Friday, December 28, 2007

Shady "Dirty Burnell" Project Shut Down After Local Adocacy Alliance

If I were to re-cap the most triumphant victory I have seen against shady corruption this past year as a public advocate, the winner may have just snuck in under the wire in time for year's end.

Mayor Sam readers have been following Zuma Dogg's exclusive coverage of the fraudulent permits issued at "Dirt Burnell" in LA Councilmember Jose Huizar's district.

Previous ZD stories on Dirt Burnell

Got pretty uncomfortable for Big ZD in council chambers during all the time I was blasting away about it on TV 35.

ZD picked up on the story based on the brilliant work of Dan Wright of the Mt. Washington Homeowners Alliance. Some of you may also know Dan from his hard work regarding the Southwest Museum community battle.

So today, I was pleasantly surprised when my Batcomputer sent me this email:

Mt. Wash. Homeowners Alliance Advocacy Results In Developer Stop Work Order

More than one year after City officials unlawfully issued building permits to the developer of 1657 Burnell Drive, the Mount Washington Homeowners Alliance announces that the office of Jose Huizar confirmed today that the developer was issued Stop Work Orders last Friday,
December 21, 2007. On December 24, 2007, the developer's workers secured the building site and shut down construction of the unlawful house.

The community and democratic process owes a debt of gratitude to Daniel Wright for proving that one person can make a difference. I don't know for a fact, but my guess is that without Dan's work on this, hammers would be pounding as we speak.

As previously reported to NELA list, on December 12, 2007, the East Los Angeles Planning Commission granted the appeal of the Mount Washington Homeowners Alliance and revoked all planning approvals and building permits for the house being constructed at 1657 Burnell Drive. Dirt Burnell has been the subject of a controversy over how a speculation developer manipulated land titles and six house project applications to conceal or omit key environmental information from City planners in an effort to obtain planning approvals for the houses
without any environmental review.

The lack of environmental review, particularly where construction was proposed on an undeveloped dirt road, is a serious problem because failure to review and resolve potential negative impacts of road construction aesthetics, drainage, emergency vehicle access and other
issues remained unresolved while City officials allowed one of the houses to proceed to construction. The MWHA arguments and evidence fell on deaf ears of the City Planning officials, City Attorney advisors to the Council office, and Building and Safety officials
until finally, when reviewed by the citizen commissioners of the East Los Angeles Planning Commission, the obvious misleading project applications were found to be null and void.

It is truly sad that it took over a year of completely unnecessary administrative hearings and proceedings to overturn one preposterous claim after another asserted by City Planning, City Attorney and Building and Safety as excuses why they would not act. But in this case, when the case ultimately reached the citizen commission, the nonsense ended and the obviously misleading and omission-filled project applications were expressly found null and void. This case
illustrates to residents of the City how important citizen commissions are as a check and balance of the power of the City's bureaucracies. ?

Without review by independent and fair-minded citizen commissioners, there can be no hope of balance in land use and environmental decision making of the City. In this case, the bureaucracy refused to act and for more than a year coddled and protected the real estate developer.
This type of action cannot continue and the case warrants investigation by the City Council to strenghten the enforcement powers and duties of the City planning and building officials.

The Mount Washington Homeowners Alliance is not opposed to the ultimate completion of the house at 1657 Burnell Drive. As always, our organization supports property owner rights to develop within the sound parameters of applicable zoning and environmental laws. If the property at 1657 Burnell Drive can be properly mitigated to protect the surrounding community, then it should be completed.

This case is an important lesson for the real estate development community. Project applications submitted with fraudulent or missing information can result in a disastrous revocation of planning approvals and building permits. Efforts to skirt the well-known rules adopted by the City Council as our zoning laws can and should be properly enforced by our City officials including the City Attorney.

When those enforcement actions are taken, both the affected communities and the development community have more certainty about how to play within the rules.

Daniel Wright, President
Mount Washington Homeowners Alliance