Pizzulli Seeks to Build Eight
Homes along Las Pulgas Canyon
By SARAH STOCKMAN
Special to Circling the News
(Editor’s note: Stockman has been reporting on this controversial project since its inception.)
On October 1, the Los Angeles Department of City Planning held a public hearing about the potential development of eight residential lots on Marquette Street along the lip of Las Pulgas Canyon. At the hearing, residents submitted comments and concerns about the project.
Interior architect Cosimo Pizzulli submitted plans in February 2017 to convert the acre of land he currently lives on into eight single-family homes, ranging in size between 5,317 and 8,053 sq. ft., and each with a swimming pool.
More than 30 residents of Las Casas Ave., Marquette, Bienveneda Ave., and Grenola St. attended the meeting. Eighteen of them spoke in opposition of the project as it currently stands.
The biggest concerns involve the narrowness of Marquette Street, the sewer (most residents on Marquette are on septic tanks), and the geological and ecological stability of Las Pulgas Canyon.
The canyon, which is touted as the last remaining undeveloped coastal canyon in L.A., has a long and contentious history. In the 1990s a developer wanted to build 180 homes but gave up after a geological study found the property to be worth negative $10.5 million due to its extreme instability. It was then sold to Barry Maiten, who has mostly left the canyon alone.
Many residents who live along the rim of the canyon have experienced erosion on their properties and fear more building, including the addition of eight pools, would make the fragile canyon even more vulnerable.
One of those opposed to the project used to live on part of the property Pizzulli now owns. She told Kenton Trinh, the Department of City Planning representative, that in 1982 after heavy rains half of her backyard slid into the canyon.
A general consensus among neighbors was that the geological report Pizzulli submitted to the City, conducted by Byer Geotechnical, did not do a very thorough job.
Lawyer Neill Brower from Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP represented Pizzulli. He tried to assuage neighbors’ fears about the geological instability of the canyon in his opening statement.
“While older maps had indicated that the project site and areas immediately surrounding it might be prone to landslides, direct physical observation of soil samples taken from the project site indicate in fact there are no landslides on the project site itself,” Brower said.
This did not reassure various residents in the audience.
“I feel there are many weaknesses in the report and it needs to be amended,” one resident said.
“There’s pretty serious evidence that a slope failure would be a great risk with the amount of grading he’s [Pizzulli’s] planning to do,” another resident said.
Marvin Zuckerman, who has lived on Marquette for 53 years, showed Circling the News an August 12 Letter of Concern he sent to Trinh. In it he cites a 1976 geological study done by the U.S. Army Engineers that showed the fragility of Las Pulgas Canyon.
“The Landslide Study… is a professional, unbiased report, unlike the report bought and paid for by Mr. Pizzulli,” Zuckerman wrote. “It gives an objective view of this landslide-prone area, which time has not changed.”
Another resident echoed Zuckerman’s fears: “When I moved in 16 years ago I wanted to put in a seepage pit, but I was denied because they found an ancient landslide,” she said. “I’m directly across from him [Pizzulli], so how can the ancient landslide not be on his property?”
Pizzulli himself cited the same report when he applied to get permits to build a retaining wall in 1999. According to the May 5, 2000 report released by the City approving the project, “The site, including the existing dwelling, is located on a prehistoric landslide.”
The Byer report did not mention any ancient landslides.
Another concern related to geology is that the site itself has very much changed since the City originally split the property Pizzulli lives on into eight lots in 1928.
“The boundaries… were done in 1928–90 years ago,” one resident pointed out. “The terrain and ecology of this area has changed dramatically in 90 years.”
“The lots… it’s a steep canyon wall,” one resident said. “If you look at a map, it looks fine, but if you go in there [the canyon] I’m not sure how they’re going to make it into lots.”
Another resident agreed: “The Byer report… did not test the area they’re going to build the lots from. There are no lots there, it’s a cliff.”
A big issue at play is the sewer system. Most residents on Marquette are on septic tanks. When Pizzulli originally submitted his plans, he tried to get the neighbors on board by promising that he was going to build a sewer line along Marquette that connected to the main City sewer line on Las Casas. He promised residents that they would be allowed to connect to the sewer as well.
At the meeting, Pizzulli’s lawyer Neill Brower revealed that this was no longer the case. “The current proposal is for a private sewer built entirely on the project site for collection purposes… It’s about a 500-foot run,” he said.
So far, there are no construction plans available for this private sewer, which angered residents at the meeting. CTN contacted Kenton Trinh and asked for a copy of these plans, as have many residents, but we have not yet received a reply.
Rick Mills, who is the elected neighborhood representative for this area on the Pacific Palisades Community Council, spoke on behalf of the council.
“The Community Council has not reviewed this project and has taken no position on it whatsoever,” Mills said. “The Civic League… did review the homes and determined that the homes themselves were in the allotted building envelopes.”
It is important to note that the Civic League only makes sure houses built in the Palisades comply architecturally. They do not look at geology, coastal compliance or environmental factors.
Len Nguyen, who serves as Councilmember Mike Bonin’s Planning Deputy, was present at the meeting. He noted that he had done a walk through with some residents in November 2017.
“I did tour the site at the time with some concerned residents and Debbie Dyner Harris,” he said. “We [Bonin and staff] don’t have an official position.”
CTN contacted the Department of City Planning Public Relations Specialist Lauren Alba about what happens now.
“This case is currently under advisement, which allows the applicant and the public to submit any additional information and/or comments for four weeks from the date of the public hearing,” Alba said.
The Department of City Planning takes any information that was presented during the meeting and all concerns and comments into account. If the project is given the green light, there are ways to appeal.
“The decision of the Department can be appealed to the West LA Area Planning Commission, in addition to the Coastal Commission, which enforces a 20-day appeal period of their own,” Alba said.
The Community Council will discuss the project at its meeting this Thursday, October 25, at 7 p.m. at the Palisades Library community room. The public is invited.