By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The Department of Building and Safety’s headquarters is a 15-story twin tower on Figueroa Street downtown that it shares with the Los Angeles District Attorney’s fraud department, the city’s Department of Planning and other entities. The Building and Safety permit department on the ground floor still seems busy, despite a drastic drop in construction since the go-go days that marked the tenure of General Manager Andrew Adelman, who until very recently occupied a sprawling office in the south tower.
In the entryway to Adelman’s now-quiet office, and on every other floor of the headquarters, the walls are covered with expensive, hand-inked proclamations issued by the Los Angeles City Council. The council has given Adelman so many framed scrolls that they are piled, forgotten, in a corner.
But Adelman’s impressive biography is no longer front and center on the department’s Web site. Last week, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa asked the 52-year-old Adelman to take a paid leave after news broke that the Iranian-born divorcee was being investigated by LAPD for allegedly raping an unconscious woman after an innocuous downtown “pub crawl” organized by city employees.
Adelman has not been arrested for the alleged July 10 incident. Celebrity defense attorney Mark Geragos, who recently represented rapper Chris Brown, charged with assaulting his former girlfriend Rihanna, is representing Adelman. Meanwhile, “The department is operating fully and providing the professional level of services we always have and will continue to,” says Frank Bush, chief inspector of the Centralized Specialty Division.
Yet two very different descriptions are emerging of the powerful general manager who holds sway over many aspects of residential and commercial development — and thus life — in Los Angeles.
To detractors, he blatantly abetted the proliferation of illegal billboards citywide, and then sat by during the current explosion in questionable pot storefronts claiming to sell medical weed.
As L.A. Weekly reported on July 16, the Los Angeles City Council, alone among major California cities, failed last year and this year to adopt medicinal-marijuana regulations, instead allowing an explosion of unvetted pot storefronts — while liberal San Francisco and Berkeley easily adopted rules to allow only well-regulated medical-pot outlets. As a result, L.A. has one pot storefront for every 6,000 people, while San Francisco has one for every 35,000. Cashing in, more than 800 unregulated “medical marijuana” storefronts are believed to be operating here, even near preschools and homes. Adelman’s department has referred only a small number to the City Attorney for code violations. Yet Adelman and his 1,000-person department are known for hammering legal, little-guy businesses and homeowners with picayune permit rules about light fixtures and bathroom measurements.
Hanh Tran, an attorney in the D.A.’s fraud division who often saw Adelman in the building, says he “seemed like a pleasant guy who said ‘hi.’” But one woman who asked to remain unnamed, who is well-regarded in her profession, tells the Weekly that Adelman had a problem. She barely knew him, but, she alleges, one evening at a dinner with mutual friends, he grabbed and rubbed her leg under a table, refusing to stop. She found his behavior so over-the-top, “I figured he would get beat up by someone’s boyfriend or husband.”
Twelve years ago, Adelman was heralded for modernizing a failing department left in disarray by former Mayor Tom Bradley. Hired away from San Jose by then-Mayor Richard Riordan, he expedited the green-lighting of developments and streamlined a byzantine permit system, earning kudos from developers and officials.
He created, one colleague says, a “can-do, get-it-done” operation, then with 800 staff. Later, when his inspectors green-lighted so much construction during the housing bubble, the department’s revenue, mostly from fees, permits and fines, shot from $74 million to $112 million in a three-year period.
But Adelman’s popularity with developers and mayors didn’t translate to his own staff. At least five employees have named him in lawsuits that portray him as abusive, intimidating and fostering a hostile environment. His ex-wife told L.A. Weekly in 2006: “His personality is similar to the allegations made against him in court.”
Today, Councilman Dennis Zine says, “He was making changes in the department, and [legal action] is normally what happens when you make changes.” But Zine had never heard the unsavory allegations about Adelman’s treatment of women, which now riddle anonymous “comments” sections on online news and blog sites.
Says Zine, “I don’t believe any council member would tolerate it, if we were aware of it.”
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the City Council were, however, well aware of serious problems with Adelman’s helming of the huge department. In 2005, Adelman held a “casino night” in Hollywood to solicit donations from developers — a major conflict of interest. And in 2006, his “case-management unit” gave special treatment to dozens of projects sought by political insiders including former city commissioners and donors to the mayor and City Council.