City Attorney Mike Feuer announced that his office has filed 35 criminal charges against developers for alleged numerous building and safety violations stemming from continuing construction on five partially built, three-story, 5,000 square-foot single family homes on Woodstock Road in Laurel Canyon. The five hilltop homes, adjacent to the Mulholland Drive overlook, were originally built in the late 1990’s as part of a planned 21-home development and subsequently ordered torn down in 2003 following a court decision upholding the requirement for an environmental impact report that was never conducted. The structures were never removed, however, and in the past year, neighbors reported a resurgence of alleged construction at the homes. City officials have ordered the developers to comply with the order already in effect – to demolish the five structures and clean up the properties – which they allegedly have failed to do.

“Developers must follow the City’s rules, just like everybody else,” said Feuer. “These unpermitted structures in the Santa Monica Mountains were supposed to be demolished nearly 20 years ago, and yet we allege the current developers have been ignoring the City’s order and continuing to work on structures that should no longer be there. The rules have to mean something, and we’re taking action.”

Between 1998 and 1999, permits were issued for the five Laurel Canyon homes on Woodstock Road – located at 2505, 2509, 2513, 2521 and 2529 – which were to be the first stage of a large scale development of 21 similar-sized houses. In 2002, the Court of Appeal upheld the L.A. Planning Commission’s decision to place a 6-month moratorium on the project and require the original owners to conduct an appropriate environmental impact assessment.

That environmental review did not occur, and one year later, all five homes were ordered to be removed and the sites ordered to be cleaned up under the City’s vacant structures abatement ordinance. The City recorded the order with the County of L.A., notifying all future buyers of these responsibilities.

Under the standing order, the five homes were to remain secured until removal and no further construction was allowed. In years since, subsequent owners have tried to restart the project, but none were able or willing to remove the properties and start over again in accordance with the law.

Late last year, concerned neighbors reported an alleged resurgence of building activity at the homes and alerted the L.A. Department of Building and Safety (DBS). Inspections immediately followed, resulting in the City learning that the developers, Shahram and Ester Ghalili, had acquired the properties and were planning construction at all five sites. The City issued new orders for the owners to stop all work and to comply with the abatement order still in effect.

The City Attorney’s Office is pursuing misdemeanor criminal charges against the developers for alleged failure to obtain permits before resuming construction, failure to obey the City’s subsequent orders to comply, and failure to remove the vacant unfinished structures. The Office will seek to have the developers stop all construction and to comply with all laws and standing orders related to the safe removal of the homes without causing harm to the surrounding hillside and neighborhood.

Richard Kim and Dennis Kong, both Deputy City Attorneys with the Code Enforcement and the Animal Protection Unit, are the assigned prosecutors.

Submitted by Ivor Pine, City of Los Angeles