CITY OF RANCHO PALOS VERDES
OCTOBER 28, 2003
CALL TO ORDER
The meeting was called to order by Chairman Long at 7:05 p.m. at the Fred Hesse Community Room, 29301 Hawthorne Boulevard.
Senior Planner Fox led the assembly in the Pledge of Allegiance.
Present: Commissioners Cartwright, Cote, Duran Reed, Tomblin, Vice Chairman Mueller, Chairman Long.
Absent: Commissioner Lyon was excused.
Also present were Director of Planning, Building, and Code Enforcement Rojas, Senior Planner Fox, Associate Planner Blumenthal, Project Coordinator Alvarez, and Recording Secretary Peterson.
APPROVAL OF AGENDA
Chairman Long explained that the Planning Commission had received a request from the foliage owner of agenda item no. 10 to hear this application be heard no later than 8:00, or if it couldn’t be heard at this meeting, that it be heard no later than 8:00 at a following meeting. He explained that this request was based on a medical condition of the foliage owner.
Commissioner Long asked the applicant if he had any objections to moving this item earlier on this agenda or a subsequent agenda.
The applicant had no objection.
Chairman Long opened the public hearing on the subject of the agenda.
The foliage owner, Bob Cole, explained that he has glaucoma and can only wear his contact lenses for a certain amount of time, and should take them out by 6:00 p.m. to relieve the pressure on his eye.
Commissioner Cartwright stated that when he had visited Mr. Cole’s property, Mr. Cole had stated that he would not be attending the meeting because he has to go to bed prior to 9:00 because of his work schedule.
Mr. Cole acknowledged that he does go to bed prior to 9:00, and in addition to that he has the glaucoma.
Chairman Long closed the public hearing.
Commissioner Duran Reed moved to amend the agenda to hear item no. 10 after agenda item no. 1, seconded by Commissioner Cartwright. The motion was approved without objection.
Director/Secretary Rojas reported that at the last City Council meeting there was an agenda item added regarding the Coolheights project, noting there were deadlines approaching for the easement documents to be recorded, and that the deadline has been extended to November 10.
Director/Secretary Rojas distributed items of communication for agenda item no. 4, agenda item no. 8, and two for agenda item no. 10.
Commissioner Cote updated the Planning Commission on progress of the General Plan Steering Committee.
Vice Chairman Mueller reported on his attendance at a Traffic Committee meeting.
COMMENTS FROM THE AUDIENCE REGARDING NON-AGENDA ITEMS
1. Height Variation, Minor Exception Permit, and Site Plan Review Permit (Case ZON2003-00215): 7316 Via Lorado
Vice Chairman Mueller reported that he had received a phone call from the applicant, Mr. Salem and that he had advised him to work with staff regarding this project.
Director/Secretary Rojas presented the staff report, explaining that the item on the Consent Calendar was the Resolution reflecting the decision of the Planning Commission at the last meeting.
Commissioner Cartwright moved to adopt P.C. Resolution No. 2003-48, thereby approving, with conditions, the Site Plan Review; denying, without prejudice, the Height Variation; and denying, with prejudice, the Minor Exception Permit (Case No. ZON2003-00215), seconded by Commissioner Duran Reed. Approved, (4-0-2) with Commissioners Cote and Tomblin abstaining since they were absent from that meeting.
10. View Restoration Permit No. 135: 6728 Alta Vista Drive
Commissioner Cote stated that she had not had an opportunity to visit the site, and therefore recused herself from this item.
Director/Secretary Rojas polled the Planning Commission as to whether they had visited the site, and all Commissioners had, with the exception of Commissioner Cote.
Staff Coordinator Alvarez presented the staff report, giving a brief background regarding the case. He stated that staff had determined that the applicant’s best and most important viewing area was taken from the outside patio area adjacent to the family room. He noted that a large umbrella tree had been removed voluntarily by the foliage owner, Mr. Cole. He discussed the staff recommendations for trimming the foliage that is obstructing the view from 6728 Alta Vista Drive. Regarding maintenance, staff was recommending that the trees noted for recommended action be trimmed on an annual basis, with the exception of the ficus tree and hedge, which should be trimmed on a bi-annual basis.
Commissioner Duran Reed noted that the Fence, Wall and Hedge Permit allows a hedge to grow to a height of 16 feet.
Director/Secretary Rojas explained that Development Code allows hedges to grow up to 16 feet unless they are restricted by a View Restoration Permit. However, some hedges are subject to a Fence, Wall, and Hedge Permit if they are located in a specific location on a particular type lot. He noted that this hedge does require a Fence, Wall, and Hedge Permit, and such a permit would not allow the hedge to significantly impair a view.
Commissioner Duran Reed asked staff if the hedge was currently about 8 feet in height.
Staff Coordinator Alvarez explained that he measured the wall to be 6 feet in height and the hedge was approximately 10 feet in height.
Commissioner Duran Reed noted that the hedge is below the horizon line and asked why staff was suggesting the hedge be trimmed down to height of the wall.
Staff Coordinator Alvarez explained that the hedge was considered a fast growing shrub and staff felt that trimming the hedge to the height of the wall would not impair the view after a 6-month period.
Commissioner Cartwright stated that it was his understanding that on a down slope lot one was entitled to go up to 8 feet on the low side and 6 feet on the high side.
Director/Secretary Rojas answered that was correct, unless a Fence, Wall, and Hedge Permit is required, in which case the Planning Commission can regulate it lower if it blocks a view.
Commissioner Cartwright asked staff where they were standing when they took the pictures from the applicant’s property in 2002.
Staff Coordinator Alvarez answered that he was standing in the patio area, 10 feet away from the family room.
Commissioner Cartwright referred to staff’s photo and asked if there was a projected line across the picture at the 16 foot level, where would that line be.
Staff Coordinator Alvarez answered that the 16-foot level would be at the roof height of the foliage owner’s property, which he pointed out on the October 2003 photograph.
Vice Chairman Mueller had questions on how the guidelines and procedures would be applied in this situation. He recalled that the City Council had spent some time discussing this issue, as there was a particular case where there were multiple ridgelines and heights on a home and there was a lot of discussion about which ridgeline the foliage should be trimmed to. He discussed specific language in the Guidelines on how to handle multiple roofline heights. He stated that the foliage owner’s structure has multiple roofline heights, and the one (red line) that staff is using seems to be the highest ridgeline on the foliage owners property, and asked if that was correct.
