To Tree Ordinance, or not to Tree Ordinance, That is the Question
While I was walking neighborhoods campaigning prior to the June election I happened to knock on the door of longtime Torrance resident Shirley McNair. She graciously let me into her home and I was immediately struck by her regal beauty. She walked me into her living room and asked that I look out her expansive living room window. From there, I was able to see a magnificent view of the ocean. I quickly noticed, however, that the view was somewhat obstructed by a clump of Eucalyptus Trees.
Shirley explained to me that the 40 foot trees were City owned and that the City would not pay for workers to come and trim the branches to help restore her view. She also related to me how numerous would be or actual Torrance politicians had stood in the exact spot in her home where I stood and that all had committed to passing a Tree Ordinance in the Hillside Overlay area but that none had delivered.
Perhaps in the hope that would change, Shirley was one of about 30 residents to appear before the City Council at Tuesday’s meeting. She related to the Council much the same story I had heard in her living room that afternoon. She also warned the Council that “without rules you have chaos” and urged the Council to finally pass the Tree ordinance that her and many other residents had been wanting for the past 40 years. In a symbolic gesture of the support such a measure would have many in the crowd resoundingly applauded at the conclusion of her remarks.
There are valid reasons why politicians have failed to act all these years. Tree issues can be surprisingly complex and as Councilmember Weideman lamented, “the devil is often in the details.” They often pit one homeowner’s desire for privacy and the quiet enjoyment of their home versus another’s desire to maintain an ocean view that one resident with a background in real estate noted could be worth as much as $250,000 dollars.
Unfortunately, some motivations behind such disputes are much more nefarious. Judy Brunetti, the current Hollywood Riviera HOA Co-President, stated that residents denied 2nd story home renovations due to view obstruction complaints will sometimes retaliate by planting “spite” trees. With no legal recourse to protect those impacted by such actions, some have resorted to poisoning the view obstructing trees. She offered that residents were looking to City government for help in avoiding such confrontations and suggested they use the Rolling Hills Estates ordinance as an example as that ordinance is cost neutral and has seemed to work quite well for that community
Judy English, another Riviera HOA Board member, emphasized fairness and compromise and described her situation as the poster child for why an ordinance is necessary. She stated that her neighbor recently surrounded their property with 220 Leyland Cyprus trees specifically selected for their rapid growth with heights reaching up to 90 to 100 feet. She believes this was done to enable a 2nd story expansion on the property once the trees are full grown.
Another resident, Jim Delurgio, commented that he and his neighbors had been victims of the tree vandalism mentioned by Brunetti and that he has the video evidence to prove it. He claimed that he previously brought that evidence to the City and that they did nothing to prosecute the perpetrators. He tried to avail himself of the City sponsored mediation process to resolve the dispute but the other party simply refused to participate in the process. For that reason, he felt that solely establishing an alternative dispute resolution process to resolve disputes about trees among neighbors would be ineffective.
The rest of the residents that spoke at the meeting echoed many of the thoughts expressed above. Of those 30 residents, none spoke in opposition to the Tree Ordinance. During the past election, I don’t recall any of the City Council candidates being opposed to such a measure. Of course, there are some that would disagree, but it does appear that the overwhelming consensus of the community is that some action needs to be taken. I believe Councilmember Weideman captured the feeling of the community precisely when he stated “It’s about time!”
Given then what appears to be overwhelming support for this initiative I am pleased the Council is acting and moving the ball forward, but if I had a wish it would be that City Government were able to respond more quickly. Mayor Furey indicated at the meeting that with some residents waiting as long as 40 years that another several months would not be too much longer to stomach. I tend to think the opposite. Isn’t 40 years long enough? Why delay this any longer? Despite all the fanfare, the only real action taken by the Council was to direct staff to hold some community meetings with HOA’s and explore the possibility of a phone survey with the anticipation that the matter would return to Council sometime in April 2015. Is any of that outreach really necessary on this particular issue? Councilmember Ashcraft even voiced opposition to the proposed $30K phone survey questioning whether such an expense would be worth it.
I worry that sometimes when the Council truly doesn’t want to pass something they default to community outreach as a means to delay the proposition. Case in point is the chickens and bees ordinance many were advocating for months ago. The City’s position on that issue was that more community outreach needed to be done. Now, nearly a year later nothing has happened.
When the City wants something, it seems like they can act fairly quickly. Take the Optimized Street Sweeping Program for example. It could be argued that that Program will have a much more far reaching impact on the community than a Tree Ordinance yet the Council didn’t conduct any community outreach at all prior to bringing that item up for a vote. Car2Go is another example. The City didn’t even bring that matter before the Council instead opting to broker a deal behind closed doors even though that company operates in an apparent conflict with a current City ordinance and despite many complaints from residents about parking and having to “view” a Car2Go in front of their home.
For Shirley’s sake, and for the rest of those that suffer from view impairments, I do hope the hearing was more than a token tip of the hat to campaign supporters and that it will be followed up with real action resulting in a fair ordinance that residents can rely on to help resolve any future view impairment issues. After all after 40 years, isn’t it about time?