VIDEO: Laurel Canyon Residents 'Mad as Hell' at Hillside House-Flipper, Department of Building and Safety
The fuming neighbors along Grand View Drive should really give the rest of L.A.'s neighborhood activists a lesson in how to sway the city to your cause.
They just put together this super-impressive YouTube saga, titled "We're Mad As Hell," to demonstrate what they consider to be an egregious lack of oversight by Department of Building and Safety on a series of nearby construction projects.
"I was subjected to four years of misery..."
"... by this builder of 8401 Grand View from the years 2006 to 2010," says a guy who lives at 8417 Grand View, a couple houses over.
He and other residents claim that during that time, while turning the house at 8401 into a three-story mansion with a pool, Santa Monica developer Michael Smith ravaged the skinny, fragile streets leading up to the construction site by plowing backhoes and excavators through without padding.
Another lady, who awesomely does her interview while wearing a bathrobe (so Hollywood Hills!), says that "all the rats from this hillside came running down the hill to my house the last time they did construction here. It went on and on and on."
Also included in the video is an NBC LA interview with teary-eyed neighbor Hannah Meltzer from 2007. Meltzer reportedly moved out of her home because she was afraid Smith's tractors would slide down the hill and possibly kill her sons while they played in her yard:
That whole nightmare ended two years ago. But just last month, contractor Smith returned to Laurel Canyon -- digging in the shovel for what residents are calling another rogue mansionization at 8407 and 8409 Grand View.
Smith brushes off their accusations, saying "the neighbors have a lot of time on their hands."
"The basic thing is that the owner bought additional lots with the intention to add on, because he's a guy that really wanted a pool," Smith tells LA Weekly. "It's not unusual to have pools up there."
But the stars of "We Are Mad as Hell" don't seem so mad about the pools as about the Department of Building and Safety's failure to ensure Smith built them in a manner that didn't put surrounding residents through hell.
8407 and 8409 Grand View sit bottom center, with 8401 directly to the northwest:
"I would like to know how someone could bring a 15-ton backhoe in, break down the guardrails, bring it up the street without padding and have every department in the city drop the ball," says another guy in the video, wearing sweet sunglasses and carrying a clipboard. "Somebody should have stopped this guy way before he got started."
They've raised such a racket that about one month ago, a city field inspector came out to the construction site and revoked its permit.
Smith calls it "a clerical paperwork issue" that arose after his client "was never told he had to" attend a neighborhood hearing in order to get his street-improvement requirements waived.
"No one has never been enforced to do that because it's too expensive," says Smith. Technically, however -- according to a city ordinance on street improvements at construction sites -- "the Planning Department should have sent [the property owner] to a neighborhood hearing, and they made a mistake."
So it appears some city official, caught in a confusing maze of cross-department responsibility (or lack thereof), simply waived the requirement without any community input. Not surprising, considering the FBI is currently investigating Department of Building and Safety inspectors for taking bribes in exchange for blind signatures.
This, says Laurel Canyon activist Skip Haynes, is precisely why residents are calling for a Condition Compliance Unit to be formed within the Department of City Planning.
And thanks to their persistence (and killer YouTube skills), they've got City Councilman Paul Koretz on board. Koretz wrote on CityWatch last week:
I discussed this problem with Michael LoGrande, Planning Director for the City of Los Angeles, and asked him for a solution. What he has suggested, and what I have now formally proposed for inclusion in the budget, is the creation of a Condition Compliance Unit that will operate within the Planning Department to enforce conditions on various Zoning Administrator cases ranging from restaurants and private schools to coastal development permits and yard adjustments. ...
This proposal does not require any new ordinance or laws; it simply requires hiring three individuals to do the work. These positions are not paid for out of the City's General Fund, in fact every cent of their salary and benefits will be paid for out of development application fees and any fines or penalties from violators.
I think this program is long overdue and I hope you will join me in supporting its inclusion in the City's 2012-2013 budget.
Let the streamlining begin! We're thinking even developers might appreciate a smoother approval process, and one that informs them of all the neighborhood hoops they'll have to jump through in order to get their backhoe up Laurel Canyon's finicky curves without incident.
The council could vote on the Condition Compliance Unit as early as this Friday, which wouldn't be a day too soon.