in residential neighborhoods until further direction from the council.

"Everyone living on Del Mar who looked out at the heart — well, all but one — expressed their delight with the heart and other decorations on the corner," Arch Beach Heights property owner Lyn Steg told the City Council at the Feb. 15 meeting. "All that live on Oro Street, some living on Noria and Miramar, told me they loved the display.

"One man who lives down on La Mirada told me that he drove his houseguests up to see the heart. It was one of the sights he wanted to share while they visited Laguna."

Annette Wimmer-Huling, who lives on the corner of Del Mar and Oro, across the street from the property where the red heart pulsed with lights, does not share the sentiments voiced by Steg.

"It is in my view corridor," said Wimmer-Huling, who has lived in her home with her husband, Paul, for 30 years. "This has been going on for 14 years. From Nov. 15 to Jan. 15, we have to look at three Christmas trees at least 15 feet tall with blinking lights. I would appreciate it they were not in my ocean view, but I can tolerate them. Everybody puts things up for the holidays."

What she says she cannot tolerate is the heart blinking in her view for six weeks, followed by shamrocks and Easter eggs.

"I think they could put up decorations the day before a holiday, leave it up for the holiday and take it down the day after the holiday," Wimmer-Huling said. "They could even blink if they were out of my view."

Wimmer-Huling said she left a note at the house city records show is owned by Adrian Van Deudekom, asking that the heart be moved to a different location out of her ocean view, but failed to receive a response.

Then she appealed to the city.

"I said I was at my wit's end," Wimmer-Huling said. "The next thing I knew the heart was down."

She thinks the code section regulating holiday decorations is a good thing.

"I will never put up again with anything in my ocean view," Wimmer-Huling said.

She resents being made out to be the bad guy.

"Ms. Steg is waging a smear campaign against me and my husband," Wimmer-Huling said. "I am made out to be a horrible person."

Steg did not return telephone calls seeking comments on Wimmer-Huling statements.

A call to the Van Deudekom home also was not returned.

The city does not have a lighting ordinance. However, a Planning Commission subcommittee has sent a recommended version to City Attorney Philip Kohn for review before presenting it to the City Council for approval. It was submitted before the holiday displays in Arch Beach Heights became an issue.

However, holiday lighting and decorations are covered in the city's sign ordinance.

"Our main concern in the sign ordinance was lights outlining buildings and twinkling," Commissioner Norm Grossman said.

"I personally never thought about any holidays other than Christmas, and as far as I remember, we only considered commercial properties. I passed that heart every day and never for an instant thought it violated the code."

If followed absolutely, the code would prohibit flying flags on the Fourth of July and there would be no pumpkins, ghosts or skeletons in October.

"We need to know if we will be fined if we put up our displays," said Steg, speaking to the council on behalf of herself and the neighbor who displayed the heart, who was out of town.

Steg said if residents can't put seasonal displays other than between Nov. 15 and Jan. 15 of the following year, then businesses and the city should also be prohibited.

That could affect the banners the city hangs from utility poles to celebrate the summer equinox.

The other option would be to remove the restrictions in the code, Steg said.

"Laguna is supposed to be a place where folks can express themselves, and we are getting more and more rules that restrict that," City Councilman Kelly Boyd said.

Steg said the issue of regulations was brought to her attention by the removal of the heart.

"We as a society seem to make rules for the worst-case scenarios or imagined outcomes," she said. "And so we acquiesce, often without investigation, to individual complainers and dissenters, giving their opinions preference to those of the whole community."

Community Development Director John Montgomery said staff would prepare some options for council consideration.

Until then, shamrocks may bloom on Del Mar and maybe in other locations where St. Patrick's Day is celebrated.

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