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Archeologist Denies Working for Builder : ‘Lost Village’: Brian D. Dillon says he was never retained as a consultant on the Encino project.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A prominent archeologist, angry that his name was used in a developer’s behalf at a city hearing, has denied that he was hired as a consultant on a Ventura Boulevard construction project near the site of the “Lost Village of Encino.”

Builder Maurice Cohen’s reported employment of Brian D. Dillon was an important issue at a June 19 hearing by the city Building and Safety Commission. The hearing was held at the request of neighborhood activists and American Indians to determine whether Cohen could begin construction of an office building without a preliminary survey to protect potential archeological finds.

The building site is on the north side of Ventura Boulevard at La Maida Street, about a block from where the “Lost Village” was unearthed during another construction project six years ago. The unearthing marked a major discovery of Indian artifacts and remains.

Archeologists say it is probable that additional remains of the village underlie much of the surrounding area.

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The commission, which could have required Cohen to perform an archeological survey before receiving a building permit, voted to allow Cohen to begin construction if an archeologist and Indian representative monitored the project during earth-moving for discovery of artifacts and human remains.

At issue is whether Cohen deliberately misled the commission into believing he had already hired Dillon as the archeologist.

Dillon, a former chief archeologist at UCLA, said Cohen did not retain him, as neighborhood activists and Building and Safety Commission members said they were led to believe. Instead, Dillon said, negotiations with Cohen broke down after the builder rejected standard conditions and procedures outlined in a proposal for studying his property for the presence of American Indian artifacts.

“He had no right to use my name at a public meeting,” said Dillon, adding that he had demanded a written apology from Cohen because he felt that his credentials had been exploited. “If someone besmirches your reputation then you have to take that seriously,” he said.

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Cohen said he believed that he and Dillon did have an understanding to work together, although he had delayed signing a contract until the commission heard his case.

“I did not lie to the commission,” said Cohen, 28, a member of a family business that wants to build a 48,000-square-foot office building. “I was under the impression myself that I had a proposal from Mr. Dillon, and that after the final decision of the Building and Safety Commission I was going to sit with him and based on their decision agree with him to go forward.

“Now I’ve left several messages for him, and he has not called me back.”

But Dillon said he and Cohen met for more than four hours the night before the hearing, and that Cohen “could not have been more direct that we did not have an understanding, contract or agreement.”

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Dillon said that because Cohen’s property lies within an archeologically sensitive area, he had proposed sampling the site for artifacts before construction. But Cohen, he said, objected to that method because it required a substantial advance payment to cover the cost of hiring a work crew with liability insurance.

Cohen wanted to use Dillon as a monitor, Dillon said, because he could pay at the end of the project.

Cohen said he rejected Dillon’s proposal because he wanted to wait for the commission’s instructions.

Commissioner Richard W. Hartzler and commission President Marcia Marcus said that although they could not remember Cohen’s precise words, they were left with the impression that he already had a working arrangement with Dillon, if not a written contract. The commission does not record its proceedings.

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They said Cohen’s apparent sincerity coupled with Dillon’s reputation was a factor in their decision to allow Cohen to begin construction with monitoring.

“I think the fact that they were going with a highly respected archeologist certainly had a bearing on the outcome of the hearing,” Hartzler said.

Marcus said she would raise Dillon’s allegations at the commission’s next hearing in two weeks.

“It’s obvious that one of our conditions was ongoing monitoring, and that it had to be done by someone who had a known reputation in the archeological community,” Marcus said. Because Dillon “seemed to be someone of good repute, it just appeared that Mr. Cohen was operating in very good faith,” Marcus said.

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Encino residents Gerald A. Silver and Kathy Lewis, leading proponents of stricter archeological safeguards, said they felt misled by Cohen and pledged to monitor his building site daily to ensure that no excavation takes place without the presence of an archeologist, whether it was Dillon or another qualified professional.

Silver, a slow-growth activist who opposes Cohen’s project, said:

“I think the point is that if he had gone in and said, ‘I haven’t hired anyone, I haven’t done any preliminary work, I just want to start digging,’ I think they would have put much more rigorous controls on it.”


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