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Despite tape, condos get early OK

Times Staff Writer

A Los Angeles City Council panel voted Tuesday in favor of a proposed 78-unit condominium project, despite hearing a recording of a Planning Department employee attempting to leave the developer a phone message that his project would be approved “no matter what.”

Van Nuys resident Marcelle Duncan told council members that Jack Chiang, a Planning Department staffer, mistakenly left the message weeks ago on her answering machine, thinking he had reached the developer of the project planned for Magnolia Boulevard.

In the call, Chiang asked for developer Gary Schaffel and discussed Duncan’s effort to challenge the project.

“You will have the council office’s support and our support,” he said on the tape. “You’ll win the appeal no matter what, OK?”

The council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee voted 2 to 0 to support the project, which comes before the council today for a final vote.

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Chiang did not return a call from The Times on Tuesday. But Chief Zoning Administrator Michael LoGrande said the existence of the tape should not influence the committee’s decision to approve or deny the project.

LoGrande told council members that he had taken Chiang off the project, calling the phone message “inexcusable.”

“We are using this as a learning tool to train the staff,” he said.

Councilwoman Wendy Greuel has long supported the condominium project, a planning aide of hers said.

Duncan argued that the project produced too much traffic for the existing street width. She also said that she and other tenants should have received more relocation money when they were forced to move out to make way for the project.

After the vote, Duncan and her lawyer said the planning panel should have taken the tape more seriously.

“This is a rare inside look at how things are done at City Hall,” attorney Noel Weiss said.

david.zahniser@latimes.com


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