Proponents of View Preservation Legislation May Learn the Task Is Not Quite as Easy as They Think
• The Rancho Palos Verdes Model Held Up by Many May Have Its Own Issues
BY BILL KOENEKER
BY BILL KOENEKER
Proponents of a local view preservation ordinance have long pointed to a law currently in effect in Rancho Palos Verdes as a possible model for Malibu application.
Following a 67 percent vote in the affirmative last year on a citizens advisory ballot measure, the Malibu City Council created the View Preservation Task Force Committee to determine what might work here. Just last week they extended the life of the committee for three more months.
However, trouble is brewing in Rancho Palos Verdes, where a lawsuit has erupted between longtime neighbors when city officials ordered families to cut down trees after a complaint was filed.
Pivotal to both communities is Coleen Berg, the consultant for RPV, who handles mediation for that city and was hired by Malibu as a consultant for the task force.
A dispute resolution mediator by training, Berg is described by Rancho Palos Verdes city officials as being successful in helping parties negotiate private agreements. Up until recently, most view restoration cases have been resolved at the mediation level. A Rancho Palos Verdes staff report states that only two of the 18 view restoration cases filed since 2005 had to be formally resolved by the planning commission, representing about a 90 percent success rate.
The city had previously used volunteer mediators, but contend their lower success rate warranted hiring a paid professional.
However, several municipal administrators, including some Rancho Palos Verdes officials, have criticized the city’s view restoration law and point to the City of Tiburon’s as a better model.
One of the biggest differences is the timeline. Most ordinances protect the view that existed when the current owner bought the land. In Rancho Palos Verdes, residents can keep trees at the height they were when the ordinance was enacted.
During the VPTFC’s six-month tenure, Berg has lead the Malibu panel through a series of discussions about what kind of law Malibu wants to enact.
Should the ordinance consider preservation or restoration?
What criteria should be used in determining what is the appropriate restoration action?
Other considerations the task force or its ad hoc committee have talked about include aesthetic quality of trees, location, soil stability, privacy such a visual and auditory, climate control or shade, wildlife habitat provided by trees, or if the trees are protected and how that should be defined.
The critical timeline element has also been discussed by the panel. Will the proposed ordinance go back in time to restore views or preserve what exists today, or both?
It gets more complicated. What if there is no physical evidence of a pre-existing view? Can a newly created lot create a view? What if a property owner had a view, but wants to improve it? What if a property owner has physical evidence of a pre-existing view and wants it restored? Restored to what and when? Again, the timeline becomes critical. Should the view be restored to when the lot was created, the property purchased, the effective date of the ordinance or the date the city was incorporated?
The Malibu committee has also discussed defining the actual purpose of the ordinance.
The City of Tiburon’s reads, “Establish the right of persons to preserve view or sunlight which existed at the time since they purchased or occupied a property from unreasonable obstruction by the growth of trees.”
The City of Laguna Beach’s reads, “Recognize that every real property owner in the city is entitled to a process to resolve conflicts that negatively impact view equity, in order to preserve a reasonable amount of the view and/or sunlight benefiting such real property, which exist after either the property acquisition date or the effective date of the ordinance codified.”
The City of Sausalito’s code reads, “The extent of the view that existed at the time claimant(s) purchased the property. (Is the party attempting to create, enhance or restore a view?).
Ranch Palos Verdes’ purpose reads, “Restoration back to the city’s original intent in the General Plan. Recognizes vista points and view lots as natural resources and ‘calls for their protection.’”
Given a purpose is established, then restoration criteria must be established. And that is just the beginning. The task force is studying pages and pages of examples to explain how the rest of the procedure works in other cities and what can be done in Malibu.
Vic Peterson, who heads the city’s planning and building departments, praised the committee’s work to date, but explained the task force is only halfway there.
“The task force has considered six of the 13 potential components of an ordinance, as provided by the consultant. These components include view, viewing area, foliage, unit of measure, boundaries and allowable foliage height. The remaining seven points that still need to be addressed include preservation and/or restoration, outside agency limitations, pre-application procedures, application process, governing body decision making process, governing body choices of action and appeal process,” he wrote in a memo to the council.
Peterson also said, in addition to reviewing the components provided by the consultant, the task force will participate in a mock case, which will allow the task force to review all of the components as a whole and readdress any concerns or issues that may arise. “Coming to an agreement is not a simple matter,” he added.