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Bel-Air mega-mansion should be torn down, city officials say

The unfinished mansion on Strada Vecchia Road in Bel-Air
The unfinished mansion on Strada Vecchia Road in Bel-Air, shown in August.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles city prosecutors are calling for an unfinished mega-mansion in Bel-Air to be torn down to its foundation, the latest twist in the saga over a colossal building at the center of criminal charges, court battles and an FBI investigation.

Until recently, city officials had been working with real estate developer Mohamed Hadid to bring the building in line with city codes, requiring only parts of the building to be removed.

But last week, City Atty. Mike Feuer and his prosecutors stepped up their demands, saying that a structural engineer had found that key structures supporting the building were deficient.

In a filing, they asked a judge to stiffen the probation conditions for Hadid, requiring him to continue demolishing the building and leave only the parts of the foundation that had been driven into the ground.

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Feuer said in a statement Wednesday that city “building and safety rules have to matter -- not just for some, but for everyone.”

“We’re continuing to fight to toughen probation conditions and assure this structure meets every requirement -- and if that means taking the building down to its foundation, so be it,” Feuer said.

The next hearing in the criminal case is scheduled for December. The new push from prosecutors is welcome news to neighbors who have been suing to try to get Hadid to tear the building down entirely, arguing that the unfinished mansion puts them at risk downhill.

Hadid pleaded no contest two years ago to criminal charges tied to the mammoth, unfinished building, which prosecutors said was much bigger than city rules allowed and included bedrooms, decks and even an IMAX theater that the city said were never approved. He was ordered to pay fines, perform community service and come up with a plan to stabilize the hillside.

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City officials have repeatedly said their goal is to bring the building in line with city rules. Hadid was given a chance to make the mansion meet city codes and had torn down parts of the massive house over time.

In their latest court filing, however, city prosecutors cited concerns about the piles — a type of column that extends into bedrock to support a structure — under the mansion at 901 Strada Vecchia Road.

Those vertical structures were “not drilled to the full depths specified” in construction drawings and “do not comply with the minimum reinforcing requirements of the building code,” structural engineer Carl H. Josephson wrote in a letter to an attorney representing Hadid, who had hired him to examine the building foundation.

The findings echo concerns raised by a former construction manager at the Bel-Air project, Russell Linch, who said in a declaration that the piles should have been driven deeper and have “less rebar than the minimum required” under L.A. codes. Linch said he believed the house was unsafe and should be demolished.

Attorneys representing the Bel-Air neighbors argued this week that the latest findings by Josephson confirm that there is a “life safety issue” because the piles do not comply with code requirements for “earthquake resistance.” They complained that Hadid stonewalled them on producing those findings and tried to hide their “severity.”

Josephson wrote that, in his opinion, the deficiencies “do not pose an imminent risk of serious injury” nor an immediate risk to property and that it was possible to repair the foundation to adequately support the building.

But the Department of Building and Safety said the suggestions put forward by Hadid representatives weren’t acceptable.

One proposal, which involved cutting through the structural slab, “would severely compromise the integrity and safety of the existing structure,” building department chief Frank Bush wrote in a letter to a deputy city attorney last month.

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Bush concluded that “the existing structure, except the in-ground piles foundation, must be removed.” Those piles, he said, had to remain for stability.

Attorneys representing Hadid did not immediately respond Tuesday to requests for comment.

In the past, Hadid has denied the allegations made by Linch and denounced the lawsuit filed by neighbors as a “witch hunt.” In a countersuit, he accused neighbor Joseph Horacek of trying to extort millions of dollars from him and then suing over the project when he didn’t get the money.

Hadid also stated that he had done nothing wrong but pleaded no contest to the criminal charges tied to the house to “move on” and avoid embarrassing city inspectors who had signed off on the construction.

The Bel-Air case has also spurred allegations of wrongdoing by a city inspector: The FBI has been looking into evidence that a Building and Safety inspector received “items of value” in connection with his work at the Strada Vecchia site, a city investigator testified last year in the civil case.

Linch said Hadid directed him to send workers to build wooden cabinets at the home of a building inspector who worked on the Strada Vecchia project and that he saw no evidence that the inspector paid for the work. Hadid has previously denied those allegations and previously told the Los Angeles Times he would “never, ever, ever pay an inspector.”


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