Michael Feinstein, City Councilmember
Special to the Mirror
They say all politics is local. There are few things more local than your front and back yard.
That is why next Tuesday, the City Council will consider an item I’ve put on the agenda, asking for an interim ordinance on the issue of hedge heights for our October 5th meeting.
Why are hedge heights an issue?
Let me explain: In responding to complaints by some residents about the height of their neighbors’ hedges, our city sent out inappropriate and confusing enforcement letters that incorrectly implied that residents would pay very large fines (and possibly face criminal prosecution) if they didn’t immediately cut hedges down to a pre-determined size.
This never should have happened. I know all of the Councilmembers regret this. While there are a variety of opinions in the community on this issue, I think we can all agree that we have not handled enforcement of the current standards very well, and have unnecessarily alienated many residents in the process.
Ideally this issue would be best addressed over the next two years as part of the city’s overall update of its Land Use General Plan. At that time our community’s overall look, feel and how we should develop will be revisited in a comprehensive, inclusive way.
However, as there has been an environment of uncertainty and distrust created along with the perception that this issue has been ‘put on hold’, it was necessary to ask staff to return now with options for interim standards for front, side and backyard hedges.
In addition to asking for interim standards on hedge heights, the agenda item also asks staff to develop a process to ‘grandparent’ existing front yard hedges up to a certain height, regardless of what the future permanent standards might be.
Front yard heights seem to be drawing the most controversy. I think the city has to take responsibility for having a law on the books for many years and not really enforcing it, leading many to believe what they were doing was appropriate. Therefore, whatever permanent standards we come to regarding front yard hedges, in the interest of fairness, the City Council needs to act now to acknowledge that it has itself created understandable expectations on behalf of the community it is supposed to serve.
This isn’t legally something the city has to do. But it certainly is reasonable to do so.
Finally, I want it known that because this item will be heard late at night – as are all requests to give direction to staff – it’s been agendized in a general enough manner that all options will be ‘on the table’ October 5th, so that people won’t have to come and stay late Tuesday night to ensure their options will be part of what is considered.
Let’s get this issue right as a community, so that we can all feel good about where we live.