Emails Reveal City Officials Knew Proposed Highlands Eldercare Facility Was Too Large by Code

The proposed Highlands eldercare building is too large by code.
Rendering: Urbanize LA

Emails obtained by Circling the News reveal that City officials know the proposed eldercare facility in the Highlands was too large per City code. The proposed 64,646 sq. ft. building should be no larger than 52,274 sq.ft.

To determine the building size, the allowable Floor Area Ratio of 1.5 is multiplied by the lot size minus setback areas (43,098 sq. ft. – 8,249 sq.ft. = 34,849 sq. ft.). The proposed building is 12,370 sq.ft. or 23 percent larger than the City ordinance allows.

Opponents of the project had argued the building was too large. A West Los Angeles Area Planning Commission (APC) meeting was scheduled for the evening of April 18, this year, to hear an appeal.

That morning at 8:04 a.m., Associate Zoning Administrator Henry Chu emailed Chief of Development Services Charmie Huynh:

“There’s an eldercare project in the Pacific Palisades area where that’s [sic] going to appeal tonight [April 18]. One of the things the applicant, Kevin McDonell [attorney for the developer Shram] mentioned was that he was told by the either the counter of case management that in determining the floor area allowed, the lot area could be considers as the buildable area. The property is zoned C1. . .I was looking through the Code and the definition section and could [sic] find anything for such (The definition section did not state the C1 zone in which lot area could be considered as buildable area). If there is a section in the Code that states this, and if so, could you point me to it?”

Huynh replied 40 minutes later “12.03 definition for buildable area allows only the C2, C4 and C5 zones to consider lot area as buildable area. C1 zone is not included. I checked our case management file and looked through the meeting minutes of their pre-development meeting. It states that they understood that buildable area for C1 Zone is lot minus setbacks.”

Chu then sent an email to the developer’s lawyer alerting him of the findings, and also to Oscar Medellin, a Deputy City Attorney in the Land Use Division of the City Attorney’s office:

“The applicant’s rep stated that if DBS (Department of Building and Safety) requires to build at a lower floor area, they would. The rep said he runs into this situation all the time. They will proceed with the appeal case and address the issue when it comes up.”

Medellin responded, “I think the issue over floor area will prevent the APC from being able to make the required findings for both the CDP [Coastal Development Permit] and Site Plan Review. I think they need to see the version of the project that is allowed under the code before making these findings.”

Medellin’s reply was sent to McDonnell, but not to the Pacific Palisades Residents Association or any others who had registered a protest.

At the meeting that night, the developers sidestepped the size argument and said that they had pre-plan meetings with the City and that the approval of the 64,000 sq.ft. was the maximum the building could be.

Neither Chu nor Medellin spoke about the Code violation at the meeting. The APC Commissioners did not address the size violation but approved the project.

Circling the News contacted the West L.A. Area Planning Commissioners on November 14, specifically addressing Esther Margulies, Michael Newhouse and Lisa Waltz Morocco, the three commissioners who had heard the case.

CTN asked, “If the Eldercare project had followed code, the building size would have been reduced from 64,646 sq. ft. to 52,274 sq. ft. If Chu had made that public that evening, would it have changed your recommendation?”

A November 18 email from APC to CTN stated, “Your email will be shared with the West L.A. Planning Commission.”

On November 7, CTN sent an email to developer Rony Shram: “I would like to do an update on the Eldercare facility. Other than a grading approval in April, has anything else been approved by the City?

“Additionally, I was told the proposed building (64,646 sq. ft) size, is 23 percent more than allowed by code.  That to figure the building size, you take the lot area minus the setback area (buildable area-not lot size), which means the building should be no more than 52,274 sq. ft. Is this correct?”

Shram has not responded.

CTN sent an email to LA City Planning and Chief External Affairs Officer Yeghig L. Keshishian about the proposed building size, and he responded on November 21.

“The project’s permitted buildable area was discussed during the deliberations of the project at the West LA Area Planning Commission meeting,” he said. “Among others, it was raised by one of the appellants.

“The applicant did not however seek a deviation from the zoning code to allow a larger building than what would be allowed by-right,” Keshishian said. “The applicant will need to demonstrate compliance with the zoning regulations at the time they apply for a building permit.”

The Pacific Palisades Community Council Land Use Committee was also not informed of the variance in code. According to the PPCC’s website: “It is PPCC’s policy to review those projects only where variances or other code waivers are requested by the applicant, or when there is substantial community interest in a particular project.”