Director/Secretary Rojas explained that the red line shown on the photographs was to denote where the view was in relation to the horizon.
Vice Chairman Mueller noted that the Guidelines say that when a structure with multiple roof line heights would block the view, if foliage were not present, the foliage on the property shall be lowered to the roof line of that portion of the structure that would otherwise block the view. He felt that in this case, the ridgeline in question is the one in the middle of the view, and pointed it out in the photograph. He asked staff what approach they were taking when recommending the crowns on trees be raised to try to restore a view without taking into consideration where the ridgelines are on the property.
Director/Secretary Rojas addressed the Guideline that the Vice Chairman was referring to, and explained that the reason this new Guideline was added was for situations where view impairing foliage is located directly behind or in front of a ridgeline where there is already impairment of the view by the ridgeline. The point being to ensure the said foliage is cut to match the level of multiple ridgelines, provided there are multiple ridgelines.
Vice Chairman Mueller noted that the lower ridgeline that was being discussed was, in fact, attached to the home and felt that tree no. 1 and tree no. 2 fall into that category, as they are in front of this structure. He pointed out that trees nos. 1 and no. 2 should be trimmed down to the height of the ridgeline.
Director/Secretary Rojas and Project Coordinator Alvarez clarified the application of the guidelines for the trees in the application. Trees no. 1 and 2 would be trimmed to the height of the ridgeline whereas the remainder of the trees could be trimmed or have their crowns raised to restore the view.
Commissioner Cartwright asked if one was entitled to have a tree that grows up to 16 feet in height, or the ridgeline, which ever is lower.
Director/Secretary Rojas stated that was correct.
Commissioner Cartwright asked if in this case where staff was recommending raising the crown, whether the crown would be raised to the 16-foot height.
Project Coordinator Alvarez explained that what triggered a review of this permit is that the foliage is over 16 feet in height and noted that the grade taken from the applicant’s property to the lower portion of the foliage owner’s property is a difference of approximately seven feet.
Director/Secretary Rojas added that there is a threshold, but once a tree is over that threshold it is subject to action by the City and the Guidelines thus allowing for raising a crown of a tree above a view.
Commissioner Tomblin stated that the foliage owner, in his letter to the Planning Commission, had mentioned reimbursements for the trees he had already cut or removed, and asked staff for clarification on that subject.
Project Coordinator Alvarez explained that in the October 24, 2003 correspondence from Mr. Cole, he had requested reimbursement for some trees that were voluntarily trimmed. He explained that this is not a condition for the Planning Commission to take action on, as there is no provision for reimbursement for trees that the foliage owner has voluntarily removed.
Chairman Long opened the public hearing.
Paul Schubert 6728 Alta Vista Drive (applicant) stated that when he bought his home, one of the things that attracted him to the house was the unrestricted view of the entire length of Catalina Island and the channel, and he paid a premium price for the view. He distributed photographs taken from the primary viewing area of the view taken at that time. He stated that over the years, the foliage has grown and matured to the point of obscuring his view almost completely. He explained that he has tried several times to have Mr. Cole trim his trees and shrubs, with very little success. He stated that he has no interest in invading his neighbor’s privacy or property rights, and is also not interested in his home being devalued because of the foliage owner’s obstruction of the view. Mr. Schubert stated that he has carefully reviewed the staff report and recommendations and is in agreement with them.
Commissioner Tomblin noted that in one of Mr. Cole’s letters he felt that the pictures taken by the applicant had been taken from a ladder. He asked Mr. Schubert where he took the pictures.
Mr. Schubert answered that he was standing on his concrete patio, outside the family room.
Vice Chairman Mueller asked Mr. Schubert if he was in agreement with staff’s recommendation regarding the hedge or if he was flexible on exactly how high the hedge could be.
Mr. Schubert answered that when he first reviewed the staff report he was surprised by the recommendation to trim the hedge to the height of the wall. However, after hearing staff explain how quickly the hedge grows, he was in agreement with the staff’s recommendation. He added that he does not want to invade Mr. Cole’s privacy, and if the Planning Commission decides the hedge could be higher, he would be in agreement.
Commissioner Duran Reed asked if the hedge, at its current height, was impairing his view.
Mr. Schubert answered that the hedge was not currently impairing his view.
Commissioner Duran Reed asked if the height of the hedge as it stands today was acceptable to Mr. Schubert.
Mr. Schubert responded that the height was acceptable as long as it was maintained no higher than its current height.
Commissioner Cartwright asked Mr. Schubert how high he felt the hedge was currently.
Mr. Schubert felt the hedge was currently approximately 8 feet in height.
Commissioner Tomblin felt that the hedge could grow up another two feet before it was impairing the view from the Schubert residence, and asked Mr. Schubert if he agreed.
Mr. Schubert answered that his concern would be that if the hedge was not cut any more often than every six months, and if the height was raised to 10 feet, then within that 6-month period the hedge would intrude into his view area.
Bob Cole 6978 Alta Vista Drive (foliage owner) stated that he never realized the applicant had a view until Mr. Schubert called him over to his house and asked him to cut the trees in his backyard because they were blocking his view. He explained that he was upset that Mr. Schubert would make such a suggestion, however over the last year or two he has removed five large trees from his backyard: three large coral trees, a big umbrella tree, and a very large bird of paradise. He stated that he would have no objection to the removal of trees number 1 and 3, and that he has told his gardener to maintain the hedge at 8 feet. He stated that even if tree 3 and 1 are removed, 50 percent of the foliage remaining in is view is on neighboring property. He concluded by saying he was not trying to prevent his neighbor from having a view, however after taking out five trees his own backyard looked sparse and it was difficult to take out even more.
Chairman Long stated that the Planning Commission has no authority to reimburse Mr. Cole for the value of any tree he has voluntarily removed. On the other hand, if a tree is removed or dies, replacement foliage can be purchased, however there will be no monetary compensation. He asked Mr. Cole if he was willing to consent to removal of any of his trees, understanding that the only thing he will get in return is replacement foliage.
