The Santa Monica City Council unanimously passed a permanent ordinance earlier this month which will modify the existing fence, wall and hedge standards in the city.
The approved ordinance was based on an interim ordinance which was adopted in July 2005 and extended and modified in 2007, said Eileen Fogarty, the city’s director of Planning and Community Development.
The interim ordinance was created in response to public concern regarding the city’s fence, wall and hedge regulations and enforcement policies.
Its goal was to:
— establish clear and objective standards related to fences, walls and hedges;
— increase flexibility to allow modifications from objective standards;
— allow ornamental features, such as pergolas, within the front yard setback area;
— allow existing nonconforming fences, walls and hedges to be maintained; and
— give residents living adjacent to a nonconforming fence, wall or hedge the opportunity to object to existing over-height fences, walls or hedges.
Recently, the City Council directed staff to prepare a permanent ordinance.
The Planning Commission reviewed the ordinance in September and recommended adoption, along with some additional changes.
The changes to the interim ordinance clarify regulations pertaining to pergolas and similar features in front-yard areas.
One pergola or similar feature limited to eight feet in height and width and three feet in depth is permitted. Gates or doors are also permitted within the frame.
The permanent ordinance also allows property owners to repair and replace any portion or all of a nonconforming fence, wall or hedge to its registered height if done with “in-kind” materials.
This criterion is more flexible than the criterion used for legal nonconforming buildings, Fogarty said.
City staff had originally recommended allowing property owners the right to repair or replace only up to 50 percent of a nonconforming fence, wall or hedge to its registered height.
Also, the grandparenting provisions established in the interim ordinance for existing nonconforming fences, walls and hedges that were registered with the city are included in the permanent ordinance.
Over 40 people spoke at the City Council meeting earlier this month — some in support of the ordinance, some not.
“I bought my home in Santa Monica two years ago,” said resident Matt Kunitz. “One of the main selling points of that home to my family and I was the privacy that the front hedge afforded the house. I’m here tonight to ask you to grandparent all the registered hedges and to make that permanent and also to allow us to repair, maintain and replace our hedge at our discretion.”
Some appreciated the privacy hedges provide, but others called themselves “hedge victims.”
One family said they moved to Santa Monica because of the “fresh air, good ocean views and sunlight” and claimed all of these have been taken away from them because of tall hedges.
In addition, Santa Monica resident Zina Josephs pointed out that no other nearby cities have a grandparenting clause.
“It’s complicated and costly to monitor something that’s constantly growing,” she noted. “The ordinance sets height limits but provides innumerable ways for those to be avoided. The ordinance pits neighbor against neighbor. Citizens are put in a position of arguing about whose rights are transcendent and such clashes can be avoided if the ordinance specifies clearly defined height limits.”
After a lengthy public hearing, the council unanimously approved the ordinance.
“I think it has been a tough issue,” said Councilman Bobby Shriver. “It has been a long struggle. I do think it’s inevitable that some people are going to be disappointed.”
He continued, “My hedges — I think some people know — were planted in the ’20s, so this plant has been there for an enormously long time, and I think there are many others like it.
“When I hear people threw up 50-foot hedges when they thought there was going to be grandparenting, to kind of cheat their way in, that kind of bothers me. When I hear people don’t properly maintain these living things, that bothers me.”
But in the end, Shriver supported the ordinance.
“I’m glad we got to this point,” added Mayor Herb Katz. “It has been a long, long time. I think we’ve come to a good solution with this and I hope it works as well as we think it will.”