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City Could Keep Scofflaws From Getting New Building Permits

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The City Council today voted to move forward with the "Clean Hands" Ordinance, a new ordinance modeled on a 25 year old LA County law that prohibits a contractor from pulling permits (e.g., for grading work) when in violation of codes or regulations (e.g., doing grading work without a permit). If passed, the new ordinance would require property owners to bring their properties in accordance with zoning and land use requirements before they can be granted new permits. According to the motion requesting the ordinance, "There have been instances where a project has been cited for a certain violation but continues to pull permits for a different matter. This type of activity should not be allowed. Once a project has violated the law, and issued a stop work order permit, they should not be allowed to continue the project on any level without first complying with their initial violation." The motion goes on to call the current permit process "a major loophole in the land-use regulation enforcement process which allows for constant abuse of City policy" and instructs the Planning Department, City Attorney's Office, and the Department of Building to draft an ordinance similar to the LA County ordinance.

So far the motion has gone through public hearings in front of the City Council's Planning and Land Use Management and the Audits and Governmental Efficiency committees, where a number of homeowners groups turned out to support the concept. Interestingly, the support (in the form of public speaker cards and letters, at least) has come exclusively from homeowners groups located in canyon and hillside areas of the city. The groups that have sent letters of support so far could easily be described as "fancypants": the Tarzana Property Owners Association, the Brentwood Residents Coalition, the Bel Air Beverly Crest Neighborhood Council, the Federation of Hillside and Canyon Associations, the Upper Mandeville Canyon Association, the Westwood South of Sana Monica Blvd Homeowner's Association, and the Pacific Palisades Community Council, among others.

After a public hearing on the Westside back in August, Councilmember Dennis Zine, who proposed the ordinance, told the Mar Vista Patch, that he was "surprised by the number of complaints that emerged" at the meeting, with locals rattling off examples of violations. In a letter to the city, the Federation of Hillside and Canyon Associations cites a couple of problem properties, including one on Tower Lane in Benedict Canyon that is seeking "ministerial" and "by right" grading and building permits for a 60,000 square foot "museum-sized mega-mansion" despite the property having violations (and doesn't that sound just exactly like the Benedict Canyon megacompound fight, starring a Saudi prince and Michael Ovitz?), and a property owner in Franklin Canyon who is seeking building permits after grading "massive swaths of hillside without permits and in defiance of a stop-work order."

Councilmember Zine tells Curbed that the ordinance grew out of a response to the news last year of a bribery and corruption scandal at the Department of Building and Safety: "After it was reported that an FBI investigation was taking place in the Department of Building & Safety...the community brought this issue to my attention," adding "the bottom line is that we have laws and standards in place, including building and zoning codes, to ensure public safety. For those who do not want to comply, there are consequences."

Ben Saltsman, planning deputy to County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, told the August hearing that the county has "yet to lose a legal challenge" to the ordinance.
· Clean Hands Ordinance / Zoning Violations [Council File 11-1072]
· Residents Voice Concerns About Building and Safety Abuse at Westside Meeting [Mar Vista Patch]
· Draft Of 'Clean Hands' Law Postponed [Canyon News]