After a lengthy public hearing, Santa Monica’s Planning Commission decided unanimously to delay making a recommendation to the City Council on a text amendment for the city’s interim hedge, fence, and wall ordinance.
The amendment would have clarified the existing regulations pertaining to pergolas and similar features in front yard areas as well as propose criteria for the repair and replacement of existing nonconforming hedges, walls, and fences.
Commission members felt making a recommendation at this time was inappropriate because they had not heard the appeals of residents who were unhappy with the city’s decision on their complaints about their neighbor’s hedges, walls, or fences. The Commission deemed residents’ input important to the process.
Prior to the Commission’s January 9 decision, they heard from the a large number of residents who were very frustrated with the interim ordinance that had been enacted in July of 2005 and subsequently extended and modified, most recently in August 2007. North of Montana resident James Coalfield told the Commission, “I think it [this process] is a waste of time and an exercise in futility” because the “whole process is becoming increasingly stacked in favor of the hedge owners.”
Another North of Montana resident, William Concol, complained that the ordinance “doesn’t put parties in a fair position to start the negotiation because the objector has to prove that the violator is wrong and the objector is suffering loss of light” or from something else.
Resident Monica Realis stated that the language in the ordinance defining a hedge is “ambiguous.”
Twelfth Street resident Katy Santore went one step further by telling the Commission to recommend this whole ordinance “should be thrown out.”
Commission members also expressed their frustration with the ordinance by noting how much City staff time that it has taken up over the last four years. Commissioner Julie Lopez Dad agreed that the provision of the ordinance that allowed residents to grandparent in non-conforming hedges, walls, and fences benefits the violators. She then emphasized this “is simply not appropriate and is not something the city should be a party to. In this case, quite frankly, I wish the city had never embarked on this. It’s been a long, tedious, trying process that used up a lot of staff time and pitted neighbor against neighbor.”
Commissioner Terry O’Day called the current ordinance a “total disaster. If we simply returned to a complaint-driven process with a very clear ordinance…we wouldn’t have all this difficulty to deal with.” He then called for a delay of the text amendment until after the appeals are heard.