After months of claiming no illegal work was being done at the notorious Bel-Air megamansion 901 Strada Vecchia, Los Angeles Building and Safety officials reversed course this week and hammered the site over a multitude of new code violations.
Los Angeles Department of Building & Safety Chief Inspector Luke Zamperini confirmed to The Courier that LADBS officials found additional code violations at the site during a walkthrough of the property Monday.
An inspection of the site on Monday produced a list of 18 different types of unpermitted work that had been done in violation of a previous stop-work order. That list included everything from the installation of new concrete decking, an accessory pool deck structure, new retaining walls, new stairways, electrical wiring, new heating and air ducts and much more.
The inspection also uncovered 12 unapproved changes to the approved floor plan.
901 Strada Vecchia and its celebrity developer Mohamed Hadid have drawn the ire of Bel-Air residents for months after neighbor Joe Horacek, who lives below the property, worked tirelessly over the last year to get the city of L.A. to provide oversight to what he believed was unpermitted, illegal work taking place at the site.
Indeed in September, city officials finally stepped in and revoked the project's permits while issuing a stop-work order, but according to neighbors, LADBS flatly ignored continuing construction work.
Monday’s LADBS findings gave validity to months of outcry from those residents who claimed that construction was continuing at the site in violation of the stop-work order, right under the nose of LADBS officials who did nothing to stop it. Some of those residents have told The Courier that workers on the site have threatened them as they tried to investigate the ongoing construction.
As recently as February 12, LADBS insisted no illegal construction was being done at the site. In a February 12 e-mail to city officials, residents and other stakeholders, LADBS Chief Inspector Jeff Napier said: “My staff checks this site almost everyday and sometimes twice a day to ensure that there is no ongoing construction. The builder has a few maintenance workers at the site to monitor the slopes, and maintenance the property daily, in order to maintain and control brush clearance and basic cleaning, as well as watering and protecting the structure from the weather.”
Napier continued: “I will assure everyone that construction is not moving forward...”
Napier tone echoed a similar e-mail four months earlier, when resident concerns first came to light in late September, the same month the permits were revoked.
In a September 30 e-mail, Napier said: “My inspector is fully capable of determining whether or not work is taking place and as I stated in my last response there is no continuing construction taking place.”
Again in late October, Zamperini told The Courier that the project was visited nearly daily by city inspectors, and that only site maintenance and weatherproofing were being done. He said the crews on the site were “maintaining the property… it is a maintenance crew, not a construction crew.”
Zamperini’s story changed Thursday. After months of LADBS insisting no work had been done, Zamperini claimed that while inspectors had been able to view portions of the site previously, Monday was “the first time department managers have been allowed on the site.”
“They tried to do the work in secret,” Zamperini said. “If we have active permits, an inspector can walk in, but it’s still a private property and they have to allow us to enter. They did that on Monday.”
Zamperini added that previously “there were areas inspectors could not get to because of slope being covered with tarps.”
In complete contrast to the city’s claims, Ben Reznik, an attorney for 901 Strada Vecchia, claims the LADBS knew about and was OK with whatever work had been ongoing at the site.
“There have been 250 inspections during construction, daily inspections in the last several months,” Reznik said.
The project was fined $336 and has until April 22 to come into compliance with LADBS’ latest findings. What that essentially means, Zamperini said, is that all the unapproved construction must be torn down in the next 13 days, or criminal charges could be filed by the City Attorney’s office.
“He will not be able to get new permits until he demolishes and removes that which was done without approvals,” Zamperini said.
Victor De la Cruz, an attorney for neighbor Joe Horacek, who has spearheaded litigation and public awareness of the project, said the city hasn’t gone far enough.
“Although we’re pleased that the city has confirmed for itself that this property owner has undertaken a massive amount of construction in violation of the Stop Work Order and the approved plans, we’re confused that yet another Order to Comply would be issued.” De la Cruz said.
The property owner has ignored approximately 10 Orders to Comply already, each one of which has stated that violations may trigger criminal misdemeanor charges, including jail time. At what point does the city protect adjacent homeowners and put an end to this once and for all?