Mr. Cole answered that he would be willing to consent to the removal of trees as long as the applicant pays for the cost of the removal of the tree and the possible replacement of the tree.
Commissioner Cartwright stated that when he visited Mr. Cole’s property, Mr. Cole had indicated that the applicant did not have a view. He stated that the Planning Commission has seen pictures that the applicant and staff has taken from the applicant’s property, and it does look like there is a view. He asked Mr. Cole what he is looking at when he says that there is not a view.
Mr. Cole explained that his contention was that the view is taken on an elevated plane and not at ground level. He noted that not one staff picture can duplicate the same view that the applicant has shown.
Commissioner Duran Reed asked Mr. Cole if he would rather have trees 1 and 3 removed, rather than trimmed.
Mr. Cole answered that he would prefer they be removed, as he did not think they could be trimmed.
Mr. Schubert (in rebuttal) stated that he felt he owes Mr. Cole something for the trees he already removed, and offered to pay Mr. Cole $1,000 for the trees that Mr. Cole has already removed.
Chairman Long closed the public hearing.
Chairman Long noted that the Planning Commission can only order that a tree be removed with the foliage owners consent or if there is either an issue of public safety or a conclusion that the tree is likely not to survive the trimming necessary to restore the view.
Vice Chairman Mueller added that the foliage owner can have the tree removed, but not at the applicant’s expense. Discussing the hedge, he asked staff what they would recommend, after hearing the public comments from the foliage owner and the applicant.
Project Coordinator Alvarez explained that the hedge could grow at least two to three feet above the wall height and not impair the view, and therefore a reasonable level would be approximately two to three feet above the wall without impairing the view. Further, with a maintenance schedule of at least every six months, the hedge should stay out of the view area.
Vice Chairman Mueller asked if the Planning Commission could specify a trimming cycle in the conditions of approval.
Project Coordinator Alvarez answered that the Planning Commission could specify a trimming cycle in the Conditions of Approval.
Commissioner Tomblin moved to accept the staff report, with the exception of condition no. 13 with reference to the Oleander hedge, that the hedge be allowed not to exceed nine feet, with a bi-annual trimming schedule, seconded by Commissioner Cartwright.
Commissioner Duran Reed felt that the hedge should be kept at 8 feet, as everyone was currently happy with the hedge at the height and that additional maintenance could be done on it, as the foliage owner has already instructed his gardener to keep the hedge at 8 feet.
Chairman Long asked staff how quickly the oleander hedge grows.
Project Coordinator Alvarez estimated that, based on the photographs and site visits, the Oleander grows perhaps two feet every six months.
Commissioner Tomblin amended the motion to state that the Oleander hedge shall be maintained between 8 and 9 feet in height, as measured from the foliage owner’s property.
There was no objection to the amendment.
Commissioner Tomblin repeated the motion to Adopt P.C. Resolution No. 2003-49, thereby approving VRP No. 135 to trim or remove foliage on a property located at 6978 Alta Vista Drive, as amended to amend condition no. 13 that the Oleander hedge shall be maintained between 8 and 9 feet in height, as measured from the foliage owner’s property, seconded by Commissioner Cartwright. Approved, (5-0-1) with Commissioner Cote recused.
RECESS AND RECONVENE
At 8:45 p.m. the Planning Commission took a short recess until 9:00 p.m. at which time they reconvened.
Chairman Long noted that normally when there is a very large agenda, the Planning Commission will continue beyond 11:00 to try to finish most items, however this is a very crowded agenda and he did not think it was likely the Planning Commission will hear items 9 and 11 on the Agenda at this meeting. He suggested the Planning Commission continue those items to the next meeting, and that they be heard near the beginning of that meeting.
Commissioner Cartwright felt that item 11 was very short and would only take a few minutes to complete and that the Commission should try to do that item this evening.
Chairman Long agreed and suggested continuing item no. 9 to the next agenda.
Director/Secretary Rojas asked that the item be continued to the November 25 meeting.
Commissioner Cartwright moved to continue item no. 9 to the November 25, 2003 meeting, seconded by Commissioner Tomblin. Approved, (6-0).
2. Review the existing code definition of a hedge.
Director/Secretary Rojas explained that this item was placed on the agenda as requested by Commissioner Duran Reed, and noted that staff had included the definition of a hedge from the current Development Code and the process for processing Fence, Wall, and Hedge Permits. He stated that staff was seeking direction from the Planning Commission as to whether they wanted to consider any type of amendment to the Code. He noted that if the Planning Commission requests the Development Code be amended in any way, that request will go to the City Council, at which time the City Council will have to agree to initiate the code amendment, which will then come back to the Planning Commission and then back to the City Council.
Commissioner Duran Reed stated that the reason she requested this item on the agenda was to discuss the current definition of a hedge. She stated that the current definition of a hedge can, in some cases, create a loophole for people who have view obstructions because of a shrub or tree. She read the current definition of a hedge from the Development Code, stating that a hedge is a shrubbery or tree planted in such a manner as to create a physical barrier. She stated, therefore, that if you can walk through the shrub, it is not a physical barrier. She felt that the problem comes, when the trees are located in such a way that one can walk through them at the trunks but the top of the trees, because of their foliage, creates an obstruction. She referred to photographs in the staff report to illustrate her point. She stated that one wants to protect people’s views from excessive foliage, however in this situation it cannot be done. She suggested removing the word "physical" from the definition of hedge in the Code, so that it would simply read that the shrubbery and trees planted and maintained in such a manner as to create a barrier. She then discussed the word "barrier’, and stated that the dictionary definition of "barrier" is an obstruction or anything that hinders or blocks. She asked staff if removing the word "physical" from the definition of a hedge, would that solve the view obstruction issues in case presented in the photographs.
Director/Secretary Rojas felt that putting a distance in the definition, such as plants shall be planted and maintained at least two or three feet apart, all the way up the plants, could also address the issue.
Commissioner Cartwright stated that he was sympathetic to trying to improve views, however he knows what a hedge is, and a hedge is a physical barrier. He felt that if the Planning Commission is trying to regulate trees, and trees are a different situation.
