LADBS Smacks Down 901 Strada Vecchia Appeal, Case Heads To Los Angeles City Attorney

By Matt Lopez of the Beverly Hills Courier

It's been nearly a year since the Los Angeles Department of Building & Safety originally revoked construction permits at 901 Strada Vecchia in Bel-Air.

Then, in April, LADBS inspectors cracked down with an order to remove all unapproved construction.

On Tuesday, the LADBS commissioners decided that 901 Strada Vecchia's time is up.

LADBS commissioners, by a unanimous 4-0 vote (commissioner Javier Nunez was not present), rebuffed an appeal by 901 Strada Vecchia over the LADBS’ order to remove illegal construction. The commissioners found that the LADBS did not “err or abuse its discretion” in handing down the Order to Comply in April. The ruling came down after nearly two hours of testimony and public comment from both sides.

Also denied by LADBS commissioners was a 60-day extension requested by attorneys for 901 Strada, LLC, the owner of the property, to allow extra time for the site to get into compliance. LADBS Inspection Bureau Chief Larry Galstian confirmed after the meeting that the case would be forwarded to L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer for prosecution.

Tuesday's hearing at the LADBS headquarters in downtown Los Angeles painted the picture of a site that, in the eyes of the LADBS, had been problematic from the very beginning.

The presentation on behalf of the city of L.A. noted that 10 orders to comply had been issued to the site dating back to March 2011, just after developer Mohamed Hadid took ownership of the property. According to the city's report, the title changed hands five times since Hadid purchased the property in January 2011.

Among the illegal work 901 Strada Vecchia has been charged with over that time frame is the construction of illegal concrete decks, retaining walls, a below-ground theater, extra rooms and unapproved grading.

Shawn Bayliss, director of Planning and Land Use for Fifth District L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz, said the project owners had “proven the community right time and time again.”

“Mr. Hadid didn’t accidently build an IMAX theater in his basement, and didn’t accidently build suites under his pool,” Bayliss said. “And if he didn’t get caught, he wasn’t going to fix it. He was going to mark up the value to get more for it.”

Attorney's for 901 Strada Vecchia asked for a 60-day extension, arguing that the previous site contractor had been replaced and new experts were being brought on to study the site and assess how to go about bringing it into compliance.

When the April 8 order was handed down by LADBS, the site was given two weeks to remove the illegal construction. A representative from the site's new contractor, Gordon Gibson Construction, said Tuesday the new contractors wanted to do their “due diligence rather than just start tearing it down.”

There was no word on why the previous contractor, Russell Linch, had been removed from the project.

“What we have here is essentially criminal action,” said attorney Victor de la Cruz of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, who represented Bel-Air resident Joe Horacek, who worked tirelessly, and spent millions, to bring the city’s attention to the project. “This developer cannot be trusted for another second.”

901 Strada Vecchia attorney Ben Reznik acknowledged that the site owners are ”not challenging that work that's unapproved appears on the site” but asked “is it reasonable to give this applicant two weeks to comply or not?”

Galstian rebuffed that idea and said the site has had since July 2014 to begin correcting the issues and had not yet done so. He said he didn't see an extra 60 days changing anything.

“This is not a two-week deal,” Galstian said. “We issued this order a year ago.”

The LADBS commissioners agreed and decided they had seen enough.

“My issue is the intent your client has had,” Commissioner George V. Hovaguimian, P.E. told 901 Strada Vecchia's attorneys. “You are bringing in all the new consultants and experts, but how are they going to justify your client deliberately building something he's not supposed to? A new deck, retaining walls? Those things didn't just happen.”

The Bel-Air Homeowners Alliance, as it has throughout the last year, came out in droves in a strong show of support for Horacek and the Bel-Air community at Tuesday’s meeting. The BAHA’s president/CEO paraphrased President Ronald Reagan’s famous challenge to Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev when giving his take on the future of 901 Strada Vecchia.

“Tear down this house!” Rosen said emphatically.