As rustic Rolling Hills Estates has grown up, so have its trees--the eucalyptus and the pine planted by developers and homeowners about three decades ago.
And as the trees have grown, some spectacular views have gone--or at least lost some of their splendor.
"I had a view of the Redondo harbor that went clear around to Santa Monica," said Christina Priebe of Rollingwood Drive. "Now I have some shaggy eucalyptus and an Aleppo pine that is all over the place blocking the view." She said she has lost a third of the view she enjoyed when she moved in 16 years ago.
Betty Venable, who moved to Elmdale Drive 30 years ago, tells a similar story: "We had an absolutely panoramic view. We could see from Malibu to Newport Beach. We watched the Queen Mary come in from our living room." Venable concedes that she still has an enviable view, "but it is closing in with trees."
Several residents said that view impairment has been a progressive problem that they began noticing anywhere from five to 10 years ago, to the distress of both their eyes and their property values in a community where real estate brokers say a view can add $10,000 to $50,000 to the price of a home.
"The view was one of the major considerations in the purchase of the house to begin with," said Russ Granata, a Rollingwood Drive resident since 1963. "We could have gotten a lot more house for the money without the view."
Neighbors Work It Out
For the most part, people say, neighbors have been able to work things out and problem trees have been trimmed or removed--sometimes at the owner's expense, and sometimes at the expense of the complaining neighbor.
But there have been instances in which people have taken a long time to act, or have insisted on keeping their trees for privacy or safety.
Now, the city Planning Commission is studying a proposed ordinance that would declare that views "increase the enjoyment and value of property" and would create a formal system for arbitrating disputes, with the planning director as mediator. If agreement cannot be reached, the commission would make a decision that could be appealed to the City Council.
Costs for tree work, whether trimming, topping, removal or replacement, would be paid for by the person complaining about a tree, but the owner would have to maintain the tree after that.
Failure to comply with a decision by the commission or council would be a misdemeanor punishable by a $1,000 fine or 30 days in jail.
"There is definitely a problem," said commission Chairman Robert Huskins. "There has to be some safeguard from being inundated by the jungle. Unfortunately, there are some residents who are not sensitive to neighbors' concerns, or they view benefits they derive as much greater than detrimental effects on others."
Commissioner William Ailor said that views are one of the things that draw people to the Palos Verdes Peninsula, and losing one "is a legitimate concern."
The commission, which is looking into the tree-view issue at the council's request, has held two public hearings. The proposed ordinance was unveiled last week, and another commission hearing is scheduled for May 18.
Residents at the hearings, many of whom came from the hillside Rollingwood neighborhood off Silver Spur Road, generally have supported actions to protect views. A survey by the neighborhood homeowner association turned up 29 people in favor and one opposed to city action, according to the group.
However, the commission also has heard from people who say their trees protect the stability of their sloping property and shield them from traffic.
Although the ordinance calls for a written application by people who believe their views have been unfairly damaged and notification to tree owners by registered mail, officials say the intent is to get property owners to reach agreement without having to go that far.
Formal city action "would be a court of last resort," said Planning Director Stephen Emslie.
"We do not want a confrontational-type environment, resident against resident," Ailor said. "The ordinance itself should emphasize informal contact as the first approach. Work informally first, (then) maybe escalate up to a more formal procedure."
Some commissioners, as well as residents, said they believe most people would be willing to modify trees that are blocking neighbors' views and would not require compulsion by the city.
"It's hard for me to visualize someone being jailed because they don't trim their trees," Planning Commissioner Kenneth Mitchell said.
Four Trees Removed
Huskins used himself as an example: "I took out four trees, as high as 60 and 70 feet, because they were really blocking the neighbors' views." He said he paid for the work.