Fri, Apr

Building Permit for Rough Grading Leads to Mudstreams Amid Rainfall

The Onteora Way hillside parcel is about 132,280 sq. ft. and greater than two football fields, with an additional 17,080 sq. ft. left over.

Last Fall, Neighbors whose homes abut 4875 West Onteora Way in Eagle Rock witnessed the clipping of the hillside live Oak trees, then packed into sacks, and carried offsite; while the forceful de-rooting of native shrubs, was taking place, that had served as buffers and erosion controls during the rainy season.   

The immense land’s only access at the top of hill is through an unconditioned substandard paper-alley, adjacent to a private driveway. City labeled this passage Onteora Way.

In 2007, the Zone(s) for 4875 W. Onteora Way were (T)(Q) RE11-1, as the East Los Angeles Area Planning Commission (APCE) approved and recommended then for the city to adopt this zone change for Case No.: APCE-2007-5295-ZC -- subject to the attached conditions of approval. 

The proposed project for a 9-lot subdivision, 9-single family dwellings including private streets, was the original proposal of T. Mahmoud, the former applicant, owner, as stated in the 2008 Determination Letter, from APCE above.

Under new ownership, LEAP of Faith Partners, LLC, Case Number: APCE-2007-5295-ZC-EX was re-filed on 7/17/2013 with City Planning. Most of the entry spaces were unfilled except for the three initial case numbers with determination letters as posted. 

A decade later, LADBS issued a Building Permit on 7/03/23 for rough grading, proposing a private street abutting a row of existing single-family homes. The lack of compliance with the municipal codes and ordinances has brought uneasiness to the abutting hillside neighbors and continues to keep them unsettled throughout the rainy season. “Presently, only LADBS personnel are to be onsite bringing in sandbags for diverting the run-off rain water. There is no construction taking place since the permit was revoked,” reported Gerald Gubatan, CD 14 Senior Planning Advisor at the Onteora Hillside Alliance meeting on 2/23/24.

Later, upon my rereview of the LADBS online permit-system for 4875. Onteora Way, I saw that two building permits that were issued in June 2023, had been revoked on October 12, 2023. One revoked, concerned the “ROUGH GRADING FOR PROPOSED PRIVATE STREET FOR 9-LOT SUBDIVISION UNDER TT-67938.

This permit is missing a link to the site/plot plan Case No.: APCE-2007-5295-ZC, stating that the driveway, shall be developed substantially in conformance with the site 1 Plot Plan, dated September 2007, and labeled Exhibit B of the administrative file as to their location and access…”

The plot plans for the proposed private street is missing information of which abutting neighbors should have access to for Department transparency. Plot Plans precede any building construction or grading of any kind. 

The other revoked permit pertained to a proposed retaining wall 4’ to 11’ high for a private street under Tentative Tract 67938, 1 of 2, likewise, it had no links to a plot plan. The location of this proposed construction is unknown without the Plot Plans.

After the rough grading had taken place at Onteora Way, an official from the LA City Urban Forestry Division announced at the October 2023 Onteora Hillside Alliance Meeting, that the Applicant had not submitted a Tree Report nor Landscape Plan. No approvals for these mandates were on file. These important documents are to be filled by a designated tree export for approval by the Urban Forestry Division; but, most importantly, approved before the issuance of a Building Permit and grading permit, in accordance with the L.A.M.C. Ordinance No. 153,478. 

Both LADBS and Applicant did not follow the municipal code and thus placed at-risk the health and safety of the abutting neighbors along with putting them through endless stress resulting from their concern for their properties.

“Had it not been for the Onteora Hillside Alliance and neighbors having done --the work that LADBS should be doing-- the developer of Onteora Way, 90041 would have gotten away with cutting down all the protected trees on their land, and no remediation would have been done, in spite of the LADBS mandate to comply. Only after the community and District 14 Councilman’s office complained, it took two additional months for any remediation to take place in connection with the erosion and mud slides that occurred after the grading,” said Kathleen Whitaker member of the Onteora Hillside Alliance and abutting neighbor, whose retaining wall, at the crest of the hill, was compromised by the bulldozer and excavator used to carve out three large 5 feet by 9 feet and 13 feet cuts/slots within 15 inches of her property.

The “rough grading,” that took place on this land resulted in an environmental destruction and degradation to the existing land that overlooked, the sustainable integrated landscape management approaches that the Los Angeles City Planning Department has expressed to support and request for continuing funding in their 2024-25 budget proposal.

“Approximately 26-28 protected, 80+ year old live oaks are at risk to be cut down, wildlife corridor may be destroyed, cultural landscapes continue to disappear, probable remains of the Kish Gabrielino and other tribal groups, and one of the last open spaces in our area are at risk, said Kathleen Whitaker member of the Onteora Hillside Alliance.

The removal of oak trees on private land requires by the LA City Municipal Code to be Incompliance with the Oak Tree Protection Plan to the satisfaction of the LA City Urban and Forestry Division.

On 3/30/2022, City Planning staff, Nicole Sanchez, terminated Case #: APCE-2020-6555-ZC-HCA with a termination letter by City Planner Jane Choi dated 3/30/2022 .

However, on 11/ 03/2022 the city planning commission (CPC) approved the zone changes and the code amendment: (T)(Q) RE11-1 (T)(Q) RE11-1-HCR, and now the project is subject to the regulations of the Hillside Construction Regulation “HCR” pursuant to Section13.20 of the Los Angeles Municipal Code

Finally, on 11/30/2022, City Planning staff, Ulises Gonzalez approved case: CPC-2022-6108-ZC-CA with the conditions of the Hillside Construction Regulations as cited above.

Lastly, City Planning and LADBS need to enforce for full compliance of the land use regulations including the City approved climate change mitigations for this project for the sustainability and livability of all residents in the City of Los Angeles.

(Connie Acosta is a writer, a board member of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Council System, and co-chair of EPNC Planning and Land Use Committee.)