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Commentary: Council needs to look at makeup of view committee

May 29, 2013|By Anne Cox

Several years ago, I read in the paper about a whole street of beautiful old jacaranda trees in Buena Park that the City Council had decided to remove because their roots were affecting the sidewalk. Horrified at such a callous decision, I remember thinking, "Thank God I don't live in a city where they would cut down old trees to maintain flat sidewalks."

Little did I know that I do live in such a city. I never would have believed that here in Laguna Beach, a city that the rest of Orange County mocks as "tree huggers," our City Council would blithely decide to chop down 60-year-old trees that shade our downtown and provide much of the charm and ambience that makes Laguna special.

Now we have a new city committee, the View Equity Committee, that seems hell-bent on giving any homeowner the "right" to an unobstructed ocean view as they define it, jeopardizing trees throughout the city on private property or public (think Heisler Park), even going back to before the current owner bought the property and extending as far as their eyes can see.

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This committee is being bird-dogged by a self-made view preservation group in town that calls itself Citizens for View Preservation and Restoration and believe me, this group won't be satisfied until every mature tree in Laguna is gone. They have their advocates on the appointed city committee.

Chris Toy, for one, insists, "It is undeniable that there is a hierarchy of view over trees...if you put more restrictions in the ordinance [about saving vegetation] you take away the power of the city to restore views." When did the city get into the business of restoring views?

There's a reason no other coastal city in Orange County, including Newport Beach, offers residents such view protection and that is lawsuits. This committee had to go all the way to Rancho Palos Verdes to find another community with a view protection ordinance, and even that doesn't seem to provide enough "protection" to these committee members, since it limits jurisdiction to 1,000 feet of the residence.

Many want there to be no limit at all. And no date in the past that constitutes the "view" that was "lost." When did we decide that an individual homeowner had a guaranteed right to an unobstructed view? I understand from Realtors in town that speculators are already looking to buy properties with no particular ocean view in anticipation of this ordinance going through and creating an ocean view house for them to flip.

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