Chairman Long pointed out that what looks like a hedge in the photograph has been determined by staff not to be a hedge. He stated that to him it looks like a hedge, however under the Code it is not a hedge because he can walk between the trunks of the trees.
Commissioner Cartwright read the proposed definition of "a fence or boundary formed by shrubs or low trees" and felt that the proposed definition might be more confusing than the current definition.
Vice Chairman Mueller stated that for this discussion he is looking at a photograph used as an example and with the shadows in the photograph he cannot tell what he is looking at. He went on to point out that without an address, he was unable to view the property. He also questioned where the view discussed was being taken from. Therefore, it was hard for him to accept the premise that there is a view in this example that needs to be solved by the Commission.
Commissioner Duran Reed agreed, and noted that there is a speaker who will be discussing the issue with pictures from her viewing area to demonstrate the issue.
Commissioner Cote agreed with the Vice Chairman’s comments, noting that she was having a difficult time looking at a black and white photo and envisioning that she can walk through this hedge. She agreed that it would have been helpful to know where these photos were taken and to have had the opportunity to go to this site to see the situation.
Commissioner Tomblin asked staff to clarify the maximum height one can go up with a Fence, Wall, and Hedge Permit.
Director/Secretary Rojas explained that fences, walls and hedges can go up to 42 inches in height if located between the front property line and the front façade of the house and between the street side property line and the side facade of the house. Further, fences and walls are allowed up to 6 feet in height outside of that area. If there is a grade differential, they are allowed to be 6 feet on the high side and 8 feet on the low side. Hedges are allowed up to 16 feet in height, provided they are not in the front setback / street side setback area.
Chairman Long opened the public hearing.
June Wagner 27111 Calle Aventura stated that she has first hand experience on what can happen when someone plants trees or bushes that start out as a hedge and grow over 14 feet high. She gave the history of the foliage, stating that 6 years ago the owner planted a wall of ficus trees around the perimeter of a wooden fence, which have now grown into a solid wall of foliage. She distributed photographs taken from her home, explaining that from one particular area she used to have an ocean and Catalina Island view and now there is a solid wall of trees. She explained that she had been told by staff that these are not a hedge and did not fall within the Fence Wall and Hedge Permit.
Commissioner Tomblin stated that Ms. Wagner had, at one time, a view corridor where she could see Catalina Island and the ocean, and now foliage has grown into that view corridor. He asked Ms. Wagner if she has applied for a View Restoration Permit.
Ms. Wagner answered that she applied for two permits, one for the city trees located at the end of the cul-de-sac, and two years ago she applied for a view restoration permit for the trees in the photograph, however the owners of the trees have since moved away, and she withdrew the application.
Commissioner Tomblin asked Ms. Wagner why she didn’t file for a View Restoration Permit with the current owner of these trees.
Ms. Wagner answered that she was hoping to discuss the situation with the new owners of the property.
Commissioner Cote stated that the Planning Commission was supposed to be discussing the definition of a hedge, and not the view restoration on Ms. Wagner’s property. However, based on what was being requested, she asked Ms. Wagner if the City were to amend the definition of a hedge and found that the foliage in question was indeed a hedge, did she understand what would take place and would she be satisfied with how that would affect her property.
Ms. Wagner answered that changing the definition of a hedge would make a significant difference to her situation. She noted also that she could never walk through the hedge as the property is already bordered by a wooden fence. She felt there needed to be more discussion to come up with something that has more meaning as far as being able to restore a view.
Commissioner Duran Reed asked Ms. Wagner if it was true that she had applied for a View Restoration Permit and that John Alvarez and another member of staff had come to her home and told her that they couldn’t do anything for her because the foliage in question was under 16 feet in height.
Ms. Wagner answered that staff had come to her home and looked from several view areas in her home had told her the foliage needed to be at least 16 feet high before they could do anything for her in view restoration. She explained that she waited until the foliage was 16 feet high and then filed a for a View Restoration Permit, however shortly after that the neighbors moved and she withdrew the application. She noted that the new owners have trimmed the lower part of the trees, however that trimming has no impact on the restoration of her view.
Chairman Long closed the public hearing.
Before asking for comments from the Planning Commissioners, Chairman Long reminded the Commissioners that staff is seeking direction as to whether to initiate a code amendment regarding the definition of a hedge.
Vice Chairman Mueller discussed the phrase "physical barrier" and the many different things a physical barrier could be. He asked staff if they had consulted the City Attorney on what the word "physical" means, and if so, what was her response.
Director/Secretary Rojas responded that the interpretation by staff is based on longstanding cases that have been brought to staff’s attention, including one that resulted in litigation, which made staff focus on what is meant by "physical barrier". At the time, with the City Attorney’s office involved in the lawsuit, it was agreed "physical barrier" meant walking through or a passage through. Therefore, if a hedge is intended to be used as a wall or fence, that is how they are treated. He explained that in most cases staff can resolve the hedge complaints by directing the hedge owner to trim the hedge so that a person can walk through unimpeded, and for the most part that works. He noted that there are situations where a foliage owner will trim up to 6 or 8 feet so a person can walk between, but will not do any trimming to the portion above that level. He stated that he has talked to the City Attorney about this type of situation, and felt that it is a loophole.
Chairman Long stated that the Planning Commission must be careful not to examine and hear the merits of a permit application for this property, where only one side is being heard. He felt the Planning Commission must focus on the fact that the only issue before the Commission is this case, which is only being used as an example. He noted that the Planning Commission may want the staff to prepare a report for review to consider whether there is an ambiguity and if so, what can be done about it.
Commissioner Cote stated that she would like to see staff bring back an analysis and recommendation back to the Planning Commission, given that there is a possible loophole in the process.
Commissioner Duran Reed stated that she brought this up as an agenda item because in looking at this photo, one would automatically assume it is a hedge which, according to staff definition, it is not. She felt this was a loophole in the Code and would like staff’s to investigate it further.
