A developer who leveled the last house in the city’s Bunker Hill neighborhood could face criminal charges and be barred from building on the site.
Councilman Ed Reyes plans to introduce a motion today calling for the city to bring charges against G.H. Palmer Associates and invoke its so-called “scorched earth” policy, which could block construction on the property for five years.
“If we let him get away with this, we’re going to be sending the wrong signal on a citywide basis that anyone can come in and knock down historic structures,” Reyes said.
Geoff Palmer, who heads the Brentwood-based firm, is credited with opening successful suburban-style apartments where few market-rate builders dare to tread: downtown Los Angeles. His projects include Medici, at 8th Street and the Harbor Freeway, and work is underway on Orsini, at Cesar Chavez Avenue and Figueroa Street.
The Giese house, built in 1887 at West Cesar Chavez Avenue and Figueroa Street, was being used as a staging area for the Orsini construction project, according to Ben Reznik, Palmer’s land use attorney.
“In the process of clearing the site, the contractor thought the building was in imminent danger of coming down,” Reznik said. “It’s not clear to me if he actually bumped it, but for whatever reason, it was knocked down and cleared as part of the overall request to clear the site.”
David Keim, chief code enforcement officer with the city’s Department of Building and Safety, said his agency has determined that the home was demolished without a permit.
The crime is a misdemeanor punishable by a $1,000 fine and/or six months in jail. If the scorched earth ordinance is invoked, the title to the property will reflect a five-year ban on building.
“I don’t know if a $1,000 fine is going to do much and it’s unusual for people to do jail time,” Keim acknowledged. “But what we always ask for is probation for two or three years.... If he does this anywhere else in the city, he’s going to go back in front of the judge and pay the piper.”
Ken Bernstein, preservation issues director for the Los Angeles Conservancy, said his group would be watching to ensure that city officials follow through with Reyes’ motion.
“The city’s action will set an example for future developers,” Bernstein said.
Not among the city’s officially designated Historic-Cultural Monuments, the house was deemed eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
Reznik said his client wants to work with city and conservancy officials. “I know from talking with Geoff Palmer that he definitely feels terrible about this whole accident,” Reznik said. “He’s going to try and find a way to make this right.”
The Giese house, depending on which city official is talking, was a historic jewel or a public nuisance. The building was declared a public nuisance in December after repeated reports of vandalism. The home’s dilapidated condition, however, did not mean it could be razed.