The Topa Topas and Ojai’s famous “Pink Moment” are visible from Tim Setnicka’s back yard over brush planted on producer Jerry Bruckheimer’s property. Rancho La Vista, Bruckheimer’s home, is visible in the left center of the photo. Recently, local homeowners reached an agreement with Bruckheimer saying that he would keep the vegetation trimmed to preserve resident’s views.
Photo and report by Logan Hall
A bitter feud between neighbors in the Ojai Valley appears to have finally been resolved this month. With Ventura County Supervisor Steve Bennett mitigating, movie and TV producer Jerry Bruckheimer came to an agreement with neighboring homeowners that effectively ended a more than two-year battle regarding vegetation planted on Bruckheimer’s $20-million property, Rancho La Vista (formerly Milner’s Ranch).
“As long as everyone is happy,” Bruckheimer told the OVN, “we’re happy. We always try to support the community.”
After moving to the Mira Monte property, Bruckheimer — whose producer credits include the “CSI” TV series and blockbusters like “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “National Treasure” — began a massive landscaping undertaking that involved planting trees and large shrubs along much of the property’s perimeter, which encompasses 400 acres between Villanova Road and Tiara, Sumac and Valley Meadow drives. A large part of the estate is visible from dozens of homes in neighborhoods along those roads. “They want privacy and we all respect that,” said homeowner Tim Setnicka, who shares a property boundary with the Bruckheimers. “But it was affecting me because the planting they did along the edge of the property grew up and obstructed my view of the Topa Topas.”
The homeowner’s association in the area filed a complaint with the County of Ventura but county officials stated that the Bruckheimers weren’t violating county code and no action was taken. The association filed for an appeal which one area homeowner, who requested to remain anonymous, said the county only gave the citizens two days to come up with $2,000 to pay for the appeal. “We were within our rights according to county code,” said the anonymous resident, “but the county said there were no violations. It became a really bad issue.” The money was quickly raised, however, and the appeals process was set in motion.
Setnicka, meanwhile, had a different tactic.
He believed that all the fighting could be remedied by using a simple method — talking directly to the Bruckheimers. “Everything was just automatically escalated to sub-litigation level,” said Setnicka. “It was ridiculous. No one had bothered to reasonably approach the Bruckheimers yet.”
Setnicka says that his encounters with the family and their representatives left a good impression on him. “My experience with the Bruckheimers has been 100 percent positive,” said Setnicka. “I got a personal response from the Bruckheimers saying they wanted to be good neighbors. The letter was very positive. I’m very, very appreciative of them working with us like this.”
It was right around that time that an article was written in the Los Angeles Times about the issue by columnist Steve Lopez. Some involved believed that the piece written by Lopez might have been a catalyst that brought the issue to the forefront. Bruckheimer says he wanted to help solve the situation long before the story was ever printed.
“We’ve been trying to do the right thing all along,” said Bruckheimer. “That was always our intention.”
The article seemed to have been a red flag for county officials, however. “I got involved right after the L.A. Times article came out,” admitted Bennett.
Starting by making a visit to the neighborhood, Bennett began to develop a dialogue between longtime residents and the Bruckheimers. Through negotiations, Bennett says he was able to get both sides to come to an agreement. The agreement, which is in writing and signed by Bruckheimer according to area residents, stipulates that Rancho La Vista landscapers regularly trim the acacia trees and other vegetation that border neighboring properties to restore their views of Ojai’s mountains.
Although there seems to be mixed feelings among homeowners about the issue itself, most involved said that Bennett was a major help in moving negotiations along.
“Steve did a magnificent job in handling the issue,” said Setnicka. “He came out and looked around and started discussing what could be done.”
Another resident, Jackie Kuehn, who also has property bordering the Bruckheimers’, shares Setnicka’s thoughts on Bennett’s involvement. “We owe Steve Bennett a lot,” she said.
Everyone involved who spoke with the OVN agreed the problem has been solved, and as long as the Bruckheimers stick to the agreement, everyone should remain copacetic.
“At this point,” said Kuehn, “we have a great relationship with the Bruckheimers. We would have never gotten this done without the support of the community though.”
Bruckheimer says his family likes the valley and wishes he could spend more time in the area. “Because of my travel schedule,” he said, “we don’t get up there as often as we’d like. But I hope to change that soon.”