The April 23 Pacific Palisades Community Council newsletter noted that the Highlands Eldercare Project Lawsuit had been denied by a Superior Court judge. “The petition for writ of mandate brought by the Pacific Palisades Residents Association, challenging decisions of the City and Coastal Commission, was denied by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John A. Torribio on April 21, 2020.”
Circling the News asked PPRA President Sarah Conner for comment and learned that neither the PPRA nor its lawyers Tom Donovan and John Murdock had been informed of the ruling.
Murdock told CTN in an April 24 email, “The court issued its order to the prevailing party (the city) with instructions for that party to give notice to all other parties of record.”
Since the Community Council is not a party of record, CTN emailed PPCC President David Card on April 24 for an explanation why it had received the information before the PPRA Attorneys. Card said, “It was publicly available to all in the Superior Court file online.”
Conner said the PPRA was surprised because “The trial in the Palisades Eldercare case was halted on March 12 before the end of the oral arguments.”
At the trial on March 12, during PPRA’s oral argument, Judge Torribio stated:
“This whole thing has kind of changed from what I originally wrote — I may give another tentative and bring you back, because I’m thinking this has really changed a lot. It’s changed substantially more than what I normally see. That’s what I’m inclined to do….I’m just talking about after today’s hearing I am going to redo everything, and I think I’ll set it for — because it changed. First of all, I didn’t give a tentative. Secondly, even on the CEQA stuff and the plan interpretation, it’s changed substantially…” [Pg. 64 – Transcript of Proceedings]
Conner said that PPRA’s attorneys were not allowed to complete their arguments before the trial was halted. They were not even allowed to rebut arguments stated by the City’s counsel shortly before the Court terminated the proceedings and that PPRA did not rest its case.
The parties and their counsel understood that the Court would issue a new tentative ruling and a new trial date would be set. Then the parties would return for further argument. Due to the pandemic crisis the court never gave PPRA notice of a new trial date.
“PPRA believes the trial was never completed,” Conner said. “Since the court has apparently decided not to allow PPRA the opportunity to present the full case—even though the court found significant issues with the project–PPRA will consider all its options including pursuing a more measured decision at the appellate level.”
The legal briefs from PPRA make it clear this is not about building an eldercare facility in the Palisades Highlands at 1525 Palisades Drive, but rather about the City not following its own Codes about allowable size of the proposed building and about other aspects of the project.
L.A. City Planning had approved the Palisades Highlands eldercare facility proposed by developer Rony Shram, but on April 18, 2019, the morning the project went before the West L.A. Planning Commission on appeal, emails showed that Associate Zoning Administrator Henry Chu had discovered that the project was too big per code [it exceeds sq. footage by 10,793 sq. ft.*].
To keep the larger size, the City and Shram now argue that the eldercare facility will be a combination of residential and commercial uses.
At the trial, the City for the first time ever characterized the eldercare facility as a “mixed-use project” and emphatically stated that the project would include a “Bistro” that would be open to the public in order for Los Angeles Municipal Code Section 12.22.A.18(c)(3) to apply.
That section states, “No yard requirements shall apply to the residential portions of buildings located on lots in the CR, C1, C1.5, C2, C4, and C5 Zones used for combined commercial and residential uses, if such portions are used exclusively for residential uses, abut a street, private street or alley, and the first floor of such buildings at ground level is used for commercial uses or for access to the residential portions of such buildings.”
But PPRA points out that the proposed building has residential rooms on the first floor that make the City’s and Mr. Shram’s argument invalid, according to a long-standing legal interpretation in the City’s own Zoning Manual.
Additionally, PPRA argues that the project was improperly granted a Class 32 exemption from CEQA because it incorrectly defines an “infill site.”