Viewshed ordinance finalized

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The ordinance would only affect Malibu Country Estates.

By Jonathan Friedman / Assistant Editor

Public policy observers say a viewshed ordinance is one of the most frustrating and difficult laws for a city to pass because of the various technicalities and opinions involved. And this appeared to be true last Tuesday as the Planning Commission struggled to settle on details of a proposed law protecting primary views for the Malibu Country Estates neighborhood. After more than two hours of discussion and testimony, the commission finalized a recommended ordinance that will go before the City Council for a vote.

The proposed ordinance, which was drafted during discussions among local homeowners and city staff prior to going before the commission, only affects the 107-parcel neighborhood located just west of Pepperdine University. However, it could possibly be used as a pilot program to determine the feasibility of a citywide viewshed ordinance. But Environmental and Community Development Director Vic Peterson said at the Planning Commission meeting the discussions and various meetings dealing with the current proposal proved the proposed law will give little insight into how it would work for the rest of the city because it had to be specified for Malibu Country Estates issues.

“[This has shown] how difficult it will be to come up with a viewpoint ordinance that covers the city of Malibu,” Peterson said. “It would have to be broken down into neighborhoods.”

The main concern in Malibu Country Estates is the tall trees, which some residents say block their primary view of the ocean. A homeowner is only guaranteed one primary view, whether it is the mountains or the ocean.

According to the proposal, a tree cannot be higher than 16 feet, although it was agreed that a 16-foot tree on a lower slope not blocking a neighbor’s view would not have to be trimmed, removed or lowered in some other manner.

With this ordinance, the first step a person must take if he or she believes a neighbor’s tree is blocking a primary view is to notify the person in writing of the concern. This would be an attempt to reach a satisfactory solution early with little conflict. If that fails, the person complaining about an obstruction must contact the tree owner about going before a mediator. If the tree owner does not respond to this, or if mediation fails, then the two parties would go to an arbitrator. The arbitrator’s decision would be binding, however, the tree owner could decline to go before an arbitrator. Then, the complainant could file a lawsuit.

The two neighbors would be required to split the cost of the process, including whatever method is selected for lowering the tree. The city would not be liable for any costs, including any for possible litigation.

Although the city staff helped with creating the ordinance proposal and the City Council will be asked to pass it into law, the city officials have said they are hesitant about it. Several cities that have become directly involved in disputes involving this issue have seen themselves caught up in costly lawsuits.

Las Flores Parks gets coastal permit

Also at the meeting last week, the commission approved a coastal development permit for the restoration of Las Flores Canyon Creek and the development of Las Flores Creek Park. Construction on the $3.8 million project on Las Flores Canyon Road is expected to begin in September and conclude at the end of the year.

The plan for the creek restoration is to reestablish a floodplain connection along some reaches, removing exotic plant species, replanting stream banks and floodplain benches with native vegetation and providing temporary irrigation for new vegetation. The existing streambed and banks will be reshaped, widening the stream channel in some areas, reducing the steepness of bank slopes and providing additional floodplain and vegetation areas.

The park will be divided into a west bank and east bank, with a bridge eventually connecting the two (although that is part of a future project not included in this permit). The park will have six-foot-wide pathways made of decomposed granite, picnic tables, benches and boulder-clusters for sitting, two children’s play areas with equipment and a parking area for 22 spaces.