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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

City Council votes to pay $9,000,000 for Elephant Hill Property to settle Lawsuit

"Elva Yanez and environmentalists win costly victory for El Sereno's Elephant Hill"
Environmental justice victory or suspicious dealings?
One can't blame El Sereno activist Elva Yanez for being thrill with today's City Council vote to pay $9,000,000 for the El Sereno hillside parcel known as Elephant Hill. But what started years ago as an grass-roots effort to preserve one of the last open space areas in Northeast LA, has been corrupted with political intrigue and suspicious dealings.
Some background on today's developments as reported by Los Angeles Times reporter David Zahniser.
The Los Angeles City Council voted today to settle a lawsuit over a contested 24-home subdivision planned for El Sereno, agreeing to buy the property for $9 million so it can be converted into a park.
The developers of the property, Monterey Hills Investors, sued the city last year after the council demanded more environmental review of the project, planned for a site known as Elephant Hill.
Councilman Jose Huizar said the city would borrow money in the short term to pay for the purchase of the 19-acre site. Over the long term the city will seek state funding to help defray the cost, he said.
"This is an environmental justice victory because proper environmental review was not conducted" on the planned subdivision, said Huizar, whose district includes El Sereno.
A Superior Court judge had a different view, ruling in January that the council had no authority to order Monterey Hills Investors to perform a new environmental impact report on the project.
In the wake of that ruling, attorney Ben Reznik, a City Hall lobbyist who represents the developer, vowed to seek damages of at least $8 million, saying the city's actions postponed completion of his client's project until after the collapse of the region's real estate market.
Can you see the political rats running for cover? Smell the onerous stench of political deceit?
Not too long in the past, El Sereno and CD 14 activists can remember an certain "CD 14 public official" who was heard telling the concern Elephant Hills activists that he thought that losing this lawsuit was possible, but moving forward was the "right" course of action. That when the cost of the 14 acre parcel was around $6,000,000 dollars.
But was doing the right thing the only consideration for Huizar? Consider these facts.
Reznik, who has held campaign fundraisers for Huizar and other city elected officials, had no comment on today's vote, saying the settlement had not been finalized. As he prepared for the damages phase of the case, Reznik gave notice that his client intended to depose Huizar, Councilman Ed Reyes and possibly employees in the mayor's office, according to a report obtained by The Times.
Hmmm, maybe the likes of Huizar, Reyes with the possible Mayor Villaraigosa's staffers in the mix, use the city treasury to "cry uncle" or was this part of an grand charade to improve the profit margin on devalue property, to help a political donor?
This deal reminds me of a microscopic version of the failed "Las Lomas Project". Replace Dan Palmer with Ben Reznik, Councilman Richard Alarcon with Councilman Huizar and David Hernandez with Elva Yanez. But sadly, there is no local version of Councilman Greig Smith to cry foul over this blantant misuse of public dollars. Then I seem to remember that the likes of Councilman Reyes and Huizar were supporters of the Las Lomas Project, as this passage reminds us.
"Our city attorney has said that if we fail to move forward, he believes we are in great jeopardy of being sued," said Councilman Richard Alarcon, whose San Fernando Valley district borders the Las Lomas site.
Alarcon voted to keep the project alive, along with council members Ed Reyes, Jose Huizar, Herb Wesson and Bernard C. Parks.
Strange how Alarcon, in his support of the Las Lomas Project, sounds so much like Councilman Huizar in his support of the Elephant Hill settlement.
Then there is this simple fact for CD 14 open space advocates to ponder. With the $9,000,000 dollars that Huizar is proposing to give his campaign contributors for the Elephant Hill acreage, you could have an completed Ascot Hills Passive Park and Hazard Park Wetlands Restoration, with money left over for some of the Elephant Hills property. But then I don't have to answer to contributors and Mayor Villaraigosa.
Even Elva Yanez, who was appointed to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy Board by Mayor Villaraigosa in 2007, could agree with that.
Your thoughts............................

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Blogger Parque Esqueleto said:

Oh, stop complaining, will ya! Huizar has the City's best interest in mind, dontcha know?

There's still one very large shoe to fall on all this. Wait for it . . . wait for it!

Jose told me that after everything dies down a bunch, he's planning on having L.A. offer Elephant Hill to the State of California for $30 MILLION so they can install acres and acres of HUMONGOUS ventilation tubes there for when the 710 megatunnel goes in underneath.

(I think there's been some old white-haired guy from El Sereno running around Council chambers with engineering drawings for them for weeks now).

"The gubbment giveth and the gubbment taketh away."

