(Editor’s note: I wrote this story in June 2017 and I’m reprinting it for people who may have not followed the sign issue, that was raised when the Palisadian-Post, which occupies one office in the 881 Alma Real Building, was allowed to put up two over-sized signs.)
At the May 25 Pacific Palisades Community Council meeting, representatives for two City officials responded to community outrage regarding a Superior Court ruling that will allow two illegal Palisadian-Post signs to be placed on the building parapet at 881 Alma Real.
Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Westside Area Representative Daniel Tam and Councilman Mike Bonin’s Senior Planner Ezra Gale listened as residents and the PPCC asked them to do something about the Superior Court ruling that overturns not only the Palisades Design Review Board decision, but also a West L.A. Planning decision because of the Permit Streamlining Act.
Many residents like Donna Vaccarino, a DRB member, wanted to know why the ruling couldn’t be litigated.
Garcetti’s representative Daniel Tam said that something was in the works. The News contacted the Mayor’s public information officer George Kivork, who wrote on June 2: “Since the litigation is technically not final and conclusive, I cannot speak to any of the specific details at this time.”
PPCC President Maryam Zar acknowledged that she had been told the City Attorney wouldn’t litigate, but she wanted to know what could be done to prevent a similar situation in the future.
“As Ezra communicated at the [Community Council] meeting, Councilmember Bonin was incredibly frustrated with the process in this situation and is taking steps to address the issues raised,” the councilman’s public information officer David Graham-Caso wrote in a June 2 email to the News.
Yet, others questioned why it took the City Planning Department a year to provide the required paperwork to the Palisadian-Post, trigging the Act.
The News asked Graham-Caso that question. He responded: “Your question would be best directed to the City Attorney’s office, which was responsible for filing the appeal.”
The News contacted Rob Wilcox in L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer’s office, but had not received a response by press time.
Zar has tried to contact Palisadian-Post owner Alan Smolinisky to appeal to his civic pride and follow the Palisades Specific Plan, but he had not returned her email. At the meeting, Area 6 first alternate David Peterson said he was friends with Smolinisky and would speak with him.
Zar was asked if she had contacted the building’s owner, Eric Kroh. No, but she planned to.
The controversy started at a May 2015 hearing before the DRB. Attorney David Ruben, of Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton, represented the Post and the signs. Ruben said: “This isn’t the biggest proposal in the world, there isn’t a lot to say. We took care to make sure the signs are with the size [allowed by] the Specific Plan. They are the logo and service mark of the Palisadian-Post.
“One of the signs will go where a prior First Interstate sign was [located] and we’re proposing placing them on two sides, so that all of the people can see the signs,” he said. “The paper has been in existence for 87 years and it would be a nice thing for such an old paper to be recognized.”
DRB member Donna Vaccarino said the signs did not follow Palisades Specific Plan guidelines because the logo sign was 27 ft. long and the height 4’1.” Both measurements were beyond the allowed limits.
“We think the signs are proportionate to the building and don’t dominate the building,” Ruben said.
The 89,856-sq.-ft., multi-tenant building is owned by Kroh, founder and president of Sandstone Properties. The Post occupies about 2,600 feet of space.
DRB Vice Chair David Hibbert told Ruben that section 13.B.3. of the Pacific Palisades Commercial Village Neighborhoods Specific Plan stated: “For all buildings occupied by several businesses or uses, the size of signs pertaining to each business or use is governed by the proportion of the building frontage occupied by that business or use.”
“I don’t think that is relevant,” Ruben said.
“Signs are placed immediately adjacent to the businesses they advertise,” Hibbert replied. “The Palisadian-Post has no association with this building whatsoever.”
Ruben asked if this was personal on the part of the DRB members. “Does this have to do with signs or something else?”
The six members present assured the lawyer it was strictly a signage compliance issue.
“The Specific Plan was developed in 1985 to stop the proliferation of signs [in the business district],” Hibbert noted.
Ruben argued that the proposed Post signs would be building identification signs. This was an argument the DRB also rejected.
Rick Mills, a former member of the DRB for 13 years and chair for eight, spoke against the application during the public comment period
“I’ve seen a lot of sign applications,” Mills said, noting that the Alma Real building and the First Interstate sign at the top of it predated the Specific Plan, so that particular sign was grandfathered in. “When a nonconforming sign is removed there is no right to replace it.”
“One of the goals of the Specific Plan was to get rid of signs like the Interstate sign,” Hibbert said.
When the DRB members voted to oppose the signage application, Ruben reminded them, “You have discretion to make a recommendation, but the City can overrule that.”
Actually, the City Planning Department agreed with the DRB, but then failed to release its findings in a timely manner.
Last month, DRB President Barbara Kohn told the News in an e-mail, “Reuben corresponded with city planner/planning department until 2016, bombarding the city with legal papers during which time I continually requested status.”
Reuben filed papers with the Superior Court, arguing that the City had violated the Permit Streamlining Act (65921). A hearing was held March 29. In the court document, Reuben stated that the initial application for the signage was filed on April 7, 2015 and the case heard on May 15, but that the City didn’t issue a decision until April 22, 2016, which was more than a year from the initial filing. Reuben argued that this violated the Act.
According to Court papers, L.A. City Planning had to act within 10 calendar days following the DRB’s decision. The Act states that an agency has 30 days after an application is submitted to inform the applicant whether or not the application is complete. If an agency fails to approve or disapprove the permit within the time limits, the permit is subject to being “deemed approved.”
Superior Court Judge Amy D. Hogue wrote that “Sections 11.5.7.C and 16.50E do not require the Planning Department to specifically provide notice of Project Permit Compliance process. . . and as a result, Petitioner’s Application was ‘deemed approved’ as of June 8, 2015.”
As Community Council Legal Counsel Ron Dean noted, “All systems fail at some point. But in this case, a minor failure still results in a project going forward, no matter how illegal it might be.
“The City should encourage the state to amend the Streamlining Act to provide for graduated penalties,” Dean said.