What if you received a Coastal Exemption Permit from the City of L.A. Planning Department in early 2016 to build a covered porch (that nestles against your house) and then in early 2017 you received another Coastal Exemption Permit for an uncovered deck that extends from your backyard?
Since your property is along the rim of Potrero Canyon (where the City is constructing a public park), you also received clearance from the non-mandated ZI requirement.
Work begins in August 2017 and by late November, the porch is completed and the deck, which will hold solar panels, is poured. Construction is 90 percent completed, when you receive a notice from the City declaring an “Intent to Revoke Permits,” with no explanation given.
That scenario happened to Lou and Wendy Magur, who have lived on DePauw Street since 2002.
“We contacted the City through several emails and telephone calls,” son Alex Magur recently told Circling the News, as he explained the saga of the porch and deck. “We were trying to find out why we received the notice.”
Following my recent interview with the Magur family, I contacted City Planning and received a copy of the initial Coastal Development Permit (CDP) that was issued in November 2000. That permit allowed for construction of the house on DePauw and then stated under Condition Six, “Any future improvements to the permitted structure, including but not limited to repair or maintenance…which are proposed within the restricted area shall require an amendment to Coastal Development Permit.”
The Magurs did go to the City in 2016, and the City approved an exemption for his covered porch. The City later said it issued this permit in error (the person approving it later retired).
On February 21 this week, a City Planning spokesperson told Circling the News in a telephone call that the Magurs should have filed for a new CDP.
Back on February 5 at a West L.A. Planning Commission meeting (which was a continuance from a December 4 meeting), the commissioners heard an appeal filed by two neighbors of the Magurs, objecting to the City granting an exemption/amendment to the original CDP.
Commissioners Michael Newhouse, Lisa Waltz Morocco, Esther Margulies Heather Rozman and Adele Yellin listened as Senior City Planner Debbie Lawrence explained why the City approved the deck and porch.
Then the board heard from Recreation and Parks Commissioner Joe Halper, Pacific Palisades Community Council President David Card, Temescal Canyon Association President Gil Dembo and two neighbors about why that exemption decision by the City was wrong and should be reversed.
“There was no notice of the building. The structure was poured over the weekend,” one neighbor said. “This project is out of character and wrecks the view [for eventual hikers in the canyon].”
The Magurs had permits from the City and showed CTN records that the porch construction started in early August 2017 and concrete pouring for the deck started on a Tuesday in October 2017.
“This has pipes and electric coming out of it,” the neighbor said, speaking about the deck. “There will be an attempt to put something else on top of it.”
A second neighbor added, “It’s a huge concrete deck and will be the most prominent thing along the canyon wall.”
A spokesperson for the Magur family explained that the electric wiring was for solar panels (that would not be visible from the park). He showed vegetation that would be planted along the pylons and the deck to soften the project lines, as suggested by the commissioners at the December 4, 2019 hearing.
Lou Magur told CTN, “At that December hearing, the commissioners stated they did not like the concrete deck and might take action if we could not show plantings that would screen the pylons.
“Additionally, they suggested that we work with our neighbors to find common ground,” he said, adding that this had not happened.
“There was never a plan to build a permanent structure on top of this deck,” Magur said.
His spokesperson also showed the commissioners photos of other properties along the canyon rim. “These are significant exposed retaining walls,” he said. “Yet all of these constructions have been approved.”
At the February hearing, Alex Magur said, “We feel like we are being singled out.” He then showed examples of structures on El Medio that overhang Temescal Gateway Park and along Radcliffe that overhang Temescal Canyon Park (they are under the purview of the Recreation and Parks Board of Commissioners).
The spokesperson for the Magurs added, “Everything was done above board; it was all properly permitted.”
Halper said that the Rec and Parks Board voted [4-0] at a special meeting held on January 27 to support the two neighbors’ appeal because “the primary asset of Potrero Canyon Park is the park’s scenic quality.”
The resolution passed by Rec and Parks noted that the 46-acre passive park that has cost well over $20 million, should follow Chapter 3 of the California Coastal Act, which states: “Development in areas adjacent to . . . parks and recreation areas shall be sited and designed to prevent impacts which would significantly degrade those areas, and should be compatible with the continuance of those habitat and recreation.” (Visit: www.coastal.ca.gov/fedcd/cach3.pdf , – sections: 30240, 30251, 30007 and 30200).