Commissioner Cartwright did not have any objection to staff looking at this subject and coming back with a report. However, he felt that it was important that the Planning Commission try to clarify what problem they are trying to solve. He explained that he had looked up the definition of hedge in the dictionary, and one of the definitions talks about a hedge being used for privacy, as a sound barrier, or as a physical protective barrier. He felt that in those cases the hedge is doing the same thing that a fence or wall would do. He therefore did not see how one could change the definition of a hedge to solve the problem seen in the pictures. He felt the foliage in those pictures are trees, not low-level shrubs, that can go up to 16 feet in height.
Commissioner Tomblin agreed with Commissioner Cartwright’s comments, and did not have any objection to staff looking at the issue of hedges and any possible loopholes. He felt, however, that there were one or two avenues available to Ms. Wagner that she had not yet explored, including view restoration.
Vice Chairman Mueller felt that staff should examine the issue of when does a row of trees become a hedge and that this loophole should be looked at. However, he was not sure that changing the definition of a hedge was the way to do it. He was concerned that the Planning Commission may get too heavily involved with this specific example, as this item may eventually come before the Commission, but supported the idea that staff should research the loophole and possible solutions.
Chairman Long felt this was worth having the staff spend some time looking at this possible loophole, and did not see any reason why trees could not become hedges at some point, and the distinction between tree and shrub could be artificial, as he could think of some plants that could be either one, depending on how they were trimmed.
Commissioner Cartwright felt it might make sense, instead of focusing on trying to redefine hedge, to take this example and have staff look at that and come back with suggestions on how to deal with that type of situation.
Chairman Long felt that was a problem, in that he did not think the Planning Commission should be looking at particular cases that might ultimately come back to the Planning Commission, unless notice is given to all of the foliage owners to attend a meeting and give input.
Commissioner Tomblin stated that because there is a specific example to look at, he felt that not all avenues available have been explored, and did not want to see the Planning Commission and City Council change a definition if it is not necessary. He questioned why the Code should be redefined when there is already something available that could help Ms. Wagner. He was concerned that someone may not understand how to use the vehicles that are already in place and has a problem and comes to the Planning Commission to address changes to the code for every issue.
Chairman Long agreed, however he noted that the Director noted that there may be an ambiguity in the Code, and he would like to hear staff’s presentation on the subject.
Commissioner Cote felt that the staff report should use this case as an example, without using this as a specific case.
Commissioner Cartwright agreed with Commissioner Cote, and felt that it was important to have a case that could be used as an example rather than using arbitrary examples.
Chairman Long stated that he was more comfortable using a completed case as an example, as it allows the Planning Commission and staff to consider something that is not just in the abstract, while at the same time does not potentially decide a case that may come before the Planning Commission in the future without giving other parties who are interested in that case an opportunity to be heard.
Commissioner Duran Reed moved to direct the staff to prepare a report regarding the definition of a hedge which addresses the issue of how to handle cases, without using pending cases as examples, where the trees are not 16 feet, but appear to be a physical barrier that impair a view and how does that fit in, in terms of view restoration and preservation. Further, the report should address hedges on the front and side of the property, seconded by Commissioner Cote. Approved, (4-2) with Commissioners Tomblin and Cartwright dissenting.
Commissioners Cartwright and Tomblin both stated that they had dissented on the vote because they felt that Ms. Wagner’s case should be used as an example in the staff report rather than already completed or hypothetical cases.
3. Grading Permit (Case ZON2003-00299): 6417 Corsini Place
Associate Planner Blumenthal gave a brief history of the project, noting that at the last public hearing the Planning Commission continued the item to allow the applicant additional time to address issues raised by staff and the Commission. He explained that the applicant has since had the property re-surveyed, and explained the scope of the new project. He stated that staff has re-evaluated the project and now feels that all criteria for the grading permit has been met with the revisions. He noted that at the previous meeting, concerns were raised about the access for construction on the site and whether an access road would be cut into the hillside to complete the proposed grading. He stated that in order to address these concerns staff met with the contractor at the site and showed on a power point slide how access to the property would be accomplished for the construction. He also discussed the access with the building official and noted that the building official felt the construction access was feasible without the need for grading. He explained that the building official recommended that staff obtain input from an engineering geologist and a geotechnical engineer on the slope stability prior to allowing any type of access on the slope. Therefore, staff has recommended conditions that requires the applicant obtain written permission from the property owners to cross the two properties prior to plans being submitted to plan check, that there be no cut greater than three feet, or any other grading be done for the construction, that a geology and geotechnical report be approved prior to issuance of building, and that any portion of the slope that is disturbed will be restored to the pre-construction condition. He stated that staff was recommending the Planning Commission approve the proposed project, subject to the conditions of approval in the Resolution.
Commissioner Tomblin asked approximately how wide the construction access road would be.
Associate Planner Blumenthal answered that the access road would be approximately 10 to 12 feet wide, and noted that he had walked up the road area with the building official who felt it would be wide enough for the construction equipment.
Vice Chairman Mueller asked if the geology report would also address the swimming pool on the slope.
Associate Planner Blumenthal answered that the report would address the swimming pool and any other construction issues.
Vice Chairman Mueller asked staff to clarify the type of screening that would be used.
Associate Planner Blumenthal answered that staff was recommending a solid hedge be planted and maintained at a height between five and six feet to screen structures along the slope.
Vice Chairman Mueller noted a condition which says that the applicant must revise the plans prior to submittal to building plan check, and asked if the plans before the Planning Commission are not the final plans.
Associate Planner Blumenthal explained that the current plans show that the width of the pool fluctuates when looking at the site plan and the cross sections, and that the condition is asking that the pool width is consistent on all plans. He explained that staff wants to verify that the entire project does not expand beyond the boundaries it is already set at.
Commissioner Cartwright asked staff to explain the differences between what the Planning Commission was looking at currently and what was shown on the previous plans.
Associate Planner Blumenthal explained that the sports court and dressing room have been eliminated, the height of the auxiliary structures are lowered to twelve feet, the game room has moved over, the guest house has moved off of the extreme slope, and revisions have been made to the walkways and swimming pool to make sure they are off of the extreme slopes.
Commissioner Cartwright asked if any of the structures have moved closer to Via La Paloma.
Associate Planner Blumenthal stated that nothing has moved closer to Via La Paloma.
Commissioner Cartwright asked if it is found that the construction equipment cannot get into the site as planned, what will happen.
