California property owners might think they have a right to a view, but in fact most are at the mercy of their neighbors.

If the neighbors happen to like big, bushy canary island pines, the dazzling ocean views disappear — unless the property owner lives in a city or within an association that protects views and has codified those values in a view protection ordinance. Then the pines may lose and views prevail.

Most cities in California do not have view ordinances. In fact, many have tree ordinances that protect trees instead. For example, residents in Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach can block a neighbor’s ocean view with trees or shrubs and there’s not much that can be done.

All four cities on the Palos Verdes Peninsula have view ordinances or rules that protect views, or at least provide an avenue for view seekers to reclaim their views in court.

Rolling Hills has dual processes, one administered by the city and one governed by the community association. Rancho Palos Verdes and Rolling Hills Estates have view ordinances that are run by the city governments.

In Palos Verdes Estates, the city’s Tree Management Policy applies to view obstructions caused by public trees, while obstructions caused by private trees are managed through the Homes Association view restoration process.

Most view obstruction situations resolve when the view seeker meets with the tree-owning neighbor. But if the neighborly meeting is unsuccessful, the local view ordinance requires that the parties submit to a professional mediator, at which point many disputes settle.

The Palos Verdes Estates Homes Association view protection process is short and sweet, and remarkably effective. In the past ten years, 58 view-restoration claims were processed through the Homes Association program. All but a handful have settled. In all five matters that went to court, the view prevailed.

In Rancho Palos Verdes, 77 claims were filed between 2010 and 2014 and 41 were mediated successfully. Thirty two of these cases did not result in a private agreement, either because the trees were trimmed before mediation occurred or the tree owner did not attend the mediation. Two of those claims advanced to the RPV Planning Commission, and four are pending mediation outcomes.

The Rolling Hills Estates view ordinance is fairly new and there have been only two claims recently filed. In Rolling Hills prior to 2013, a total of 11 claims were filed. Of those, three were resolved by a mediator, two withdrew or responded privately and six proceeded to hearings before a committee or city council.

If no decision can be reached through an arbitrator or through a government process, the ordinances provide that either or both parties may file a lawsuit in Superior Court, ensuring an arduous and expensive battle of experts.

Charles F. Peterson is the Founding Partner of CFP ViewLaw™, a Palos Verdes-based real estate law firm.

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