The Eldercare Appeal will be heard by the California 2nd District Court of Appeal on January 26 at 9 a.m. during an hour-long oral argument.
This case concerns the four-story building at the corner of Palisades Drive and Vereda de la Montura, which is opposed by more than 1,500 residents.
The appellant, Pacific Palisades Residents Association, is arguing: 1) that the planned (and now built) building exceeds the floor space (size) limitation in the City’s Planning and Zoning Code, and the exception to the Code claimed by the developers does not apply;* 2) because of the violation of the Code and inconsistencies with the Brentwood-Pacific Palisades Community Plan the City improperly granted the project a Categorical Exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act; and 3) the project violates numerous provisions of the California Coastal Act.
The defendants: Los Angeles City, Builder/Owner Rony Shram -Palisades Drive LP, and the Attorney General, on behalf of the Coastal Commission, will be given a half hour to present their side.
The .99-acre site, which is next to the Santa Ynez Trailhead had been open space since the Highlands were developed in the early 1970s. Moshe Shram, Rony’s father, had purchased the property in 2013 with the intention of building 33 condominiums on the site but did not receive community support, which would have involved numerous Planning and Zone Code variances.
In June 2017, Rony Shram came back with a different proposal for the property, a 64,646-sq.-ft. four-story eldercare facility. The site was zoned C1, which allows offices, certain businesses, and light commercial uses. The facility was to have 82 units, with 59 rooms for assisted living care and 23 for Alzheimer’s/Dementia care.
The plan was initially approved by the City, despite the large number of residents filing written objections and more than a thousand signing a petition to protest the project.
Residents felt the project was too large; that it put elderly in a very high fire severity zone in the Highlands (one road in and out), and the four-story structure was out of character of the neighborhood. That decision was appealed before the West L.A. Planning Commission in April 2019.
Associate Zoning Administrator Henry Chu, the morning before the project came before the Commission, discovered there had been an error and a violation of the City’s Planning and Zoning Code in figuring building size.
Chu then sent an email to the developer’s lawyer alerting him of his discovery, and also to Oscar Medellin, a Deputy City Attorney in the Land Use Division of the City Attorney’s office. Mr. Chu did not alert the opponents of the project of the error.
The Area Planning Commissioners had been given hundreds of pages of information to read before the hearing, but neither Chu nor Medellin spoke about the code violation during the hearing, in which Commissioners voted 3-0 to overrule the appeals of Pacific Palisades Highlands’ residents.
Councilman Mike Bonin was a staunch supporter of the project (he had received legal contributions from the Shrams). When the project went before the Coastal Commission, even though Commissioner Mary Luevano had said she would not accept ex-parte communications, she said that Bonin had texted her just such a communication, “He just wanted to let me know he is in favor of the project and most people in the community are in favor of it and that we need it.”
*(Editor’s note: The calculation of Buildable Area under LAMC section 12.03 is simple arithmetic. The gross lot size is 43,097 square feet, which, after deducting 7195 square feet of required setback yards, equals 35,902 square feet of net Buildable Area. Multiplying by a 1.50 FAR, the facility would be limited to 53,853 square feet (i.e., 35,902 x 1.5), about 10,793 square feet less than the 64,646 approved by the City.)