What were you doing at 1:15 a.m. on Thursday? If you’re a City Council member, engaged citizen, or local reporter, you were listening to a debate about hedges.

Deep into council’s seven-hour discussion of the proposed update of the Zoning Ordinance, which will dictate land uses throughout the city for years to come, Mayor Kevin McKeown suggested some changes to the draft as it pertains to the bushes people grow in their yards.

A decade ago, the city was deep in what was known as the “Hedge Wars.” Former Santa Monica Mayor Bobby Shriver, a member of the Kennedy family, jumped into politics after City Hall tried to fine him for letting his hedges get too high.

“The issue has come up again in the new draft Zoning Ordinance because staff is proposing that even somebody who got a grand-parented hedge approved 10 years ago could now apply for a higher hedge, even if the neighbor objected,” McKeown said, “and having lived through that, and being glad to have lived through it, I’m wondering if we wouldn’t say, instead, that a grand parented hedge adjustment is okay only if it’s OKed by the neighbor.”

One exception, he proposed, would be if there’d been a substantive change to the hedge-bordering property.

“In other words,” McKeown said, “if what was a single-family home is now a three-family home, and they’re looking over the old hedge down into somebody’s backyard, that would be the only situation where someone who didn’t have his neighbor’s permission could come through a process and ask for an adjustment to the hedge.”

Councilmember Ted Winterer expressed an interest in vetoing any changes to the hedge ordinance.

“My initial reaction is if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he said. “I prefer to leave well enough alone, but if there’s impetus to make these minor adjustments, I’ll consider it.”

Councilmember Gleam Davis expressed support for McKeown’s motion but asked that city planners consider including a height cap.

“We instituted the hedge ordinance because we felt that there were some very high hedges around town and, even if there’s a change in use, if we don’t have a cap on it then someone could come in and request a 25-foot hedge,” she said. “I’m thinking that’s something we’ve been trying to discourage.”

Council voted unanimously to make McKeown’s changes to the draft of the ordinance and to have city planners study the hedge cap. Council voted on dozens of potential changes at last week’s meeting but none of them were definitive. Council is scheduled to finalize the new Zoning Ordinance at their meeting on May 6, after city planners have made the more than 50 requested changes.

“I’m sympathetic to someone saying, hey, I don’t want someone looking at me,” Davis said of the hedges. “I live in a single-family home and people can look in on me all the time. It’s the nature of living next to someone and not in Iowa.”

dave@smdp.com

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