An ordinance that would place tougher restrictions on ridgeline development in the Santa Monica Mountains will go before the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday for a public hearing. The board will then vote on the item at another meeting. Environmentalists have hailed the controversial ridgeline ordinance as a method to protect the scenic beauty of the mountains while opponents have said the proposal is a threat to property rights. One group of property owners has already filed a lawsuit against the county.
The ridgeline ordinance would require property owners living in the Santa Monica Mountains North Area, located in unincorporated Los Angeles County between Mulholland Highway and the 101 Freeway, who want to remove more than 5,000 cubic yards or grade more than 15,000 square feet of land to acquire a conditional use permit. This means the property owners could still do the removal and grading, but the county would be able to place conditions before granting the permit. However, Richard Ball of Citizens for Responsive Government, the organization that is suing the county, said the ordinance is part of a plan to prevent people from building on their properties.
“People will not be able to build a home if they are limited to 15,000 square feet of grading,” Ball said. “And the county will never grant the conditional use permits. Groups like the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy want it to be so economically infeasible to build on your property that you will be forced to sell your land to them. That is what this whole thing is about.”
Malibu resident Anne Hoffman, who heads the Land Use Defense Fund, agrees with Ball. She said there is a great deal of evidence that various public agencies have pressured the county into supporting the ordinance because they want to acquire land. Hoffman added that even if the county grants the conditional permits, it would still try to force people to donate some of their land to the public agencies as a condition of the permit.
“It [the ordinance] gives them [the county] the ability to withhold your permit until you agree to an arbitrary wish list of anything they feel like,” Hoffman said.
Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy Executive Director Joe Edmiston said these statements had no basis in fact. “These people are the fringe, right-wing black helicopter conspiracy people,” Edmiston said. “These are the things that are said every time. They say there is a conspiracy to take away their land. It hasn’t happened.”
Edmiston said the conservancy supports the ordinance and he plans to speak at Tuesday’s meeting about it. He also is a strong supporter of another feature of the ordinance that prevents people from building within 50 feet of a ridgeline. Edmiston said this would only affect those who feel the need “to build 360-degree view, big white shiny homes on the top of a mountain that will prove to everybody how special they are.”
But Hoffman said the 50-foot restriction is another example of forcing people to give up easements on their land, which she said violates their property rights. Hoffman added that County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who represents the area, supporting the ordinance, troubles her.
She said he has associated himself with an extremist group of people who hope nothing will ever be built in the Santa Monica Mountains. Hoffman cited a statement by Yaroslavsky in a May 26 Los Angeles Times article: “We do not believe that any development is a good one [in the Santa Monica Mountains]. We do not have an obligation to increase people’s wealth.”
Yaroslavsky’s press secretary, Joel Bellman, said Tuesday the supervisor said he strongly supports the ordinance, “that’s why I authored it.”
Dave Brown, a member of the Sierra Club’s Santa Monica Mountains Task Force, said he believes it is nearly impossible to build in the Santa Monica Mountains without risking fires or environmental harm, and people probably should not have purchased the property in the first place. But he said since they own it, there is little that can be done about that now, and this ordinance is the next best solution.
The county’s Regional Planning Commission approved the ordinance 4-1 in June.Proponents of the ordinance have said the opposition is mostly made of developers and realtors. But the opponents look to a number of property owners who are not developers who have come out against the ordinance.Mary Ann Webster, chair of the Santa Monica Mountains Task Force, said this was because the opponents have used scare tactics to gain the property owners’ support.