"... [T]hat's a real invasion of our personal space," says Anne Kolp, who bought her home more than three years ago believing that the vista would never change. "It looks like a huge ship coming out of the ocean."(From OC Register)
Believe it or not, this is what the War of Shorecliffs is all about. In a small community in San Clemente, people are fighting over property rights, and what that exactly means. Do we have a right to build a second story to our house? Do we have a right to a permanent ocean view? Do we have a right to preserve the "bucolic" feel of the neighborhood?
San Clemente is just one of many coastal cities that's grappling with this conundrum. OC's southernmost city has an ordinance banning second story add-ons in Shorecliffs. On the other end of OC's coastline, Seal Beach repealed its ban on three story homes. In San Diego County, Solana Beach voters recently passed an "anti-mansionization" initiative. A similar measure was approved by the city council of Manhattan Beach, in Los Angeles County. The entire Southern California coast is grappling with this issue. But is there a fair solution for all of these coastal communities? Do all coastal homeowners have the right to an ocean view?
(Cross-posted at Calitics)
San Clemente resident Robert Strutt wants to add a second story master bedroom suite with a wraparound deck to his lovely Shorecliffs home. He says that he just wants to add more "living space" to his home, and he wants to take advantage of his fabulous ocean view. However, the neighbors don't want Mr. Strutt to add that second story. They're afraid that his taking advantage of his ocean view would lose them of theirs. That's what led to this.
"If Robert is going to go up, that's a real invasion of our personal space," says Anne Kolp, who bought her home more than three years ago believing that the vista would never change. "It looks like a huge ship coming out of the ocean."
But Mr. Strutt thinks his privacy and property rights are being intruded by nosy neighbors who don't want him to improve his own home.
For his part, Strutt says he modified his plans to be less intrusive and that he has a right to build on his property.
"My privacy is as important to me as it is to them," Strutt said.
OK, so Mr. Strutt believes that his right to a second story is being violated by the new ordinance banning second stories in Shorecliffs. However, his neighbors believe that Mr. Strutt would be violating their right to an ocean view by adding that second story. So who's right here? And whose right matters here?
Actually, NONE OF THEM really have any of those rights.
Homeowners do not generally have a right to a view or a second story, experts say. Often, city regulations or neighborhood codes dictate what is allowed.
Cities typically respect the private policies of a community and "have no interest in what goes on inside the gates," said Joseph DiMento, professor of law and society and planning at University of California, Irvine.
Barring that, cities are hardly bashful about changing the rules and sometimes intervene in disputes, experts said. Still, residents will try to overturn unpopular regulations, they said.
"The powers of zoning and land use are for cities," said Matt Parlow, assistant professor of law at Chapman University in Orange.
Ah, ha! So we're really talking about the right of the city to regulate land use within city boundaries! Well, it looks like the City of San Clemente has clearly intervened in this dispute. They're exercising their right to regulate.
But is this the right to do? It depends on what the city is looking to do.
Perhaps the city has an interest in preserving the character of the neighborhood, and in preserving the views of all the homes on the block. Solana Beach seems to have that interest. In a special election this past March, voters narrowly passed the "Neighborhood Preservation Ordinance" that limits the size of homes on the small lots in six neighborhoods west of the 5 Freeway. Manhattan Beach also seems to have that interest. In April, the city council voted to impose a moratorium on merging properties to make way for more massive homes. Most of the residents of these cities wanted to preserve the "small, welcoming beach town" character of these old neighborhoods, and the cities followed through in respecting the wishes of the residents.
And you know what? This interest is legitimate. If the greater community wants to preserve the character of the community, then the elected officials should respect that the desires of the community. Simple as that.
So the major question here is what do San Clemente residents want. What do San Clemente residents want for Shorecliffs? Do they want all homeowners to be able to "mansionize" to their hearts' content? Or do they want the historic character of the community preserved? And do they prefer that every home in the community have an ocean view? Local governments are the ones that have the true right to determine what standards are set for the community. However local governments are supposed to represent local residents, and they should do what's in the best interest of the local community.
That's what San Clemente needs to decide. And that's what all the other California coastal communities struggling with "mansionization" need to decide. What's in the best interest of the community? And what do members of the community really want for the neighborhood? Ultimately, the people in the community must decide whether their beach cities should protect the right to pursue that grand ocean view.