In the small gated, wealthy community of Rolling Hills, the status quo is generally embraced, not challenged.

So the fact disgruntled city residents managed to collect enough signatures to place not one, but two measures on the March ballot before the 1,523 registered voters, has the municipal establishment more than miffed.

"The City Council is outraged their authority was challenged and at least two of the council members told me that," said Spencer Karpf, one of four City Council candidates seeking two open seats and the author of Measure A. That would liberalize usage restrictions on private stables in the equestrian-oriented community.

"They want this defeated at all costs so they will say anything," Karpf added. "I felt it was necessary because the existing City Council was not responsive to the needs of the community and that's what the initiative process is all about."

The other measure would change the city's established process of dealing with view impairment issues.

That's a big deal in a community atop the Palos Verdes Peninsula where the scope of a view is a major factor in determining property values that are some of the county's highest.

But city officials say the way the measures are written are so flawed and open to interpretation they fear that if approved the city could end up fighting costly lawsuits or see other unintended consequences.

"It's a horrific way of running a government," said Jeff Piper, who is also running for a council seat, of the twin measures. He is chair of both the Planning Commission and View Committee and has received the endorsements of all City Council members and their counterparts on the influential Rolling Hills Community Association.

"Why have elected officials if you are going to start doing something like this?" Piper added. "I honestly think they will lose by a pretty big margin. We're so conservative I just don't see people voting for these."

The fight over what converted stables can be used for could only take place in a community that since 1972 has required all new homes to also build a stable and corral for horses or provide room for both for future construction.

But only an estimated 10 percent or so of city residents actually have horses these days.

So many residents have quietly converted the interiors to workshops, hobby rooms, exercise rooms or perhaps even an extra bedroom.

That latter use was specifically prohibited when the city revamped its regulations in 2010 on small stables to allow such passive uses as vehicle storage.

But Karpf contends the revision was "replete with contradictions" and "convoluted beyond comprehension" and didn't go far enough.

He declined comment on how he uses his converted stable.

The big fear among city officials is that people will turn them into second units that could allow - horrors - renters into the city.

"It fundamentally changes the nature of our city from a property owner city to rentals," said Councilman Thomas Heinsheimer, who is seeking another four-year term on the panel he has served on since 1972.

"My guess," he added, "is that it will be crushingly defeated."

Property owners would also not have to obtain any conditional use permits to convert their stables to other uses, as long as the structure existed before 2010. And that, of course, is what many have done anyway.

Karpf scoffs at the suggestion the end result will be second dwelling units on properties and says city officials are simply using that as a "scare tactic."

"I'm not in favor of stables being used as second residences," he said. "I'm in favor of stables being used for other allowed, permitted, legitimate purposes."

The second initiative on the ballot -- Measure B -- would limit city view preservation regulations by protecting only views that existed at the time the owner acquired the property.

Current city law allows a property owner to apply to the city for restoration of a view that would exist were it not obscured by vegetation on a neighboring property.

But Richard Colyear, a 47-year city resident, believes that's fundamentally unfair. 

Why, he reasons, should a property owner who paid less for a property with an obscured view seek to restore it, boosting its value at the potential expense of a neighbor's property values?

Colyear observed that the city currently has four lawsuits -- including one he filed -- on its hands as a result of its "vague" view preservation regulations.

"You can't do worse than that," he said.

His measure would also exempt "mature" vegetation from being cut to restore views and apply to all view related decisions made since 1988.

Exactly what that means is unclear, critics counter.

"This whole thing is about (Colyear) from being annoyed by his neighbors," Heinsheimer said. "It's deliberately written to cause chaos and confusion and really deserves to be brutally crushed."


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