The PPCC never discussed a waiver.

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13 Responses to Emails Reveal City Officials Knew Proposed Highlands Eldercare Facility Was Too Large by Code

  1. Aileen Haugh says:

    Thank you so much Sue for reporting on this. This project was the first time in my life that I got involved going to every meeting held—HOA, PPCC, LUC, Building and Safety, West LA Planning Commission, Grading, Coastal Commission, PPRA. When the proposal for the old Jack and the Box site came up I started going to those to see if things would unfold in the same way. I had attended some of the meetings for Palisades Village. I have compared the three projects in how they were presented to us and how they unfolded. Fascinating and educational civics lesson. And somewhat depressing.
    I’m going to make sure all my neighbors in the Highlands read this! Thank you again.

  2. Diana says:

    Brava Sue. Excellent investigative work. We sleep easy knowing CTN is “on it”…

  3. Lana Singer says:

    Thank you for your follow up and involvement in trying to reopen and rectify this facility.
    What can be done now by all of us concerned with the facts of why this facility should not be given the go ahead?

  4. C. Jones says:

    Excellent update Sue. It’s easy to see how incorrect building happens.

  5. Janis Gallo says:

    I hope that those that are working on the lawsuit are continuing the fight against this unlawful project.

  6. Tom Meade says:

    Second that.

  7. Bruce Schwartz says:

    Scrap the project

  8. Patty Dobrowitsky says:

    Thank you Sue. The PPCC should be ashamed.

  9. Mary Nelson says:

    What an ugly out of place building. Greed greed greed greed greed.
    Thank you Sue.

  10. Diane Bleak says:

    Thank you Sue, Thank you HUG, Thank you Pacific Palisades Resident Association and to all who knew that truth and honesty would eventually prevail.

  11. Daniel Pauer says:

    Good job Sue getting those emails. Maybe those emails could open up access to more emails. Out the truth.

  12. Jonathan Klar says:


    Thank you for raising these import zoning violations. For your information, the following is the excerpt from my appeal brief filed before the WLA APC. It spoon fed the committee and the City of the existence of these violations. The appeal briefs of at least two other appellants made virtually the same arguments.

    A. The Building Exceeds Maximum Square Footage Limits by 12,494.6 Square Feet.
    1. In approving a 64,646-square foot building, the Decision erroneously computed the permitted maximum size of the Building to be 1.50 times the Site’s gross square footage of 43,033.2, rather than 1.50 times the Site’s “Buildable Area,” which is only 34,767.6 square feet. If the 1.50 FAR been correctly multiplied by the “Buildable Area,” the Facility’s size would have been limited to 52,151.4 maximum square feet, some 12,494.6 less than the Decision approved.
    2. LAMC section 12.21.1A states, “The total floor area contained in all the main buildings on a lot in a commercial or industrial zone in Height District No. 1 shall not exceed one-and-one-half times the buildable area of said lot.” LAMC section 12.03 defines “Buildable Area” as “that portion of a lot located within the proper zone for the proposed main building, excluding those portions of the lot which must be reserved for. . . building line setback space. . ..” These setbacks are required by the Decision and are shown on the approved set of plans
    3. These required setbacks are as follows: (i) 10 feet along the 132.52-foot boundary fronting Palisades Drive = 1,325 square feet; (ii) 7 feet along the 324-foot boundary fronting Vereda de la Montura = 2,268 square feet; (iii) 7 feet along the 175-foot boundary that adjoins the commercial lot to south = 1,225 square feet; and (iv) 16 feet along the 237.1-foot boundary that adjoins the parklands on the west-southwestern side of the lot = 3,793.6 square feet. The aggregate square footage of these four required setback strips equals 8,611.6 square feet. However, to account for overlapping setbacks of 346 square feet, the net total square footage of the required setbacks is 8,265.6 (8,611.6 – 346).
    4. The calculation of Buildable Area under LAMC section 12.03 is a matter of simple arithmetic. The gross lot size is 43,033.2 square feet, which, after deducting 8,265.6 square feet of required setbacks, equals 34,767.6 square feet of net Buildable Area. Multiplying by a 1.50 FAR, the Facility would be limited to 52,151.4 square feet (i.e., 34,767.6 x 1.5), about 12,494.6 square feet less than the 64,646 approved by the Decision.

  13. Carmel Kadrnka says:

    Hmmmm…inquiring minds ask questions when this sort of thing happens. The question is why it happened. I wonder if this will lead to an ethics investigation?

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