By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Meruelo bought an overlooked industrial site at 1060 Vignes St. last September and tore down four structures that a licensed asbestos inspector says contained toxic materials. Meruelo spokesman Michael Bustamante said the demolition was done “in-house.” South Coast Air Quality Management District is investigating potential environmental crimes. After doing nothing for months, a story in the Weekly prompted the department to threaten Meruelo with a “scorched-earth” action, which would prevent him from developing the property for up to five years. On June 8, a hearing examiner’s report was sent to Adelman for his ruling.
At 761 Terminal St., grading inspectors had issued persistent compliance orders after a 2001 hearing with the City Attorney’s Office, demanding that Meruelo stop all grading activity. A file note from senior inspector John Kelly in January 2003 indicated the scheduling of another hearing, but the department cannot confirm that one occurred.
An adjacent property at 1312-1318 E. Seventh St. led to persistent orders that found lack of operational sprinkler systems and improper fire doors among other defects in the large commercial space. On Monday, 10 inspectors and supervisors descended on 761 Terminal St. to assess its condition. The department did not return calls for comment. “Looked like a whole bunch of folks that didn’t have much to do that day,” said Bustamante.
Residents in Glassell Park also have complained to the city about alleged grading violations at Meruelo’s Taylor Yard property. George Brauckman, president of the Glassell Park Improvement Association, wrote a June 5 letter to Adelman, City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo and South Coast AQMD Board Chairman William Burke. In it, Brauckman claimed that a portion of the property was graded without permits, then paved to make way for a KIA dealership to park cars. Bustamante says Meruelo did not do the grading. Glendale KIA owner Onnik Mehrabian did not return calls.
LAST THURSDAY, AS PROBLEMS at Building and Safety percolated, Orange County Judge David Velasquez ordered Adelman to appear on July 13 to explain why he should not be held in contempt for failure to enforce court orders related to an addition at 909 Greentree Road, in the Rustic Canyon area of Pacific Palisades. Again, the department’s response was swift and puzzling.
Mehr Beglari has been fighting off legal challenges to a 6,500-square-foot, two-story addition to a 2,000-square-foot house since a permit was issued in 2001. Velasquez has ruled, and a court of appeals has agreed, that Beglari relied on an erroneous calculation of the front-yard setback requirement under city law. With each court ruling, however, Beglari has come back with a new permit application that the department has granted.
The case is in Orange County because two of Beglari’s opponents, David Horwitz and Diana Wheatley, are Los Angeles Superior Court judges. In a surprising reaction to Velasquez’s order last week, department officials revoked building permits that they had granted. The move was confusing considering previous hard-line positions taken by the City Attorney’s Office, apparently in defense of Beglari. According to a declaration filed by John Rosenfeld, an attorney who has joined Horwitz in the lawsuit, when Rosenfeld asked former Assistant City Attorney Michael Klekner what the city intended to do about a previously revoked permit, Klekner replied, “Nothing. We’re the Department of Building and Safety. We don’t like to tear down buildings, even when they are unsafe.” Klekner says his remarks were taken out of context. Yet now, with Adelman facing fines or the threat of jail, the city and Beglari are running out of options.
Beglari’s attorney, Mark Baker, is concerned about the department’s fair-weather defense of permits they granted his client. “The city seems to have an attitude of permissiveness until something happens to trigger a knee-jerk reaction.” Baker said he could not rule out a lawsuit against the city if it forces Beglari to tear down the addition. “I don’t understand the relationship between the mayor and the department. It doesn’t seem like he has the department’s back. Or Adelman’s.”
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