Whatever -- the taxpayer getteth the "shaft," irregardlessly.

November 03, 2009 6:35 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:


"Over the long term, he said, the city will seek state funding to help defray the cost."

I thought the state was more broke that the city?

November 03, 2009 6:57 PM  

Blogger Red Spot in CD 14 said:

Hey Parque,

Found this in the cyber catacombs where Scribe Steve Hyman resides.


What will happen to Elephant Hill in northeast Los Angeles?

Its fate remains uncertain.

The issue: In the early 1990s, a developer proposed a subdivision for the hills above El Sereno. Although the development was approved, it never got built, and the property traded hands.

Enter Councilman Jose Huizar, who has been under pressure from residents to save the open space remaining in the northeast hills. But the only way for Huizar to slow the project was to require the developer to do a supplemental environmental impact report. (The last one was now over a decade old.)

Huizar -- wisely consulting his political playbook -- was able to delay a decision until after he won reelection in March. The matter came to a vote last month, when the council, by an 8-2 vote, agreed with Huizar that a supplemental report should be done, despite advice from the office of City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo that the first EIR was all that was needed.

Ben Reznik, the developer's attorney and a Huizar campaign donor, wasn't happy. He has said the developer may sue and could seek damages that would cost the city a whole lot of money.

What's the endgame?

That's the weird part. Huizar got the delay he wanted, but it seems unlikely at this stage to stop the project. "It's not that the project won't be done if an impact is found," Huizar said. The councilman said that, although he supports preserving Elephant Hill as open space with trails, he hasn't taken any steps to find a buyer for the land that would be interested in not developing it. "I would hope that some interested party would look and possibly acquire this site," Huizar said.

In the meantime, this column spent some time driving around Elephant Hill and couldn't find the pachyderm resemblance. But the approximately 15 acres sure are pretty. If you've got many millions of bucks sitting around, your time is now.

November 03, 2009 7:54 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

Billy the Elephant should move in to the new property. He'd be a lot happier.

November 03, 2009 8:14 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

Elva is part of the David Galaviz cabal at USC. HE IS THE DARTH VADER OF THE EASTSIDE!!

November 03, 2009 8:32 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

Why should they care? It`s our f.....money.

November 03, 2009 8:37 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

Hey 8:37 - You don't have any $$, so nothing to worry about.

November 03, 2009 8:58 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

At the rate we we are losing our open space to development, we will need to worry about resident rage more than road rage. Geeez, when is enough, enough? If people enjoy living like cattle, why don't they just move to NYC?

November 03, 2009 10:06 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

what a f****ing waste of money.... passive parks WTF! we need housing so people don't live like roaches... BTW is that Elva's glamour shot?

November 03, 2009 10:43 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

There are cattle living in NYC?

Wow, things have really changed since I was last there.

Are you sure those weren't just the sewer rats? They are REALLY big.

November 03, 2009 11:13 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

You're joking obviously, Parque, but what if it ends up being true. They can make those ventilators look just like trees and rustic buildings - even better than the fake man-made islands off some of the area beaches.

November 03, 2009 11:15 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

For all the hype about how the eastside is so park and open-space poor, there have sure been some big $$ changes over the last 10-15 years in Huizar and Reyes' districts. Ascot Hills, El Rio State Park, the cornfields, Debs park.

Maybe we're being sold a bill of goods here.

November 03, 2009 11:17 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

The idiot clowncil members are all jumping on board now of the Mayor's charade circus for new chief which everyone knows because of blast emails was FIXED. It was corrupt from the beginning. Garcetti and Perry, Mayor and tons of cops were at Expo Center yesterday. What a joke and spectacle. They are all embarrassing themselves and people who attended said it was ridiculous. The circus moves to Van Nuys today. Will all the clowncil members Zine, Cardenas, Alarcon, Smith and the rest of the thugs be in attendance for their grandstanding?? Or should I say the MEN who have no balls to stand up to the Mayor!!!

November 04, 2009 6:22 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

I am glad for the settlement. But these areas are not park poor. The biggest parks are Elysian and Griffith and Debs and now the new park Rio De Los Angeles at Taylor Yard.

That $9M sure would have hired a lot more police officers. The city council lied when they raised our trash fees for more police and now they say sorry, we are not going to hire more police. Then give the trash fee money back.

I WANT MY TRASH MONEY REFUNDED!! City councilmembers should be sued for misrepresentation.

November 04, 2009 7:36 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

Land costs are down. Good time to purchase property. If the City gets State Proposition dollars for parks it ends of being a great deal.

