ShIrli Weiss's offer to pay for trimming of the neighbor's trees four times a year went nowhere.
To keep Del Mar's essential services going amid the pandemic, the city proposed a pause on tree and view complaints through June 30, 2021.
It didn't go well.
To many residents, defending a scenic view from a neighbor's overgrown trees is part of the very fabric of life in the seaside town. "One of the few advantages of living in Del Mar over San Diego is view protection of some degree," Scott Reineck said in a letter.
"Ocean views are too important to be delayed, especially now with everyone being home most of the time," wrote Shannon Taylor.
The city council backed off from the resolution last week after hearing from many residents who demanded that the Trees, Scenic Views and Sunlight ordinance stand.
"I know you can figure out a way to continue with the ordinance," wrote Ali Quintas.
But it won't be easy. Severe budget cuts have slashed the city's workforce by 10 percent. Two planning positions were lost, and tree and view complaints are what takes up the most time.
The ordinance allows homeowners who want to restore views or sunlight blocked by a neighbor's vegetation within 300 feet of their property to enlist the city's help.
According to a staff report, the $3,790 fee to process a Trees, Scenic Views, and Sunlight Ordinance application is only about half the actual cost of service that goes into each permit.
No fees are charged for an informal inquiry – explaining the process to potential applicants and vetting issues – but it takes one to three times longer than an application. The full process takes about 92 hours.
In contrast, a single-family residence requires roughly 84 hours for standard design review processing – one of the essential services the staff hoped to save by halting view complaints.
Other services that will have to jostle for less staff time range from coastal development and conditional-use permits to encroachment and tree removal permits, as well as long-range planning and code enforcement.
The ordinance always intended for neighbors to try to resolve tree disputes before the city got involved. But within a year of its adoption in 2002, the applications began.
When it's a protected tree at stake, a Torrey Pine or Monterey Cypress, things get more complicated, but non-native trees are part of the fray.
Condo owners at Del Mar Woods have filed dozens of complaints over a neighbor's 40-foot eucalyptus trees and other growth. These complaints continue today.
An agreement by the property owner to trim the trees twice a year and remove some of them didn't restore everyone's whitewater views. ShIrli Weiss's offer to pay for trimming of the neighbor's trees four times a year went nowhere.
Her case was denied by the planning commission, appealed to the city council, which deadlocked, and finally landed in San Diego Superior Court with a request that the city re-hear the dispute or come up with a new trimming agreement.
Weiss wrote in to oppose the city's current plan and suggest changes to the ordinance, which the city admits hasn't been updated since its adoption in 2002. It's long been on the work plan, but due to pandemic and staff cuts, the focus shifted to conserving resources for the most important services.
Suspending the ordinance won't stop trees from growing and hampering views, Weiss said. The city should have a mandatory tree trimming program.
Right now, the ordinance favors the tree owner "with the perverse incentive" to let trees keep growing because if he wins a scenic view application, he wins. And if he loses?
"The applicant has to pay to trim his trees."