BISHOP v. HANES
Court of Appeals of California, First District, Division One.
Filed October 27, 2011.
Before the Bishops bought their property, their parcel and the Haneses' parcel were both part of one, larger parcel owned by Lynn and Bernice Aldrich ("The Aldriches"). At the time they bought the property, the Bishops negotiated for and obtained a covenant running with both parcels of land to protect their panoramic views of the San Francisco Bay, Peninsula, and skyline, downtown Oakland, the Oakland Estuary, the island city of Alameda, Yerba Buena Island, the Golden Gate and Bay Bridges and the Marin Headlands. The covenant limited the height of structures that could be built on the downhill parcel. The covenant was recorded against both parcels on the same day as the grant deed.
B. The Genesis of the Dispute.
Between 1964 and 1986, the Bishops were able to amicably resolve view obstruction issues with their downhill neighbors, including the Haneses. Whenever trees or vegetation began to encroach upon the Bishops' views, the Bishops' neighbors would allow them to enter their land to cut and trim the trees and vegetation. However, by 1987, the relationship between the Bishops and the Haneses had become strained. The Haneses felt that the Bishops had a cavalier attitude towards the Haneses' property and privacy rights, entering their property at will to cut down trees and vegetation, leaving the cutting debris in the Haneses' yard, and allowing their workmen to use and block the Haneses' driveway in order to gain access to the rear of the Bishops' lot.
In 1990, the Haneses moved away from the Bay Area and rented out the house.2 Between 1990 and 1994, the Haneses gave the Bishops permission to cut trees on their property under a property manager's supervision. However, when Mrs. Hanes visited the property periodically, she discovered that the trees had been "crew cut" and "the yard was a mess." At that point, the Haneses forbade the Bishops to cut trees on their property and subsequently erected a six-foot chain link fence to prevent the Bishops and their workmen from "[using the property] like it was a public thoroughfare." The Bishops felt that the fence obstructed their view. And, the trees and vegetation continued to grow unabated. After numerous failed attempts to resolve the view dispute by mediation in the late 1990's through 2001, the Bishops sought legal counsel to restore and protect their views.
C. The First Action and Trial.
In 2001, the Bishops filed a lawsuit against the Haneses seeking injunctive relief to have the fence removed or lowered, and the trees and vegetation cut. Alternatively, the Bishops asked for monetary damages. Their action was based on the elevation requirements of the 1964 agreement between the Bishops and the Aldriches, the Haneses' predecessors in interest. In addition, the Bishops sought injunctive relief to require the Haneses to trim or remove certain trees and vegetation so as to restore and preserve the views previously enjoyed by the Bishops, based on Oakland's then extant View Ordinance. (Oakland Mun. Code, tit. 15, §§ 15.52.010 et. seq.)
After a two-day trial in January 2003, at which seven witnesses testified, the court found for defendants and against the plaintiffs on their view claims. In its statement of decision, the court ruled that the September 1964 view agreement between the Bishops and the Aldriches did not bind the Haneses because the Haneses did not have constructive notice of any restrictions placed on their property by the agreement between the Bishops and the Aldriches. The court also ruled that the Oakland View Ordinance protected views from obstruction by "`[t]rees or vegetation' "only in that view corridor "`designated on the site development map of the North Oakland Hills Area Specific Plan'" [hereafter NOHASP], and that "[t]he residential parcels owned by the Plaintiffs and the Defendants are outside the parameters of the site development map of the [NOHASP]." Therefore, "[t]he Oakland View Ordinance does not apply."