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Opinion

Commentary: Council needs to look at makeup of view committee

Several years ago, I read in the paper about a whole street of beautiful old jacaranda trees in Buena Park that the City Council had decided to remove because their roots were affecting the sidewalk. Horrified at such a callous decision, I remember thinking, “Thank God I don’t live in a city where they would cut down old trees to maintain flat sidewalks.”

Little did I know that I do live in such a city. I never would have believed that here in Laguna Beach, a city that the rest of Orange County mocks as “tree huggers,” our City Council would blithely decide to chop down 60-year-old trees that shade our downtown and provide much of the charm and ambience that makes Laguna special.

Now we have a new city committee, the View Equity Committee, that seems hell-bent on giving any homeowner the “right” to an unobstructed ocean view as they define it, jeopardizing trees throughout the city on private property or public (think Heisler Park), even going back to before the current owner bought the property and extending as far as their eyes can see.

This committee is being bird-dogged by a self-made view preservation group in town that calls itself Citizens for View Preservation and Restoration and believe me, this group won’t be satisfied until every mature tree in Laguna is gone. They have their advocates on the appointed city committee.

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Chris Toy, for one, insists, “It is undeniable that there is a hierarchy of view over trees...if you put more restrictions in the ordinance [about saving vegetation] you take away the power of the city to restore views.” When did the city get into the business of restoring views?

There’s a reason no other coastal city in Orange County, including Newport Beach, offers residents such view protection and that is lawsuits. This committee had to go all the way to Rancho Palos Verdes to find another community with a view protection ordinance, and even that doesn’t seem to provide enough “protection” to these committee members, since it limits jurisdiction to 1,000 feet of the residence.

Many want there to be no limit at all. And no date in the past that constitutes the “view” that was “lost.” When did we decide that an individual homeowner had a guaranteed right to an unobstructed view? I understand from Realtors in town that speculators are already looking to buy properties with no particular ocean view in anticipation of this ordinance going through and creating an ocean view house for them to flip.

And since when are important city committee members hand-picked by the mayor without having to go through any application process or produce any qualifications other than their antipathy for trees? What, for example, qualifies Chris Toy to be a member of this committee?

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The fact that he is a spokesman for the people who want a no-holds-barred ordinance to take out any mature tree in the city, including heritage trees.

I am told that this view ordinance is Mayor Kelly Boyd’s pet project and since he has chosen all of the committee members, he is making sure he will get the ordinance he wants.

Even the committee’s meetings are stacked with members of this “ocean view from my spa” club, and anyone who speaks on behalf of the value of trees is openly mocked or ridiculed.

This is a real failing of committee Chair Larry Nokes. If people cannot express an opinion at a public meeting without intimidation or harassment, then it’s no wonder the committee is only hearing from one side of the issue. At the very least any city committee of this importance should be actively seeking views from a broad spectrum of citizens. Instead it seems like a juggernaut with the clear message, “contrary views not welcome.” The entire makeup and mandate of this committee is suspect.

I urge all citizens of Laguna Beach who value the uniqueness of this beautiful city — beauty that is here for everyone to enjoy, not just from their dining room but walking down our lovely streets or strolling through Heisler Park; beauty that includes the lovely, charming, valuable trees that are such an important part of this city’s heritage and uniqueness — please make your voices heard before the city is mired in lawsuits over the destruction of 100-year-old trees just to increase the property values of a few.

The entire City Council, not just the mayor, needs to look closely at the makeup and presumed purpose of this important city committee before its foregone conclusions become the law.

ANNE COX is a Laguna Beach resident.


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