The Alliance Files Suit City Of Los Angeles Over Somma Way Project

This article was written by Victoria Talbot and published by the Beverly Hills Courier

The Bel Air Homeowners Alliance (BAHOA, formerly BAHA) is suing the City of Los Angeles, the Board of Building and Safety Commissioners, the Planning and Land Use Management (PLUM) Committee, owner WPG 10697 Somma LLC and applicant Shannon Nonn over the approval of the application to export 29,474 cubic yards of earth from 10697 West Somma Way.

In a hearing Tuesday that was continued from Sept. 23 at a special meeting of the Planning and Land Use Committee of the City of Los Angeles before Councilmembers Jose Huizar, Chair, Councilmember Gilbert Cedillo and Councilmember Mitchell Englander, the application was approved and sent to the Los Angeles City Council Wednesday.

On Wednesday, the City Council (including 11th District Councilman Paul Koretz) unanimously approved the application in one vote with several other applications, denying the BAHOA attorneys comment, though they had filled out a comment card related to the project. The approvals were granted without comment and without discussion.

A lawsuit was filed Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court.

The environmental lawsuit will have priority in the courts and is expected to come to trial within 10 months to a year, said Richard Zeilinga, attorney for the BAHOA. The trial is based on public records and will have no witnesses and no new evidence.

If successful, a Writ of Mandate will be issued vacating all permit approvals and ordering an Environmental Impact Report (EIR). In addition, the plaintiffs may be required to pay attorney’s fees, already six figures, which are expected to be even more substantial.

“By this action we are challenging the Somma Way project and we don’t know how expansive the court order might be,” said Zeilinga.

But it is hoped that the result will be that the City will reconsider their policy of issuing a Mitigated Negative Declaration and consider requiring an EIR for the massive hillside projects that undertake to move thousands of cubic yards of earth through narrow, steep, winding streets, said Zeilinga.

In the fragile hillside environment, prone to slides, fire and floods, the unintended consequences of such massive excavation could be disastrous. Even one stalled truck could be catastrophic.

The Somma Way project has galvanized the community in opposition, opening up the ‘disconnect’ between the residents who oppose the project and are members of the Alliance and the Bel-Air Association (BAA), which submitted a letter of support to the PLUM Committee without discussing it with most of the residents on Somma Way and Stone Canyon who are the major stakeholders, nor the counsel for the Alliance. Fredric D. Rosen, the CEO and President of the Alliance stated, “The BAA has clearly lost its way. I’m not sure who they are trying to protect, but its clearly not the residents who are most impacted by this project. That’s what happens when you operate in a vacuum.” 

In fact, the BAA threatened the community with a restraining order if residents continued to communicate with the BAA, many of them long-time members.

However, as if representing the community, the BAA support letter asked that the developer “contribute $500 to the Bel-Air Associations flagship program ‘Project Pothole,’ which funds are specifically earmarked to repair potholes and other street issues exacerbated by the project’s dirt hauling and construction related vehicles. If the developer uses double axle dirt hauling trucks, we ask that the amount be increased to $750 per 500 cubic yards due to the dramatically increased damage such vehicles cause our streets. This feel shall be paid UPON THE EARLIER TO OCCUR OF: (1) The City of Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety sign-off on the foundation permit or (2) 180 days upon completion of the Haul Route.”

The L.A. Board of Building and Safety Commissioners approved the project on Sept. 2 with a finding that “this project will not have a significant effect on the environment pursuant to the City’s Environmental Guidelines.”

It is unclear how an organization that is not a government agency, is not affiliated with the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Street Services nor with the Department of Public Works, could collect public funds or fix potholes on public streets. The BAA has not answered phone calls.

The BAA denies that they have received money from the Somma developers – which is clear. The conditions they enumerated have not yet been met.

“Its clearly an organization whose membership is declining, which means they are looking for revenue streams wherever they can,” said Rosen. “Their actions here are clearly a betrayal to the residents of Bel Air.”

At the hearing some mitigation was granted, including shortening haul hours to 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. on weekdays only; increasing the number of flagmen from three to five; requiring identification placards to be displayed in each haul vehicle; and allowing only one haul truck at a time within Bel Air –“no crossing of two hauling vehicles shall be allowed.”

The application Nonn submitted enumerated a total of 29,474 cubic yards of earth to be hauled, requiring at least 6,000 truck trips. Somma representatives claim that they actually will “only” be hauling 25,701 cubic yards of soil.

BAHOA attorneys added the previously undisclosed amount estimated to be 19,634 cubic yards of soil required to excavate 270 soldier piles, for which the City of Los Angeles, under the present law, does not include in the cubic yards total---another fact that makes no sense under the existing. building codes

***(In fact, it is unclear, without a permit, if any of the haul route conditions would apply for this additional soil. )---not right—same haul routes apply…

Together, that totals over 50,000 cubic yards of earth.

That amount of earth would require thousands of truck trips over two years – but the permit is only for 180 days.

At the hearing Tuesday, Councilman Paul Koretz’ 11th District Planning and Land Use Deputy Shawn Bayliss asked for additional conditions, including that there be a grading inspector present at the applicants expense to insure the safe removal of earth and that the project be limited to removing the applicant’s stated requirement of 25,701 cubic yards of soil, to which the applicant agreed.

If the project comes to fruition, it is unclear where the trucks would be staging, though with the one-truck limit, it is clear that it would not be in Bel Air. Nor is it clear how, with the limits imposed, the applicant would complete the haul in the allotted time.

The letter submitted by the BAA would actually eliminate the “no crossing of two hauling vehicles” and instead would read, “Staggering: No more than Two Dirt Haul Trucks may be within any project staging area at any time, and Dirt Haul Trucks must be staggered to a minim of ten minutes between the departures of each Dirt Truck leaving the project site.”

In addition, the BAA letter omits the weekend prohibition for hauling and decreases the number of flagmen from five to three.

The support letter from the BAA was followed up with an email that went out twice; first to a select group of members, and then a blind copy sent to and unknown number of homeowners, both members and non-members, authored by BAA attorney Andrew Skale. In it, through their attorney, BAA President Cynthia Arnold accused the BAHOA of harassing emails that were “threatening,” and warned of “an injunction or restraining order.” The letter also says the emails have caused “grave concern” for the “safety and well-being of the principals, Arnold and Paulette DuBey.  Skale charges that all the letters say  “the same thing,” and that “constitutes harassment.”

Rosen asked residents to express their sentiments in their own words, he said. He did not tell them what to say.

Rosen asked that the BAA sit down with the BAHOA. “The Alliance and the residents are against the hauling route – the BAA is for the hauling route, and as a result, is to receive a payment per truckload – which can total $30,000 – so they get money while the neighbors are put in danger . . . exactly who are they helping,” asked Rosen. He wants the two organizations to “set ground rules for a new, larger group with the Alliance and find a way to put the two groups together . . . [to] get a real combined organization that is prepared, strong and well funded.”  The BAA has ignored the offer and has remained silent.  He further commented “ Its all about them—not what’s best for the community as a whole. They still will not provide us with a directory of who their officers and directors are.”