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A Double Defeat : Santa Monica Lawyer Loses Condo Dispute

Times Staff Writer

A Santa Monica attorney who has accused the city Planning Commission of secretly approving an Ocean Park condominium project was defeated twice Tuesday--in court and at a City Council meeting.

David Ganezer, who is running for the City Council in November, filed suit against the Planning Commission last week, alleging that it violated the Brown Act when individual commissioners made a “collective agreement” on a 3-story, four-unit condominium project after they met with architect Barbara Coffman.

On Tuesday afternoon, state Superior Court Judge David M. Rothman denied Ganezer’s request for a temporary restraining order to stop construction of the project at 245 Hollister Ave. Rothman said there was not enough evidence that the Brown Act had been violated, according to Ganezer. The Brown Act makes it illegal for public bodies to meet in private except to discuss personnel matters or litigation.

The council voted to approve the condominium Tuesday despite objections from Ganezer and other tenants of a neighboring 5-story apartment building that the new structure would intrude on their privacy and would block their sun, air and view of the ocean. Ganezer said the apartment building, at 2328 3rd St., is owned by his father, Max Ganezer.

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Unanimous Approval

Last November, the commission voted unanimously to reject Coffman’s original 3-story design, and the commission chairwoman directed her to scale it down to “two stories plus loft, period,” Ganezer said. The scaled-down plan called for a 2-story condo with a loft area that would cover about a third of the floor.

But when Coffman, who is also chairwoman of the Building and Safety Commission, submitted her redesigned plans in May, they were for a 3-story building, he said. The commission unanimously approved the plans.

“This indicates to me that a collective decision was made in private,” Ganezer said.

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In his lawsuit, Ganezer included a transcript from a Planning Commission meeting in May that quoted Coffman as saying she had talked to four commissioners and had received approval from them to submit another 3-story design rather than a 2-story plus loft design.

“The thing that really gets at the heart of this is that Barbara Coffman knows everybody,” Ganezer said. “Apparently the way it works in Santa Monica is that if you want to get a (project approved), you hire somebody that knows everybody. I think . . . that’s bogus.”

Coffman said Ganezer’s case was merit-less.

“I think it’s mainly a delay tactic,” she said. “I think they’re just trying anything possible to slow this project down.”

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No Predetermined Vote

Coffman said she did meet with three commissioners, but “there was never a getting together and deciding that they were going to vote in a certain way.”

Planning Commissioner Eileen Hecht, who was commission chairwoman last year, said she does not recall directing that the project be reduced to “two stories plus loft” as Ganezer said she did.

“I recall that we asked them to reduce the height,” she said, adding that they were not concerned specifically with the number of stories in the project.

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Hecht said she did not meet with Coffman and called charges that others had made secret agreements on the condominium application “absurd.”

“We’re talking about a very minor four-unit project,” she said. “Frankly, I think Mr. Ganezer is using this to get publicity.”

Commission Chairman Don Nelson said he had not heard of any discussion of the issue between the hearings in November and May and that the suit has no merit.

Change in Height

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Planning Director Paul V. Berlant said Coffman’s original design was three stories and 35 feet high. The resubmitted design was three stories and 27 feet high.

Nelson said that because Coffman had reduced the height of the project, and because the project met code requirements, the commission had little choice but to approve it.

On Tuesday evening, the City Council agreed with the commission’s decision and voted 4 to 2 to approve a conditional-use permit for the project.

Councilmen Dennis Zane and David Finkel voted against the permit. Councilman William Jennings did not vote because he was absent when the issue was first discussed at an earlier meeting.

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Ganezer said he will continue to pursue the matter in court.


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