Neighbors Are Angry and Frustrated over Confusing Residential Building Regulations. What Can Be Done?

Originally this house on Bollinger was supposed to be a remodel of a single-story ranch house that had a detached garage.  It was allowed as a remodel, rather than new construction, because of the existing frame in the back of the lot. (Below) It now towers over the rest of the neighborhood.

One resident wrote to Circling the News and said, “During this ‘stay-at-home time’ I’d love to open my doors and let the fresh air come in, save on air conditioning and lighting. But I can’t from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. because of the constant noise of the mammoth machines pounding and digging up the foundation for a mega-mansion [on our street].

“Over one year and they are still digging. The decibels I’m sure are far above allowable but so many of us are tired of trying to get something done. I admit to not trying on this one as I’ve failed on others before this.  Someone is being paid off for all the exceptions being made, only, it seems, to these investors. I’m sure this home will go for $6M or more.”

Circling the News understands the frustration that even though residents register complaints with Building and Safety and with Councilman Mike Bonin’s office, there seems to be no relief and daily residential construction dust and noise.

For example, a 1947 house on a 7,916- -sq.-ft. lot at 16815 Bollinger, in the Marquez neighborhood, was demolished in early 2016. The notice said it was a remodel and that a Coastal Exemption had been granted.

The entire building was razed as well as the detached garage, but then the project was shut down by the City. The Department of Building and Safety was contacted and Luke Zamperini, chief inspector for residential inspection, explained the situation.

“These properties [house and garage] were both considered remodels with very specific plans as to what was to remain of the original structures. The Bollinger project was stopped because they removed more of the original structure than was presented to the Planning Department during the plan-approval process,” Zamerini wrote.

The demolition plan indicated that at least 90 percent of the exterior walls would be removed, which exceeds the maximum allowed for a Coastal Exemption. This invalidated the Coastal Exemption and triggered the requirement to obtain a Coastal Development Permit.

The City took the correct action by shutting down the entire project, but unfortunately the neighbors have to live with an eyesore that went uncompleted for several years.

When the project started up again in late 2019, neighbors once again complained to Building and Safety about the ensuing height of a building that appeared to be four-stories high.

CTN contacted Building and Safety spokesperson Kim Arthur, who replied that permits were pulled on July 18, 2019 for a major second story, a basement and a remodel to a single-family dwelling with garage.

Arthur was told that the previous house had its permits revoked and the framing sat for almost four years.

In January this year, another resident wrote an email to CTN: “One cannot add or remodel a single-family dwelling that was never built and does not exist. Also, this new construction should have been required to have Coastal Commission approval as was required when the original illegal construction was required to have.”

The developer applied for and received an additional permit in November 2019 to add new windows and change roofs to balconies. “This house from the street level has to be close to 45 feet high,” the resident wrote. “This is the height of a large apartment or office building.”

Arthur never responded to follow-up questions in mid-January about the house. An update email was sent on May 15.

He responded on May 18 that there was an open and active permit and that “a Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety inspector is still conducting rough framing and mechanical inspections.”

CTN responded “The question residents have is how the permit was granted in the first place, the original single-family ranch house with a detached garage was razed and a new one started. Building and Safety pulled those permits. The building sat vacant for four years. The most recent permits were not based on the original project.”

At 16820 Edgar Street, the permit was for a two-story, 31-ft. tall single-family dwelling. Neighbors said “it is a 3-story, 37 ft.+ structure. “Rather than remedying by having the rooftop tower’s size reduced, it looks as if Plan Check has erred and has recently, simply reclassified the structure as a 3 story SFD.

(https://www.ladbsservices2.lacity.org/OnlineServices/PermitReport/PcisPermitDetail?id1=16010&id2=30003&id3=00730)

If this is the case, the neighbor wrote than findings made in the Determination for the CDP are no longer true and the CDP itself is invalid, which means the tower should be removed.

Arthur was also asked about the Edgar Street house and had not responded by post time.

Neighbors fought the Department of Building and Safety over the Beglari House and eventually won a settlement from the City.

Many may remember the controversial Beglari house in Rustic Canyon. Almost 20 years of legal problems and lawsuits came to an end when the house was razed  at 909 and 921 Greentree Rd. in September 2019.

In that case, the Department of Building and Safety had made an error in issuing a residential building permit and, in 2007, five Pacific Palisades residents who had pursued the case in court and prevailed, were awarded $425,000. (The total cost to taxpayers was close to $600,000 with legal costs.)

What can residents do about construction they feel is not consistent with code?

The first step is checking with L.A. Building and Safety to make sure the proper permits are in place.

Bollinger residents discovered there were permits, but they did not reflect the initial demolition.

Councilman Mike Bonin,

The second step is to contact Councilman Mike Bonin and ask for help. It’s worth remembering what the L.A. Times wrote on its editorial page on May 15. “The unwritten understanding in Los Angeles is that council districts are fiefdoms over which council members have sole discretion to make real estate development decisions, including whether a project gets a tax break or an exemption from land-use rules.”

You can also go to ethics.lacity.org and find out if the developer has paid for a lobbyist who can legally give money to the City to help push a project through. Visit: https://ethics.lacity.org/lobbying/.

For example, Palisadian Cosimo Pizzulli, who has pushed to build eight homes on Marquette Street, uses Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell LLP. That firm also lists Saeed and Siamak Kohanoff (Shell gas station makeover at Via and Sunset) and Palisades Drive LP (Rony Shram, developer of the proposed eldercare facility in the Highlands) as clients, paid through December 2019.

One can also find out if someone has donated to Bonin. Visit:  viaethics.lacity.org/data/campaigns/contributions/. The total amount of money listed from 2013 to present is $301,488.67, with $91,573 listed as total miscellaneous to cash. Contributors include Rick Caruso, Richard Riordan and Reza Akef.

Those are the recorded donations. Office holders are allowed to solicit benefit charitable organizations for behest payments or donations that do not have to be disclosed if under $5,000.

According to a December 2019 L.A. Times editorial (“L.A. Says It Banned Developer Political Contributions. But the Job is Only Half-Finished”), “Whether it’s a large campaign donation or a behested contribution to a charity, money is being exchanged in most cases with the intent to curry favor with an elected official. That’s why more than half of behested payments reported by L.A. politicians over the last five years came from donors with business before City Hall.”

Under a new City ordinance, real estate developers will be barred from giving political contributions to Los Angeles city officials and candidates for council, mayor or city attorney while the city weighs key approvals for their building projects, including zone changes and allowing added height.

The editorial pointed out, “Critics complained that the ban was full of loopholes, allowing developers to continue currying favor with politicians at City Hall.”

The law doesn’t go into effect for more than two years and “does not prohibit developers from hosting fundraisers or raising money from other donors.” Critics also said the law doesn’t apply to major subcontractors on a development project.

Step Three. If you are a lawyer or know a lawyer, you can pay them to take the case to court.

Step Four. If you cannot afford legal fees, the one recourse is voting in the next election.

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