Associate Planner Blumenthal answered that staff will return to the Planning Commission with the alternative for grading a construction access road, which will eventually have to be restored, or the applicant will have the choice of going off of Corsini Place and craning over the house.
Chairman Long opened the public hearing.
Bob Garstein 2175 W. 236th Street, Torrance (architect) stated that he has reviewed all of the conditions with the owners and they are willing to accept all conditions. He noted a typo on page 4 of Exhibit A, item 1, which discusses a 232 square foot tall trellis, and suggested taking out the word tall. He also noted a typo under item 12 which discussed accessory structures at twelve inches rather than twelve feet. He discussed the hedge that will be planted for privacy concerns at the Ulman’s residence, and asked that within this hedge there be some form of access that will allow the Androsevics access below the hedge for property maintenance and normal use. He stated that as soon as the project is approved he will pursue the proposals for the geotechnical and grading studies.
Commissioner Cartwright asked Mr. Garstein to comment on the letter from Mr. Ulman regarding his concerns that the game room location is more imposing than it was before and that this type of hillside development and terracing is not compatible with the neighborhood.
Mr. Garstein stated that there are many properties in the neighborhood that have terracing in the backyards. He showed a photograph which shows Mr. Ulman’s front door in relation to the fence on the Androsevic’s property and noted that the hedge will screen Mr. Ulman’s entire view of the property.
Mary Anna Napier 6415 Corsini Place stated that she lives next door to the applicant and is very excited about the proposed project. She stated that she is very willing to allow the Androsevics access to their property through the corner of her property. She felt that this proposed project will be a great addition to the neighborhood, and noted that her house is the only one in the neighborhood that will view the project, as their home will look down on the project.
Stephen Napier 6415 Corsini Place stated that he too is in support of the project. He stated that the Androsevics are very considerate neighbors to the entire neighborhood and that this project will enhance not only the applicant’s property but the entire neighborhood.
Len Fein 6416 Corsini Place stated that his home has quite a bit of terracing in the back yard area that his home and property have been extremely stable for 30 years. He noted that there is an entrance road at the bottom of the Androsevic’s property that is the remnants of a road that was used to do the construction and terracing on his property. He noted that he has an extensive view from his property and that this view will not be affected by the proposed project. He also felt the project will be a great enhancement to the entire neighborhood.
Dale Ulman 6610 Via La Paloma stated that he objects to the project, as he did not think it was compatible with the neighborhood. He noted that the applicant’s project will extend much further down the hillside than any others in the neighbors, and further noted that homes in the neighborhood are constructed on large lots and have extensively large undeveloped back yard areas. He felt that this project attempts to develop the majority of the non-extremely slope area, and that, coupled with the fact that is unusual in the area, is incompatible with the neighborhood and sets a negative precedence in the neighborhood. He distributed photographs taken from his property illustrating his position that this proposed addition will be very visible as one drives up the road to the property and that all of the structures on the hillside will take away from the character of the neighborhood and will transform the appearance of the neighborhood into something different. Discussing the construction access, he felt that there would be more than a three foot cut necessary to allow equipment on the road and that the grading necessary will exceed 20 cubic yards. He also felt that more discussion and consideration should be given to the location of the staging equipment, location of stockpiles, and approval for the use of the fire road from L.A. County Fire Department. He also felt there were questions regarding liability of going across the Miraleste Parks District as well as grading over an historic slide area. He felt that these issues should be addressed prior to approval of the project.
Commissioner Cartwright referred to a photograph and felt that if the swimming pool at the house to the left of the applicant were extended across the Androsevic’s property, that it would be developed down almost down to the fence. He noted that Mr. Ulman is an architect, and asked him, if he had a client putting a game room in the proposed area and he wanted to mitigate the appearance of that game room to the house directly across the road, what suggestions would he make.
Mr. Ulman felt that the hedge was put in to address his privacy issues, however part of the issue is the multiple structures proposed, and no matter where the hedge is placed these structures will be visible. He felt that placing the structures further up the hillside would help mitigate some of his concerns. He did not think that vegetation was a solution to screening a structure.
Commissioner Cote asked staff to comment on Mr. Ulman’s comments on the possible need for more grading for the access road.
Associate Planner Blumenthal answered that based on staff’s analysis, which included discussion with the grading contractor and the building official, staff felt that the only portion that may need a small cut would be toward the top of the access area. He noted that the way the condition is written, it refers back to the Development Code definition of grading, which is cut or fill of three feet or 20 cubic yards or more. Therefore, at any point during the creation of this construction access, if there is 20 cubic yards or more of grading, it will come back to the Planning Commission.
Commissioner Duran Reed asked how far away construction will be from the fence.
Associate Planner Blumenthal answered that the game room will be a few feet from the fence.
Mr. Garstein (in rebuttal) stated that the game room will be approximately 5 to 7 feet from the fence. Regarding the grading, he stated that the grading contractor has been at the site and there are various methods available that will minimize the grading for the access road to the site. He felt fairly confident that grading would not be an issue. He stated that construction material and concrete could be brought in to the site from Corsini Place.
Chairman Long closed the public hearing.
Commissioner Tomblin asked staff if they had any objection to the applicant’s request to have access through the hedge area.
Associate Planner Blumenthal responded that staff did not have objection if the applicant requested access through the hedge area in the form of a gate or a small walkway around the corner of the hedge.
Commissioner Cartwright asked staff if there would be a problem with putting additional foliage on the slope to help soften the appearance of the game room structure.
Associate Planner Blumenthal responded that staff would not have a problem if the applicant added additional foliage to the area.
Commissioner Cote asked staff how staff could incorporate into the conditions of approval language regarding the staging area off of Via La Paloma.
Associate Planner Blumenthal stated that condition of approval no. 16 addresses the staging area from Via La Paloma. He explained that staff does not want the residents blocked at any time and condition 16 addresses that concern. He added that if the Planning Commission desires, it could add to that condition that there be no stockpile of dirt on the property or require that the location of the staging area be approved by the Director and placed in a location that minimizes impacts to residents.
Commissioner Cote asked staff about using Corsini Place for construction material and concrete.
