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Trustees, Homeowners Poles Apart

Residents complain that a new fence around Laguna Beach High's baseball field will ruin ocean views and lower property values.

September 14, 2004|Stanley Allison | Times Staff Writer

Meeting on a baseball field instead of in a boardroom, more than 60 Laguna Beach residents complained to school trustees Monday that a 30-foot-high fence being built around the ball field will hurt their views and property values.

"It's totally out of character for the neighborhood," complained Stephen Crawford, who likened the fence's appearance to that of a barrier surrounding a prison.

Installation of two dozen poles, 40 feet apart, is nearly completed. The poles will be painted to reduce glare and will support black nylon netting that will encircle the field to keep baseballs from flying onto the adjoining St. Anns Drive, as well as other sports fields at Laguna Beach High.

The new fencing replaces shorter, chain-link fences that proved inadequate in keeping baseballs inside the field.

Residents complained Monday that vibrant sunset hues will be softened, and ocean whitecaps will turn into gray caps for people who view them through the netting.

Neighbors said they were duped into approving a 2000 school bond measure that included the new fence.

"They threw this up without us being aware of it," Crawford said. "We voted for this thinking that they were upgrading classrooms, computers, books and things. We didn't realize they were allocating $3 million to upgrade the baseball and football fields," which included the new fence.

Carl Neuhausen, the district's director of construction projects, said the new fences aren't as tall as 65-foot light poles that have since been dismantled. The school stopped playing night baseball after residents complained about bright lights.

The dispute illustrates the often thorny results of trying to balance the rights of homeowners who have financial and aesthetic motives to preserve views with other property owners who make improvements that infringe on those views.

In this case, the balance is tipped in favor of the school district because it is exempt from needing approval of the city's Design Review Board. The board frequently rejects projects that affect views.

Steve Kawaratani, chairman of the Design Review Board, said he was shocked when he saw the portion of the fence that had been installed.

Kawaratani, whose hillside home overlooks the school, said he can understand the dismay of neighbors who will have a view through netting instead of a clear view of the ocean.

"I feel that the school district has to do whatever it takes to make the situation tolerable for the neighbors on the lower part of St. Anns who are having their view affected," he said.

He applauded school officials for meeting with residents Monday and listening to their complaints.

The board made no decisions Monday, but board President El Hathaway said the board would discuss the problem at a future meeting.

Among suggestions to reduce the impact of the fences was the use of retractable netting that can be lowered when the field is not in use, and landscaping to soften the poles' appearance.

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