November 04, 2009 7:46 AM  

Blogger Joseph Mailander said:

No Hotsheet! No Phil! Post-Palin putsch NY-23 hangover!

November 04, 2009 8:45 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

comments on caption this huizar/hot chick photo

comments on new chief of police

people making $ off clicks

its no wonder that Mike lets red spot put up those kinda posts...sex sells and mike is lining his pockets!

People love crazy too, so don't be too surprised if a certain character who likes to add canine to his name makes it back on the blog sometime too...

November 04, 2009 9:20 AM  

Blogger Red Spot in CD 14 said:

No Viginia and New Jersey whiplash?

November 04, 2009 9:34 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

glad there is no more development for elephant hill. we need more open spaces, isnt it better that the $9m were paid to make it city property than our tax money being used to pay the lawsuit filed by the contractors?

November 04, 2009 2:15 PM  

Blogger Red Spot in CD 14 said:

My point on the Elephant Hill issue is this. I am in agreement with the open space activists who wanted Elephant Hill preserved.

But the price tag and the political entanglements here need to be fully vetted.

November 04, 2009 3:28 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

$9 million isn't too overpriced for that much buildable hillside space in L.A., even in the current economy.

If the owners also drop their probably winnable lawsuit, then it's a steal!

L.A. could easily have had to pay them half that in damages, plus the cost of having to defend against the suit, and then still not have owned the property in the end.

November 04, 2009 4:18 PM  

Anonymous casey said:

A little research goes ...well not very far as evidenced by this blog post. for the complete story visit the official save elephant hills blog at:
be informed.

November 04, 2009 7:58 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

9 million for elephant hill!!!!!! And we still have to see how much more the city hs to pay in damages!!!! This will huant Jose in his re-election!!!! Eagle and Boyle heights and downtown don't care about el sereno. They want more cops, there roads fixed and trees trimed!!!! Say good bye to your 190k a year job Jose. You will finally have to find a real job loser!!!!!

November 04, 2009 8:57 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

Hey Red Spit -Why aren't you covering this issue in Highland Park?

HHPNC Nonsense Continues-
Cursing, Scolding,
Screeching, and Threatening...
but Definitely...
NOT Working!
by Tom Topping
The August 20 meeting of the problem riddled Historic Highland Park Neighborhood Council (HHPNC) promised to be an interesting one, as pre-meeting rumors flew of possible de-certification and a possible fight over the appointment of an interim treasurer.

November 05, 2009 12:40 AM  

Anonymous Casey said:

OK once more for the 'special ed' posters on this blog. 9mil is the total cost, plus a few fee refunds that equal less than 500k and the city will own the land and PRESERVE IT AS OPEN SPACE! The land recently appraised for 7mil with the market in the toilet, the city got a deal in this SETTELMENT/PURCHASE. The lawsuit disappears as a result of this action, what part don't you get?

November 05, 2009 7:08 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

Casey, what part don't you get? The city still has the penalty phase tp go through which is estimated to be at the very least another 8million. 9+8= 17 million for this land. 17million the city doesn't have. Plus, our own city Atty said this would happen and Huizar chose to
press own. Not to mention the lawyer who
will rake in the money is huizar's campaign donor. So the city over pays for land and come election time Huizar get money, that's if he isn't already getting money for his re-election. Just corupt!

November 05, 2009 9:50 AM  

Blogger Red Spot in CD 14 said:


Lets try some simple LAUSD math/political math word problem.

First, Monterey Hills Partners sells Tract 35022 parcels and entitlements for more than $5 million to
Monterey Hills Investors, a new partnership incorporated in November. The controlling partner
of Monterey Hills Investors is Paul Feilberg, owner of Mesa Verde Development Inc., an Aliso
Viejo-based land development and homebuilding company. (www.mesaverdedev.com)

Second, Councilman Huizar announces a nine million dollar settlement.

Third, as "7:08 AM" notes,The city still has the penalty phase tp go through which is estimated to be at the very least another 8million. 9+8= 17 million for this land.

Thus Casey, how much does the the city get screw for this "exercise in legacy building" by Councilman Huizar?

November 05, 2009 10:20 AM  

Blogger Red Spot in CD 14 said:

By David Zahniser
January 8, 2009


A real estate developer has won its legal battle to build 24 homes on a vacant hillside in the Los Angeles neighborhood of El Sereno -- and is now looking to recoup its financial losses from City Hall.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant ruled Monday that the City Council had no authority to order Monterey Hills Investors LLC to perform a new environmental impact report on its proposed subdivision of single-family homes.