Associate Planner Blumenthal explained that when he met with the grading contractor the pool contractor was also at the site and had told staff that it would be cheaper for him to come off of Corsini Place for the gunite, as it is cheaper for him to pump the gunite downhill rather than uphill. He added that the Planning Commission can add a condition that the pool contractor work from Corsini Place rather than Via La Paloma.
Commissioner Duran Reed asked staff to comment on the slope stability and landslide areas discussed by Mr. Ulman.
Associate Planner Blumenthal responded that there was a slide in an area he identified on a power point slide. He stated that staff will rely on geology and geotechnical reports to address the issue of slope stability in this area.
Commissioner Cote stated that she was extremely pleased that the architect and applicant had addressed the comments and concerns previously raised by the Planning Commission. She stated that her previous concerns had been that she did not feel there was justification for a variance to allow construction on the extreme slope and to work with the architect to prioritize what amenities were needed. She felt the applicant had gone through that priority process with the elimination of the sports court and the elimination of the need for a variance. Secondly, she had expressed a concern with the construction access and she felt that has been adequately addressed with the new plans. With respect to the neighbor’s concerns, she felt that the conditions of approval addressing the staging area and making sure the concrete and pool work is accessed from Corsini Place should address some of his concerns. She felt that given the distance from Mr. Ulman’s property to the proposed structures and the recommended staff concept of the shrub and hedge, there would not be a privacy issue and the impact of the structures would be minimized. She felt that project, as currently proposed, would be compatible with the neighborhood.
Commissioner Cartwright agreed with Commissioner Cote’s comments and that the findings for the grading permit could be made. He agreed with the additional conditions requested by staff requiring the applicant to get written permission from the adjacent neighbor to access their property as well as a condition to require the geotechnical consultant be satisfied that the heavy equipment can get in and out without significant grading, as well as the condition that if there is significant grading it will be brought back to the Planning Commission. He would also like to see an additional condition which says the Director would have to approve landscaping that would help to soften the appearance of the proposed game room structure. He stated that he could support the project with these additional conditions.
Commissioner Duran Reed stated one of the issues she had with the project was the slope stability, and was glad to see the geotechnical consultant must be satisfied before anything can go forward. She had concerns with the grading from a slope stability standpoint but these concerns should be addressed in the geotechnical analysis.
Commissioner Tomblin stated that he had no problems with the project and supported the project with the proposed amendments.
Vice Chairman Mueller was also pleased that the concerns of the Planning Commission at the last meeting had been addressed. He stated the project had been revised to use portions of the property not on the extreme slope. He had concerns with the geotechnical aspects of the project, but the correct conditions have been put into place to satisfy his concerns. He felt that there should be some screening at the bottom of the slope to address Mr. Ulman’s concerns. He felt that what is currently proposed will fit much better in the neighborhood than what was originally proposed and he felt that he could support the current project with the additional conditions.
Chairman Long stated that he did not participate in the original hearing for the project, however he has reviewed the minutes and read the staff report, and shares the view that the other Commissioners have expressed that the project has been appropriately re-designed to address the concerns of the Planning Commission.
Commissioner Tomblin moved to adopt P.C. Resolution No. 2003-50 thereby approving the Grading Permit and Site Plan Review, with the amendments for the staging area, the access at the hedge area as requested by the applicant, and additional landscaping near the game room to the satisfaction of the Director, seconded by Commissioner Cartwright. Approved, (6-0)
Commissioner Cote noted and staff acknowledged that there were typos pointed out by Garstein that should be corrected.
4. General Plan consistency finding (case ZON2003-00535): LAUSD / Dodson Middle School
As it was after 11:00, Commissioner Cartwright moved to suspend the Planning Commission rules to hear item no. 4 and item no. 11, and continue item no. 8 to the November 11 Planning Commission meeting, seconded by Vice Chairman Mueller. There being no objection, it was so ordered.
Chairman Long recused himself from this item as the law firm he works for, although not he, has done work for the Los Angeles Unified School District on matters not related to this item.
Commissioner Tomblin recused himself from hearing this item as he is currently running for the School Board and this is an issue before the school board.
Senior Planner Fox presented he staff report, explaining that staff has received complaints from neighbors regarding the placement of four portable classrooms at Dodson Middle School. He explained that the code considerations in the matter of General Plan consistency findings originate in the state government code and LAUSD is required to come before the Planning Commission and request a finding of consistency with the General Plan. He explained that the government code goes on to say that the Planning Commission is required to render a decision on consistency within 40 days from the date the request is submitted or the determination is automatically made that the installation is consistent with the General Plan. He also noted that even if the Planning Commission were to find that the installation is inconsistent with the General Plan, which is the staff’s recommendation, the school board can over overrule that determination, and noted the 40-day deadline is November 4. He explained the three findings to be made – location, purpose, and extent - for the general plan consistency determination, and noted that staff determined that the location of the three buildings at Eldena and Avenida Aprenda were not consistent with the General Plan. With respect to the purpose of the portable classrooms, staff believed adding additional classrooms to meet the growing attendance was consistent with the purpose of the General Plan. Lastly, with the respect to the extent of the portable classroom buildings, he noted a section in the General Plan which calls upon the City and school district to try to work together to coordinate planning and programming. Unfortunately there have been two instances now at Dodson Middle School where portable classrooms have been installed without any prior notification to the City, and staff was concerned that was a practice that might continue without sufficient regard to cumulative impacts to the neighborhood. Therefore, staff believes that the portable classrooms are not compatible with the General Plan. He explained that staff has advised LAUSD of the determination, and as a result staff has met with members of the LAUSD at the school site. As a result of that meeting LAUSD agreed to install some type of opaque screening in the 8-foot fences that surrounds the buildings. In conclusion, he stated that staff feels only the purpose of the portable classrooms is consistent with the General Plan, with respect to their location and extent, staff believes they are not consistent with institutional activity policies and noise policies in the General Plan and staff therefore believes, as a whole, the installation of the classroom buildings are inconsistent and recommends the Planning Commission adopts the Resolution in the staff report.
Commissioner Duran Reed asked staff to comment on the suggestions by LAUSD regarding the screening the 8-foot tall fence. She felt even with the additional screening, the classrooms would be inconsistent, as they are within the 25-foot setback area
Senior Planner Fox stated that LAUSD is not going to move the buildings, as they do not have the funds to do so, and are not subject to the City’s zoning regulations.