Halper, who sat on the West L.A. Planning Commission before being appointed as a Park Commissioner, argued at the February 5 hearing that “Potrero Canyon Park, whose primary asset is its scenic quality, has been denigrated by the construction of a large concrete deck and pylons on the canyon slope, the scale, location, and size of which aversely impinge on the natural views in the park.”
Card, who sat on the Potrero Canyon Citizens Advisory Committee, said that “Views are of paramount importance,” and added “We are not in favor of building on slopes. The Community Council is against this project and supports the appeal.”
TCA’s Dembo said, “Following correct procedure does not make it legal under the Coastal Act. Potrero Canyon is a scenic and visual area, it should be protected.”
“There are 140 houses on the rim, but only two or three that encroach like this one,” Dembo added. “This structure should be removed, not modified.”
Two of the commissioners, in making a determination to uphold the neighbors’ appeal, said that Lisa Cahill, Councilman Mike Bonin’s field deputy, had arranged for them to take a tour of the canyon that morning.
Cahill told CTN in a February 18 email that the commissioners had contacted her, and she arranged the visit through the Bureau of Engineering.
“My focus took a huge turn when I was taken down the canyon to the ocean,” Commissioner Waltz-Morocco said. “There were a few offending properties, but when I stood on the trail, all I saw was this imposing concrete structure [the Magur deck]. I felt like I was under a freeway.”
Commissioner Margulies added, “We saw this deck overhanging. It comes within five feet of the property line. We looked across the canyon and there is little or no enforcement of 12.20.2 (L.A City Code Section 12.20.2).” This code states “In making its determination, the granting authority shall not approve or conditionally approve a permit unless it makes a written finding. . .supporting the following conclusions: 1) The development is in conformity with Chapter 3 of the CA Coastal Act, commencing with Section 30200.)
Lou Magur told CTN in a February 17 email, “The required setback is five feet, we are abiding by the setback; that can’t be said for other properties.”
“Screening is not working,” Margulies said at the Commission’s February hearing. “Enforcement is not the City’s forte.”
Proposed landscaping by the Magurs to hide the pylons was deemed unacceptable by commissioners because it would be a fuel source and “there is a probability there will be a fire.”
Ultimately, by a 5-0 vote, the West L.A. Planning Commission upheld the neighbors’ appeal, stating that the Magurs’ deck was a violation of Chapter 3 of the Coastal Act.
Circling the News reached out to Councilman Mike Bonin’s field deputy Lisa Cahill in a February 13 email asking about the Commission’s hearing. She provided a telephone number for the commissioners, who did not return a call.
CTN met with the Magurs on February 12 at their home on DePauw. They have lived in Pacific Palisades since 1988 and feel like they have been treated inequitably. They stressed that they had applied for and had received valid permits for everything they did.
“We just want everyone to play by the same rules,” they said. “It needs to be equal. Throughout the canyon you see solid bare walls, non-native plants and unpermitted work. Nothing has been done [about those actions].”
Lou pointed out, “We have been blasted and consequently singled out in the court of public opinion, by neighbors and people in power spreading rumors and misinformation.”
“We just want to be subject to the same standard as everyone else,” son Alex said.
The irony of the situation is the initial destruction of Potrero Canyon by the powers-that-were, for the sake of a few short-sighted property owners who bought land too close to the edge of the canyon. Sorry, a bit off-topic, I know…
Great follow up, Sue! You covered every question I had. I was at the last PPCC meeting when this issue was discussed. I wasn’t familiar with the property, but the next day, I walked my dogs over by the canyon so I could see the house(s). I was struck by two things…it seems that everybody has big decks clearly visible in the canyon. And. Members of PPCC outraged by these decks but voted “good idea” to build a big four story building on a canyon hillside overlooking State Park land in the Palisades Highlands. Hypocrisy in action. I hope these same people send checks to the PPRA legal fund for the upcoming court date in March to fight a much bigger building and encroachment that they helped push forward.