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Hedge Battle Heads to Santa Monica Planning Commission

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

By Jonathan Friedman
Associate Editor

October 6, 2015 -- Following a three-week hiatus, the Santa Monica Planning Commission will meet again on Wednesday with an agenda that includes a classic hedge-height battle and proposed modifications to a former mayor's rent-controlled home.

Carly Levine wants to keep the seven-foot hedge lining the back of the front gate at her home on 17th Street in the North of Montana neighborhood. She says it is needed for privacy and that others in the neighborhood have similar protection.

City officials have so far disagreed with this opinion.

After a complaint was filed with the City last year about the hedge, which is twice as high as is legally allowed in Santa Monica, Levine asked for an exemption. The request was denied. She has appealed the decision to the Planning Commission.

City Zoning Administrator Amanda Schachter wrote in the denial earlier this year that allowing the hedge to remain would “impair the integrity and character of the neighborhood” because only two of the 28 lots on the block have fences, walls or hedges higher than 42 inches.

“The immediate neighborhood has an open street character that allows for light and air to permeate front yards as well as sidewalks,” she wrote, adding that the seven-foot hedge “is incompatible with surrounding residences.”

Chester Rocha of Environmental Design Studio in Los Angeles, who represents Levine, sees it differently. He wrote in the appeal that his client actually did the neighborhood a favor by replacing the previous hedge on the property, which was a 15-foot-tall “an eyesore.”

He added that his client was unaware of the 42-inch height limit because hedges higher than this “are not uncommon” in the neighborhood.

“One of the main reasons the homeowner purchased the house was the layer of privacy the original hedge provided,” wrote Rocha, who said the seven-foot version would still provide some of this privacy while also having a "more well-kept look."

So-called hedge wars have been legendary in Santa Monica, with fighters including Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet and former state treasurer Phil Angelides.

(“Resident Told to Cut 40-foot Hedge,” May 8, 2014)

One war launched the political career of former mayor Bobby Shriver after the Kennedy family member was told to trim his hedge in 2003. He turned his anger into a successful run for City Council.

Also on the agenda for Wednesday is a proposal by property owner Dica-20 to subdivide two adjacent properties on 20th Street near the Best Western Gateway Hotel so that separate five-unit apartment buildings can be built on each parcel.

Specifics on the apartment buildings are not included in the proposal because they will be featured in future applications. One of the units in each building must be affordable for “moderate income” people.

In addition, former mayor Mike Feinstein and his landlords will return to the commission for a possible conclusion to their dispute on modifications to the back of the rent-controlled home on Hollister Avenue.

The owners of the four-bedroom house, which Feinstein has rented for more than two decades and is a Landmarks Commission-designated “structure of merit,” want to seal the back of the second floor where a balcony once existed.

Feinstein and others in the neighborhood oppose the plan for many reasons, including that they say it looks bad and would harm neighborhood character. (“Commission Delays Decision on Former Santa Monica Mayor's Home,” September 21, 2015)

Rather than make a decision last month after two hours of testimony and discussion, the commission asked the owners and City staff to work on adjusting the plans. A modified proposal is on the table this week, although the staff report does not specify if Feinstein is happy with it.

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