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
“Dear Mr. Adelman,” reads another letter dated July 5, from the Bel-Air Beverly Hills Crest Neighborhood Council. “The council unanimously and strongly urges that construction activities at 8401 Grandview Drive be immediately suspended. There is great concern that the existing situation is unsafe and presents dangerous conditions, leaving the City of L.A. responsible.” Photos of Grandview Drive show loose earth poking through the metal plates that hold up the hillside. A conveyor belt secured only by a rope hovers above a nearby house. Owner-builder Michael Smith has been entitled to less scrutiny than commercial builders, his neighbors contend. Smith, an aerospace engineer, says he’s just “trying to build a little house,” and that “the city supports my efforts.” Communications from neighbors to city officials describe unsecured rolls of rebar, chunks of asphalt left by the hilly roadside, cracks in the road and road closures. “Weiss’ office told me to call the police if I want illegal construction stopped,” says Jacqueline McLaughlin, who works in the film industry. “People are getting shot in Watts; who wants to send a cop up to Laurel Canyon to shut down a rogue developer?” Hanna Melzer, who lives below the project and has had chunks of asphalt fall on her property, wrote to Adelman and Weiss this week, “I am at the mercy of Mr. Smith’s permit. I am living in fear and my children are anxious.”
Joan Luchs, president of the Cahuenga Pass Neighborhood Association, vice president of the Hillside Federation and a member of the Mulholland Design Review Board, has been battling Adelman and his executive officer, Ray Chan, for years. In 2001, after she disputed bogus numbers sent to her by a building inspector in support of a project on the Mulholland Scenic Corridor, she received a notice that her own home was being scheduled for reinspection. She regarded the notice as an attempt to intimidate her and she fought back, forcing the department to revise the project she had been protesting. On June 16, she met with Adelman and gave him a tour of her Hollywood hillside community. “City leaders should not be supporting a circumvention of legal process,” Luchs said, pointing to an item on the building commission agenda this week in which a developer obtained approval for excavation of 19,800 cubic feet of dirt on just two parcels without environmental review. On Tuesday the building commissioners suspended the project while its environmental impact is studied. “Unfortunately you can’t get people to do their jobs until they are pressed,” Luchs said.
LAST SATURDAY, IN A TELEPHONE interview, Adelman’s ex-wife, Jennifer, shed light on the turmoil at the building department that has plagued Adelman, whose employees have accused him of cronyism, selective enforcement and creating a hostile work environment. Still hurting from a painful divorce, which became final on June 30, Jennifer Adelman allowed that her ex-husband’s volatile personality has been an impediment to his success. Yet she could not bring herself to blame the building department’s troubles solely on him.
“His personality is similar to the allegations made against him in court,” Jennifer Adelman told the Weekly, referring to lawsuits in which employees accuse Andrew Adelman of being abusive and intimidating. Raised in persecution as a member of the Baha’i faith in Iran, Adelman is a private man, bordering on secretive, she said. He has hidden assets from his own family, according to written statements his ex-wife filed in the divorce. He has treated them in a manner that has left a lasting mark, she said on Saturday, adding that her ex-husband has depression and anger-management issues.
As for his performance as Los Angeles’ top building official, Jennifer Adelman said her ex-husband has tried to serve the public well, and that he values new construction over older buildings. “He takes safety seriously, and is constantly under pressure to do favors for people. When people try to take advantage of their relationships with him, he keeps them at arm’s length. I hate to be on his side of things, but he has tried to conduct himself publicly as best he can. He tries to do the right thing.”
However, sources of pressure Adelman has not been able to resist, his ex-wife said, are the mayor and City Council members. “He has a fit when he is told to ‘take care of this guy or that guy,’?” Jennifer Adelman said. Fee waivers in particular stick in Adelman’s craw, his ex-wife said. Documents obtained by the Weekly show that construction for Staples Center resulted in waived fees that cost the city more than $1 million. Jennifer Adelman said the same is true of the construction of the luxury hotel being built near the sports and entertainment complex L.A. Live, in the downtown neighborhood South Park. “Any major construction, you can be sure someone is getting a break.”
ONE LAWSUIT THAT ILLUSTRATES the lengths the city goes to to approve improper construction involves a massive addition to a Westside home that could be marred by a questionable lending arrangement. Though the City Attorney’s Office has advised Adelman and the building department every step of the way, the case now exposes the general manager to the threat of fines or jail time for failure to follow a judge’s order and enforce the city’s laws. Adelman has been forced to hire his own lawyer and is pleading with the court to be spared from appearing in person.
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