Planning Commission Supports Finalized View Ordinance

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Planning Director Joyce Parker-Bozylinski (far left) addresses Assistant City Attorney Karl Berger, Planning Commissioner Roohi Stack, Chair Jeff Jennings, Vice Chair Mikke Pierson and Commissioners John Mazza and David Brotman.

After hammering through the final details late into Monday night, the Malibu Planning Commission sent a finalized version of a citywide view ordinance to the City Council for approval. 

The Commission voted 3-1 to give residents the right to preserve pre-existing views. In a related measure, it voted 4-1 in support of view restoration, which provides a private homeowner’s right to pursue legal action against neighbors who refuse to remove view-obstructing foliage. 

“Property owners should be able to enjoy the views that they pay good money for,” said resident and ordinance supporter Joss McKay. 

The ordinance still faces approval from the City Council at its Dec. 9 meeting. 

Both programs, together known as the View Preservation and Restoration Ordinance, would actualize a long-running request from local residents. Sixty percent of Malibu voters in 2008 approved an advisory measure that asked if the council should adopt an ordinance requiring the removal or trimming of foliage “in order to restore and maintain primary views from private homes.” 

View preservation 

As drafted, view preservation entitles private homeowners to preserve their primary 180-degree view beginning Feb. 13, 2012 “or a date thereafter.” To date, the city has received more than 300 view-determination applications. 

If a private homeowner has documented his or her primary view with the city and later encounters a neighbor’s tree or bushes obstructing that view, the homeowner could initiate informal talks with their neighbor to have the foliage removed. Should informal talks fail, the complainant could offer mediation or binding arbitration as an option. 

“If your neighbor declines binding arbitration, you can move on to the Planning Commission,” planner Ha Ly said Monday. 

But some commissioners feared an onslaught of public hearings from homeowners who fail to reach a settlement privately. 

“So, if this is passed in its present point, we should anticipate hundreds of applications coming our way?” Commissioner Mikke Pierson asked before casting a dissenting vote. 

“Not if [neighbors] are able to settle on their own,” Ly said. 

Others argued that a requirement that the complainant pay for foliage removal was unfair. 

“I think the entire burden should shift to the foliage owner and make them pay for the removal or preservation of the view,” said resident Mike Sidley. 

Commissioner John Mazza sided with Sidley’s argument before casting the other dissenting vote, but the rest of the commission disagreed, reasoning that if a homeowner wants to keep or restore their view, they should be able to fund it. 

View restoration 

View restoration entitles a private homeowner to restore a view dating back to March 29, 1991 (when Malibu was incorporated as a city) or the date the owner obtained the property. 

As drafted, the city is taking a hands-off approach when a restoration dispute arises. Under the ordinance, neighbors would settle view restoration conflicts through a “private right of action” program. First, through informal discussions, then arbitration or mediation and, if that fails, a civil lawsuit. 

Should the dispute progress to a lawsuit, the city’s planning director could issue an advisory opinion in favor of one of the parties, but the city would not enforce the opinion. The opinion could be used as court evidence. 

Commissioner John Mazza was the only one to vote against recommending the restoration process, arguing that private lawsuits often come down to the financial advantage. 

“Private right of action only means that if you’ve got enough money and your neighbor’s poor enough, you can get a view,” he told fellow commissioners. 

The City Council at prior meetings has favored the private right of action path, wanting to avoid entangling the city in unwanted legal liabilities in neighbor disputes. The recommended route offers an opinion from the planning director, but nothing legally binding.