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Former State Treasurer Troubled by Santa Monica Neighbor’s Hedge

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and MarkHarding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Santa Monica Convention and Visitors BureauWhen one lives in a city as breathtakingly beautiful and unique as Santa Monica, inevitably that city will be shared with visitors.

By Jason Islas
Lookout reporter

April 2, 2014 -- Santa Monica resident and former State Treasurer Phil Angelides’ most recent challenge isn’t deciding where to invest billions of California’s dollars or getting to the bottom of America’s most recent financial crisis.

Angelide’s most recent battle is a matter of 12 feet.

The former gubernatorial candidate and chair of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission is trying -- along with the City’s Code Enforcement Division -- to get his neighbors to trim their 40-foot hedge, which he says has grown to nearly twice its permitted height, blocking the views from the condo along Pacific Coast Highway where he lives with his wife.

“We are appreciative of the City of Santa Monica's ongoing efforts to enforce its ordinance,” Angelides said in an official statement Tuesday.

Angelides, his attorneys from the Santa Monica law firm Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, a handful of City officials and his neighbor -- hedge owner Leana Greene -- crowded into a small conference room in City Hall's neighboring parking structure Tuesday morning to hold an informal hearing to determine the future of the embattled hedge.

Code Enforcement Officer Roberto Trejo testified Tuesday that, in January, after Angelides filed an official complaint, he investigated the hedge in question and found that it was a full 12 feet taller than the 28 feet allowed.

The Greenes’ hedge is one of about 2,600 hedges, fences or walls that exceed the City’s 12-foot height limit but were “grandfathered” in after a heated battle with residents.

The “Hedge Wars” fought by many well-heeled and some well-known Santa Monicans -- including playwright David Mamet -- launched the political career of former Mayor Bobby Shriver after the Kennedy family member was told to trim his hedge.

In November 2003, the City began enforcing hedge height limits which had been on the books since the 1940s. Some residents received notice that they could be fined up to $25,000 a day.
Shriver, currently a candidate for L.A. County Supervisor, won a Council seat by a landslide in 2004 and in 2007, the hedge ordinance was amended to allow residents to keep their hedges at their then-current heights.

While Greene and her husband -- preeminent personal injury attorney Browne Greene -- contend their hedge has always been at its current height, Code Enforcement said that records show the couple registered the hedge’s height at 28 feet in 2007.

“These trees were there before the condo building,” Leana Greene told the hearing officer Tuesday. “What we’re asking for is what the (2007) law originally intended.”

Greene also claimed that she had mistakenly registered the height of the hedge at 28 feet, when, in reality, it had always been the same height.

But Angelides, who moved into the condo in 2005, disagreed. He provided the hearing officer with pictures of the condo’s north-facing window in 2007 and in 2014, showing that the hedge had significantly blocked his view.

“Along with other affected homeowners, we remain hopeful that the property owners cited by the City will choose to comply with the City's compliance order and citation,” he said.

The hearing officer will make a determination within 30 days, officials said.

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