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City Council Tweaks Hedge Law

By Jorge Casuso

July 31 -- Property owners must register their non-conforming hedges with the City and adjoining neighbors can have encroaching portions removed at the owner’s expense under an interim ordinance approved by the City Council last week.

The law, which also adds a clause that allows a zoning administrator to consider the presence of vermin, will remain in effect until the council takes up a permanent ordinance staff is scheduled to present in winter 2008.

“The process should be accelerated,” said Council member Bobby Shriver, who ran for a council seat three years ago after the City threatened to fine owners who refused to trim their hedges to heights set during World War II.

“The public view shared from the front was good in the 1940s and 50s,” said Shriver, referring to the 42-inch hedge height limit. “But there are people concerned about security because of the dangers of modern life.

“They have a much greater interest to secure their front yard than they did 50 years ago,” he said.

“The process should be accelerated,” Shriver said. “I’m sure staff is tired of working on this.”

Under the interim ordinance, owners can grow their hedges above the 42 inch limit if the non-conforming hedges are registered with the City. A hedge cannot exceed 12 feet in height unless it is within ten feet of an alley, in which case there is no limit.

Tuesday’s council action only makes minor modifications to the interim ordinance approved by the council in February after hearing from homeowners fearful the City would cut exemptions for 900 homes with hedges, fences and other partitions higher than the 12 feet allowed by the 2005 ordinance.

The 2005 law had raised the maximum height and allowed those who applied to keep their hedges at the current height. It also provided an appeals process for those who have problems with their neighbors' foliage and fences.

The thorny issue of Santa Monica hedge heights made national headlines in 2004 and helped launched Shriver's political career.

The new interim ordinance includes modifications that:

  • Clarify the criteria for evaluating objection appeal applications to enable the Planning Commission to effectively evaluate the pending appeals,
  • Require that all legal nonconforming fences, walls and hedges be registered with the City, and
  • Require hedges to be maintained and authorizes adjoining property owners to remove those portions of the hedge that encroach over the property line and to recover all costs incurred through a civil action pursued by the adjoining property owner.

The law, Shriver said, will “impact how people live their lives on a daily basis.

“There’s can’t be a more important task for government,” he said. “Making people (who registered) feel secure is good.”








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