Planning rejects call for city to be main decision-maker in view protection disputes

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The draft view protection ordinance suggests a hybrid model of other city ordinances, one of which would have disputes settled through the courts if mediation fails.

By James Shilander / Special to The Malibu Times

The Malibu Planning Commission voted to reject recommendations that the city be the main entity to enforce the proposed view preservation ordinance. Instead, it will go forward with taking public comment and suggestions to come up with an ordinance that would hopefully keep people out of court, yet not put the full burden on the city to settle disputes. Approximately 30 residents had attended the meeting last Tuesday, which was the second public workshop to take place on the draft ordinance.

In 2008, city voters passed a measure calling on the city to create a view protection ordinance. The city formed a nine-member task force comprised of local citizens, which has been looking at similar ordinances passed in other cities.

The draft ordinance, which favors the rights for ocean views over tree ownership, is similar to that of the city of Rolling Hills Estates, which implemented its ordinance this month. A hybrid model of that city’s and the city of Rancho Palos Verdes was also suggested. The difference between the two city’s ordinances has largely to do with whether parties would have to seek redress in court.

Planning Commission Chair John Mazza backed the amended process that would dissuade potential court fights between citizens.

“I’m not going to support anything that says if someone’s going to get a view, they have to be richer than you,” Mazza said.

Mazza proposed making it as difficult as possible for those who might potentially sue by putting the onus of decision on the city. However, his proposal was voted down in a 4-1 vote.

Task force member Rodney Perlman said the draft ordinance would protect the city from lawsuits, as decisions on the Rancho Palos Verdes model were considered settled law. He also argued that forcing more cases into court would not mean “good justice.”

Fellow commissioner Joan House advocated moving more slowly, and working out as many issues in the ordinance as possible now.

“I don’t want to have to pass the ordinance to find out what’s in it,” House said.

She advocated moving forward with “baby steps,” to work out as many concerns as possible, especially in terms of the budget impact of city enforcement. House said she felt that draft ordinance was too vague and did not reflect the potential costs to the city.

Commission Vice Chair Jeff Jennings said he would not support city enforcement of a private right, the right to a view, which the ordinance created.

“People want the city treasury to support a private right,” he said.

The commission also tried to settle the issue of retroactivity, directing planning staff to note that views should be restored to the date of the city’s incorporation or when a homeowner purchased a home, whichever was later.

Some citizens said they simply wanted something, anything done, and soon.

Ron Krisol said he voted in favor of an ordinance in 2008 to protect his view.

“The city voted for an ordinance. I’m waiting,” he said. “I lost my view. Nothing’s happened and I’ve lost my view.”

Many, however, wanted the city to consider the potential costs to privacy, and some also voiced concerns about whether the city should even be considering the ordinance.

Debbie Pedrazzoli said she felt those advocating for the ordinance seemed to be confusing the issue.

“I don’t want to live in a city of contradictions,” she said.

Recent moves to limit the use of plastic bags or smoking were supposed to benefit the environment, but Pedrazzoli said she felt that cutting down trees or potentially damaging bird habitat certainly did not do so.

“If I had known this was going to go on, I never would have moved here,” she said.

The commission will have further public discussion on the draft ordinance at its next meeting. The final draft ordinance will need to be approved by the city council.