THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-This past week, I was honored to be invited to a meeting of some of the core members of Save Valley Village, a group that has been laser-focused on ensuring neighborhood integrity and fair development. Each member is facing his or her own battles, including invasive demolition of houses or buildings in their backyards or steps away from their own homes. (Photo above: demolition of Marilyn Monroe house in Valley Village.) The support and advice the members shared with each other touched me. This is at the heart of democracy and what makes our country great. It’s easy to feel disillusioned and that we have no power when it feels like politicians in Washington, Sacramento, and City Hall rubber stamp the needs of special interests while ignoring the average voter. But activists like the folks at Save Valley Village and other groups we are profiling are proof that this doesn’t have to be the case.
At the heart of the agenda was a rather obscure definition of “major remodel,” buried in a 1991 memo for a non-conforming project. It seems developers and contractors have been taking advantage of this loophole, submitting the wrong permits that promise to save existing houses and instead tear down the structures, saving just a couple of two by fours and nails.
One member explained how the city eases the path for developers. The zoning administrator can give bonuses and enforcement is discretionary at best. When neighbors have called to complain that builders are “breaking laws and mandates, Building and Safety makes excuses that they’re understaffed.”
In one case, the yard of a home next to a project was flooded and developed mold. The neighbor called 311 but the employee refused to take a report. “As per Krekorian’s MO, the developer demolished without a permit. There was to be a cultural hearing the very next day,” said the frustrated member. Although Vince Bertoni, former head of Pasadena’s Planning and Community Development Department, has replaced Michael LoGrande as planning director, little seems to have changed.
The rash of demolitions in Valley Village and nearby areas has led to environmental concerns, a loss of oak trees and historic properties, as well as rental evictions, a dearth of affordable housing units and increased traffic, all concerns for Save Valley Village residents who were preparing for a public hearing to address the Horace Heidt Estates apartments’ proposed expansion on Magnolia and Hazeltine.
Another project addressed was the Hermitage/Weddington project. Per Save Valley Village, Urban-Blox (Raffi Shirinian, David Dual) has decided to move forward with the planning project.
A 21-year resident is in litigation with property owners because “their grandson tried to sell the property to developers behind her back, aware that the owners had an agreement to sell to her.” The resident “has lived, run, and breathed this property and was very close to the original owner who had built it.”
The developers now propose to remove a public street, demolish a single family home with guest house, a rent-controlled triplex, and another five units in one of the first buildings that was developed in 1934. The ensuing project would also destroy over three dozen trees.
Community members attended the first public hearing on March 29 in opposition. Save Valley Village turned in over 200 pages of evidence of non-compliance, requiring the developers to do a full EIR. They also turned in piles of letters in opposition from the community, historians, naturalists, arbor consultants, non-profits and “all kinds of public voices.” Each of the hearing attendees signed a pink sheet that promised delivery of a letter of determination, listing the time frame for appeal. Once that date has passed, there’s no chance for appeal.
As of last week, not a single resident has received a letter of determination, which the city claims to have mailed. In fact, not a single resident even received notice of the initial March hearing. Save Valley Village is unable to file appeals as of yet without sending a representative to the department of planning, which is charging for copies on top of making it difficult to access the information.
“We lost three buildings down the street, a total of 19 rent-controlled units, because nothing was posted anywhere. The city has refused to show us records and made it impossible to appeal the project,” shares a disgruntled member. “They have also destroyed 14 trees, which had bird nests in them. Birds are still circling where their home was. Urban-Blox has never actually built anything. They work with a guy named Steve Nazemmi who is in a dozen or so projects in Valley Village that he has demolished.”
Although these skirmishes against developers seem to pop up like gophers or moles -- uphill battles with lack of transparency from developers, the city’s Planning Department and the Building and Safety departments -- Save Valley Village and other groups around the city are dedicated to continuing to protect neighborhoods and the quality of life in our city.
(Beth Cone Kramer is a successful Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.) Photo: LA Daily News. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.