Ignoring the advice of its lawyers, the council voted in 2007 to demand the additional review, effectively blocking the developer from moving dirt and building new roads in the area nicknamed Elephant Hill.

Monterey Hills Investors, which claimed in its lawsuit that the city's actions cost it more than $8 million, will now seek "substantial" damages, said attorney Ben Reznik.

"This was the biggest waste of taxpayer money, because it's such a frivolous action by the council," he said Wednesday. "They had to hire outside counsel because their own city attorney was telling them they were violating the law."

Reznik, a lobbyist with dozens of City Hall clients, said the council had already approved a tract map and environmental impact report for his client's project. He accused Councilman Jose Huizar of blocking the work in an effort to placate constituents who wanted to see the hillside remain open space.

Huizar, whose district includes El Sereno, said in a statement that the fight to save Elephant Hill was "the right thing to do. . . . And while I'm disappointed to hear about the judge's ruling, I am as committed as ever to protecting the safety of our hillside residents."

Although he played a key role in the Elephant Hill case, Huizar issued a separate, seemingly unrelated news release Wednesday calling for greater oversight of the city's legal expenses. "In these tough economic times . . . we simply cannot afford to keep throwing money at these unnecessary and extremely costly lawsuits," the councilman said.

Reznik, in turn, said Huizar's own actions spurred a costly lawsuit. "He created one, and that's painful," he said. "Taxpayers are going to bear the burden here."

Opponents of the project received legal help from the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that said the 15.7-acre site should be preserved. The city's environmental review found that grading would ultimately affect 85% of the site and result in an "irreversible environmental change to the topography," according to court documents.

Nick Velasquez, spokesman for City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo, had no comment on the ruling. But a transcript included in the court file showed that Assistant City Atty. Susan Pfann disagreed with the environmental group's legal arguments regarding Elephant Hill.

The group maintained that the permit sought by Monterey Hills Investors was a discretionary action, and therefore governed by the state's environmental laws. Pfann told the council that she believed the permit was ministerial and not covered by those laws, according to the transcript.

Natural Resources Defense Council lawyer Tim Grabiel, who appeared in court in the El Sereno case, could not be reached for comment. Reznik said damages could rise considerably higher than $8 million because the city's efforts caused his client to lose its financing.

"We may not be able to get a construction loan because the market has collapsed" since the council's vote, he said.

November 05, 2009 10:41 AM  

Anonymous casey said:

OK, Once more for the really slow learners...the 9 mil is a settelment! no penalty or damage phase will follow. Although there are quimby fees and permit monies to be added to the settelment your math is wrong. Try using a calculator to figure the total, your LAUSD math isn't making it.
And...if their lawsuit was winnable, why settle? our appeal was strong and they knew it.

November 06, 2009 6:21 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

Red Spot was hit in the head and truly is a slow learner. He doesn't get a simple math equation and always, always, gets his facts wrong. I've given him information and he ended bloggin on hear that the "grass is blue and the green is sky."

Higby, how can you vouch for this guy?

Read the public documents. $9 million is a settlement with no damages...this lawsuit appears to save the city any damages. The assessed value for the disputed property is about 5.5 million and the addional property pruchased by city is 3.5 million. Hence, city got about a 9 million assessed valued property and doesn't have to pay legal expenses and damages. What part don't you understand red spot? And this when property values are low. Right time to buy. Just becasue you don't like Huizar doesn't mean you have to thrash this great victory for the community. get over it.

November 08, 2009 4:09 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

somebody take red spot out of his misery and put some real issues on this blog.

November 08, 2009 4:11 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

Red Spot says here: "But the price tag and the political entanglements here need to be fully vetted."

Red Spot, you should vet yourself. A nice cleaning would take out all stuff in your ear that makes you hard of hearing.

November 08, 2009 4:17 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

If anyone wants the facts of this matter READ THE BLOG!! Every detail is there for the people to see.

November 10, 2009 8:27 PM  

Blogger Rex Frankel said:

This deal was a bargain. In a city packed with plenty of housing and office buildings and shopping centers and continuous pavement for 100 miles in any direction, the most important use of land is to buy up every bit of environmentally sensitive unpaved open space we have left in the city. We can spend the money later to "improve" some of this as parks, if we want to and when we find the money. But raw untouched open space is vitally important, too. Not every inch of our parks needs to be a lawn. We gotta give wildlife and hikers their space too.

I don't care about the political intrigue--in the end the public gets more parkland, and developers don't get to wreck another bit of our quality of life.

Rex Frankel

November 12, 2009 10:19 AM  

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