About half of the 75 people watching the Pacific Palisades Community Council meeting on Zoom on July 23 had questions about the proposed Eldercare building at 1525 Palisades Dr. in the Highlands.
Resident Harris Leven asked Councilman Mike Bonin if he could support taking the project from four stories to three stories, which would bring it within established City guidelines. (With this project, the City is allowing a building that is 20 percent larger than allowed by code. (https://www.circlingthenews.com/hearing-involvin…l-begin-march-12/ ).
“This would ameliorate some of the problems,” Leven said.
Bonin replied, “The City has already approved the project” and noted that while people have claimed that the developer, Rony Shram, paid him off, it was a false accusation.
“I’ve met Rony Shram at three or four functions and we sat together at the Chamber of Commerce installation [dinner],” said Bonin, who denied any more than a passing acquaintance with Shram. “I’ve never taken money from him.”
Levin responded, “You’ve taken money from his lobbyists and lawyers.” At this point, Council Chair David Card stopped the interchange before it could continue.
Circling the News has learned from City records that Rony Shram has paid City lobbyist firm Jeffer Mangels Butler & Mitchell nearly $500,000 to push this project through the City. In the second quarter of 2018, Palisades Drive, L.P. (1525 Palisades Dr., owned by Rony Shram) paid $85,449 to Jeffer Mangels and in the third quarter, Shram paid the firm $121,9388.
In early 2016, Ben Reznick, a partner at Jeffer Mangels, donated nearly $40,000 to Bonin’s 2017 City Council campaign. The first amount was given on February 6, 2016 ($20,848) and the second donation was April 21 ($18,048 plus $700 for Bonin’s office account. An officeholder account is used by City Council members to pay for discretionary items.)
Bonin’s office staff met with Rony Shram prior to the April Area Planning Commission hearing.
According to emails received by CTN, on April 6, Josh Gertler, president and CEO of Consensus, Inc., a PR firm in Burbank, who was working with Shram, wrote: “Krista and Len, In follow up to our previous meetings and discussions about the Palisades Elder Care Project, we would like to request an in-person meeting with both you ahead of the April 18 APC meeting. Here are some dates and times (in order of preference that work for our team to meet at City Hall: Thursday, April 12, at 11:30 a.m. or Wednesday, April 11, after 3:30 p.m.”
Krista Kline is Bonin’s director of land use and planning, and Len Nguyen is Bonin’s planning deputy.
A meeting was arranged for April 11 at 2 p.m. and Kevin McDonnell (partner with Jeffer Mangels) responded to Nguyen, Kline, Gertler and Shram on April 10. “I will see you then. BTW did you receive the black binder with my appeal rebuttal letter and attachments that should have been delivered Friday?” Len responded, “Yes I am looking at it now on my desk lol.”
Later emails confirmed the meeting and that Gertler, Shram and McDonnell were to email their car make and license plate number so they could park under City Hall. Bonin’s administrative deputy, David Duran, took care of the parking arrangements.
Jeffer Mangels listed 15 lobbying activities for 1525 Palisades Drive, starting in the second quarter of 2015 at Building and Safety, with the last lobbying done in front of the City Council in the first quarter of 2020.
L.A. City Planning had approved the Palisades Highlands eldercare facility proposed by developer Shram, but on April 18, 2018 the morning the project was to go before the West L.A. Planning Commission, 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.*].
CTN received emails that Chu sent to Shram’s attorney, Kevin McDonnell, about the error, and McDonnell responded: “We’ll address it if it comes up.’” Chu never told any of those opposing the project that he now knew about the error.
The project, backed by Council District 11 and Bonin, was approved by the Planning Commission. Later, project opponents discovered the emails that revealed the City knew the building was too large. (https://www.circlingthenews.com/emails-reveal-ci…oo-large-by-code/)
Shram sent an email to Kline “Just wanted to thank you both for all your help with the eldercare project and the preparation for last night’s hearing. I am so grateful for the support we received from you personally as well as the CD 11 office. Great job with the presentation.”
A CEQA appeal was next filed with the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Committee (PLUM), which scheduled the appeal hearing for June 5.
Gertler sent a May 29, 2018 email to Nguyen: “Again thank you very much for your help in getting this item calendared so quickly. In preparation for next week’s hearing, Rony and I would like to meet with you in person ahead of June 5.”
Two days later, Nguyen replied to Shram and Gertler in an email: “I reiterated Councilman Bonin’s support for the project and that my remarks that day will be to urge PLUM to deny the appeal.”
Although Bonin claims he has no more than a casual friendship with Shram, and denies receiving funds from the developer, it appears that his staff was familiar with Shram and his lobbyist.
The questions continued at the PPPCC meeting regarding the Eldercare project.
Joann Barry told Bonin, “I am concerned about this project. The developer has no experience in this area.”
Bonin defended the decision, saying “We have an urgent need for seniors to be close to relatives. This [project] has been upheld as a legal and sensible one. Taking care of our seniors is a public health issue.”
(Editor’s note: When this project was proposed, assisted living was available at Atria, the eldercare facility on Sunset near Via de la Paz.)
This will be Shram’s first venture into developing an eldercare facility. With Covid-19, “age was far and away the most significant factor, with patients in their 80s more than 20 times likely to die of Covid-19 than someone in their 50s,” according to researchers at the University of Oxford and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. The L.A. County of Public Health has reported as of July 23, of the 4,035 who have died in the county, about 1,412 people have died in nursing homes because of Covid-19.
Barry asked Bonin, “What if a developer repurposed this project? Would you commit to precluding it for other purposes?”
The resident explained that at a Superior Court hearing on March 12, the City for the first time characterized the eldercare facility as a “mixed-use project” that would include a “Bistro” open to the public.
Bonin said he would not support repurposing the project.
Robert Flick told Bonin that the project is still being litigated and that more than 1,000 people signed a petition against it. “Are you aware of a concrete retaining wall that is 280 feet long and 10 feet high?” Flick asked, noting that the wall was not brought up in any of the City hearings.
Bonin said, “This is the first I’ve heard of it. I’ll have my staff look into it.”
A 2016 Preserve LA story (“Powerful City Hall Lobbyists Raised $123,046 for Politicians”) noted that “Politicians get big money from developers and lobbyists, lobbyists rake in millions from developers, and developers make huge profits from the help of politicians and lobbyists.”