Commissioner Duran Reed asked staff what the City’s position is in allowing the classrooms to remain, but screening them up to 8 feet.
Senior Planner Fox stated that the intent of the screening is to try to minimize the appearance of the structures and minimize the noise from the air conditioning units as much as possible, and LAUSD is willing to do so. However, the City has no means to force them to do so. He stated that this screening does not fully satisfy the City’s concerns with the portable buildings.
Commissioner Cartwright did not think the screening would help with the noise or the aesthetics and asked staff if they had looked into asking LAUSD to add additional landscaping that might mitigate the aesthetics.
Senior Planner Fox stated that he had suggested landscaping and additional foliage when he met with LAUSD representatives at the site, and noted that they were unwilling to do that citing the costs of installing irrigation lines and installing and maintaining landscaping. He noted that LAUSD does have funds available to place some type of slats or fabric along the fence.
Director/Secretary Rojas reiterated that, even if the Planning Commission finds these classrooms inconsistent with the General Plan, LAUSD can ignore that finding.
Commissioner Cartwright asked if there is anything that can limit the number of portable classrooms that can be used at a school site.
Senior Planner Fox stated the only limitation would be space consideration on the campus.
Commissioner Cote asked if there were any Fire Department safety related issues regarding density on the school campus.
Senior Planner Fox answered that building permits and inspections for school sites are done through the Office of the State Architect and that safety issues would be handled through that agency.
Vice Chairman Mueller opened the public hearing.
Glen Cornell, 2004 Velez Drive, stated that he is the president of the Rolling Hills Riviera HOA which constitutes 500 of the 700 homes in the area around the school site. He stated that these portable structures were not there one day and there the next, and there was no communication with the neighbors before the structures were installed. He stated that LAUSD has added the screening in the last few days, and that it is a green tennis type fence that does nothing to mitigate the concerns of the neighborhood. He stated that this fencing does nothing to help the traffic and congestion that these extra classrooms have added to the neighborhood. He felt these classrooms could have been designed in such a way that would have made it less objectionable to the neighbors and at not much more of a cost. He agreed that it was obvious these buildings were not consistent with the City’s General Plan and he hoped that the Planning Commission would agree with the staff findings.
Don Shults, 2129 Velez Drive, questioned what the City could do and how they could work with LAUSD to make the buildings more consistent with the neighborhood. He felt that the neighborhood has been a good neighbor, however the school district has made no effort to be a good neighbor in return. He asked that once the buildings have been determined to be inconsistent with the General Plan is there anything that can be done to force them to become consistent.
Vice Chairman Mueller closed the public hearing.
Vice Chairman Mueller asked staff if, in talks with LAUSD, was any other option suggested for the fencing other than installing the green slats to screen the portable classrooms. He wondered if the school district could apply for beautification grants to put in foliage.
Senior Planner Fox stated that he had not mentioned that to the school district, but noted that the concern of the school district was not so much the cost of the installation of the foliage, but the maintenance of the foliage.
Vice Chairman Mueller asked if the City has regulations regarding graffiti removal.
Senior Planner Fox stated that graffiti would be considered a violation of the property maintenance ordinance of the code.
Commissioner Cote stated that, on her two years of being on the Planning Commission, this has been the most frustrating situation she has been in with respect to the community, and the absolute disrespect of the LAUSD to not even send a representative to the meeting to talk to the Planning Commission is clear evidence that the school district is not a good neighbor. She hoped that message, if not sent by the Planning Commission, was brought forward to the City and possibly put on a future City Council agenda to address the issue to the LAUSD.
Vice Chairman Mueller asked staff if the Planning Commission should recommend the City Council address this issue with a letter to the school district, reminding them they are inconsistent with the General Plan, or will the school district automatically be notified by staff.
Senior Planner Fox stated that the LAUSD already knows what staff’s recommendation on the subject is and they will be notified by letter as to the decision of the Planning Commission.
Commissioner Cartwright moved to adopt P.C. Resolution No. 2003-51, finding the placement of four additional portable classroom buildings at Dodson Middle School are inconsistent with the General Plan, seconded by Commissioner Cote. Approved, (4-0-2) with Commissioner Tomblin and Chairman Long abstaining.
11. Planning Commission packet delivery
Commissioner Cartwright presented a report to the Planning Commission, explaining that he and Commissioner Cote had met with staff to discuss the possibility of receiving the agenda packets early, focusing on getting the packet one or two days early rather than a week early. He stated that it was decided two days early would be difficult, however one day earlier would be possible. Therefore, the Planning Commission and public would be receiving the reports on Wednesday rather than Thursday, and staff will send the reports via e-mail if the Commission desires. He recommended the Planning Commission accept the recommendation to receive the reports on Wednesday and direct staff to work toward implementing the procedure. He noted that staff felt it would take approximately one month to implement this new procedure.
Chairman Long supported accepting the report, though grudgingly, and commented that one fifth of a loaf is better than none. He added that part of his main motive in trying to get reports early is that so many of them involve reports that the public should get, review, and comment on. He did not feel the public did not have much time to comment from the time they receive the report to the time of the Tuesday hearing. He felt that getting the report earlier is only a part of the solution, and felt that ultimately the Planning Commission will have to look at another solution, which is involving members of the public who may have concerns about the project, other than the applicant, in the process earlier. He noted that in some cases staff has already started doing this.
Vice Chairman Mueller agreed that getting the staff reports even one day earlier, will be a great help to him.
Commissioner Duran Reed thanked staff for their efforts in helping out the Planning Commissioners.
Director/Secretary Rojas noted that as well as posting the staff reports on the internet, staff could send the staff reports to email@example.com,
Chairman Long felt that was a good idea, and staff should try it to see how it works.
Commissioner Cote moved to continue item 5 to the November 25 meeting, table item 6, and continue items 7, 8, 12, and 13 to the November 11 meeting – noting
that item 9 had, earlier in the meeting, been continued to the November 25 meeting, seconded by Commissioner Duran. Approved, (6-0).
The meeting was adjourned at 12:00 a.m.