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Getting Right to Enjoy the View

As Laguna Beach Helps Neighbors, It Should Limit Litigation

September 15, 1996

The poet Robert Frost's neighbor in "Mending Wall" advised that "good fences make good neighbors." Certainly there is a lot of distance and time between the New Hampshire Frost wrote about and the open expanses of today's Pacific coastline. However, the need for guidelines on being a good neighbor remains.

Laguna Beach always has been mindful of the importance of quality of life. Its success in maintaining consistency of scale along its oceanfront is testimony to the attention and priority given to preservation. Those who enjoy the community today have those who have gone before to thank. Laguna draws people from all over in part because it does not look like every place else; sadly, many coastal areas have become blighted by high rises and gaudy development.

But even paradise is not exempt from neighborhood quibbling; indeed, the investment people make in getting something special has a way of raising the stakes. Somebody's magnificent tree can be another's blocked view and diminished commercial value.

Laguna recently has been considering a proposal that would make it the first city in Orange County to establish a resident's "right to a view." If that sounds abstract, it would "legitimize concerns neighbors have about their view, air or sunlight being blocked," according to City Manager Kenneth C. Frank. The proposal centers on resolving conflicts arising from competing assets: the enjoyment of lush greenery and vistas.

The city appears headed for some wrangling. But however Laguna fine tunes its legislation, it will benefit if it comes up with something that really provides practical alternatives to a litigation.

An approach that features mediation is sensible and encouraging. Whether a complaint arises from a professed concern with a fire hazard, or whether it is an honest statement about a disappearing view, there ought to be a better way than legal briefs and appeals.

Along the way, the city has some delicate issues to resolve, such as whether an ordinance could retroactively create a view right. But it can take some encouragement from other cities, such as Rolling Hills, which says its view preservation ordinance has worked.

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