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First & Spring: Landlord orders Hollywood tower tenants to vacate

Odain Watson pays $2,295 for a one-bedroom unit in the Sunset and Gordon complex. "You would never think a company of this caliber and a building of this size would be so unprofessionally managed," he says.

Odain Watson pays $2,295 for a one-bedroom unit in the Sunset and Gordon complex. “You would never think a company of this caliber and a building of this size would be so unprofessionally managed,” he says.

(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

The planned Target shopping center in Hollywood has stood unfinished for nearly a year, surrounded by fencing and patroled by guards.

Work stopped at the site after a judge concluded that the City Council had improperly approved the project, allowing a development that did not conform to the property’s zoning.

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FOR THE RECORD

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Sept. 14, 7:34 a.m.: A headline on an earlier version of this article indicated that the state’s 2nd District Court of Appeal has ordered tenants to vacate the Sunset and Gordon apartment tower. The building’s landlord has ordered the action.

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That zombie building, still mostly empty inside, could soon have company right up the street. Last week, the state’s 2nd District Court of Appeal issued a ruling invalidating the approval of another project on Sunset Boulevard: the already completed Sunset and Gordon apartment tower.

On Saturday morning, Sunset and Gordon tenants found notes on their doors telling them that management wants them out by Oct. 4. Developer CIM Group told The Times that it intends to comply with the court’s decision, closing the building and the park next door, at least temporarily.

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If CIM Group completes those plans, its 22-story tower could become the latest physical symbol of City Hall dysfunction — one that is even more prominent than the closed Target project.

In recent years, judges have issued rulings invalidating two other city planning decisions in Hollywood: approval of the Millennium skyscraper project and passage of a zoning plan aimed at increasing the size of buildings allowed in parts of the neighborhood. Steve Afriat, a City Hall lobbyist familiar with real estate issues, said the city’s string of legal defeats shows that “everybody has to get their collective act together.”

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Developers “need to be more diligent in dotting theirs I’s and crossing their T’s,” he said. “And the city has to be more diligent in making sure all the rules are followed — but also expediting things so that developers don’t have to carry multimillion-dollar properties for years and years.”

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A CIM Group representative says Sunset and Gordon has 51 of its 299 units occupied by residential tenants. Some inside the building contend that figure is much smaller. Either way, life there has been unstable almost since people began moving in, say some of the remaining occupants.

Aida Maric, who lives in a corner unit facing downtown, said it’s been “scary” to be the only person living on her floor. Odain Watson, who pays $2,295 for a one-bedroom, said newer neighbors on his floor have been told they could be forced out with two weeks’ notice.

“You would never think a company of this caliber and a building of this size would be so unprofessionally managed. But it’s been a crazy circus,” said Watson, who was scrambling Saturday to move his belongings.

The legal battle over Sunset and Gordon began in 2012, after CIM Group demolished a 1924 Spanish-style building on the site that had previously housed an Old Spaghetti Factory restaurant. Preservation of that building’s facade had been specifically required as part of the project’s approval— and allowed Sunset and Gordon to have fewer parking spaces than normal.

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The La Mirada Avenue Neighborhood Assn. filed a lawsuit over the demolition, saying it meant that CIM Group no longer had legal permits for the tower. CIM Group countered that the Spaghetti Factory building was too damaged to be preserved — and that construction of a replica would satisfy community concerns.

A Superior Court judge sided with La Mirada last year, saying CIM Group had completed construction at “its own peril.” The judge noted that the planning department had signed off on the demolition only after the building was gone.

The Court of Appeal reaffirmed that ruling last week.

“This building wasn’t supposed to be occupied in the first place, because everything was illegally issued,” said Doug Haines, a spokesman for La Mirada. “That’s the clear decision of the courts.”

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CIM Group voiced disappointment with the ruling, saying in a statement that it followed all of the city’s protocols. “We believe [the ruling] creates an unfounded legal precedent and bad policy that usurps the authority of the responsible city agencies,” the company said.

Mayor Eric Garcetti, who represented Hollywood on the council when the building was demolished, declined to answer questions over where the city’s permit system broke down, saying through a spokeswoman that he will continue to support development that encourages “the economic revitalization of our most famous neighborhood.” Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, who succeeded Garcetti after the lawsuit was filed, said he thinks the demolition permit never should have been issued. He declined to fault anyone in particular, however.

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“If I felt like throwing blame around would solve any problems, I might engage in it,” he said. “But it just isn’t going to do any good.”

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CIM Group has already begun applying for a new set of city approvals for Sunset and Gordon, officials said. That application, including preparation of a supplemental environmental impact report, isn’t expected to reach the Planning Commission until May. Meanwhile, the Court of Appeal has not yet withdrawn the order that allowed tenants to remain while the case was heard.

Even before the latest ruling, Sunset and Gordon tenant Bentley Hazelwood said he was looking to leave. Hazelwood moved in Oct. 1, 2014, shortly before the first ruling came out.

In January, CIM Group signed an agreement with Ginosi USA Corp., a short-term rental company, which began leasing dozens of apartments to tourists and other temporary visitors. The influx of newcomers rattled the more permanent tenants, who questioned whether their building would remain safe.

Building inspectors sent CIM Group a notice saying the building was being used illegally as a hotel. That, in turn, triggered a legal battle between CIM Group and Ginosi.

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“They lost control of everything that’s happening, honestly,” said Hazelwood, 26, a music producer. Ginosi was “supposed to be evicted two months ago, and they haven’t left.”

A lawyer for Ginosi declined to comment. Meanwhile, CIM Group has reached private financial agreements with dozens of Sunset and Gordon tenants. Attorney Noel Weiss, who represented renters in 67 units, would not offer details, saying only that the company “did the right thing” for his clients — and that most of them had already moved out.

With a new application being processed, O’Farrell said he would like to see CIM Group provide more parking spaces and convert some of Sunset and Gordon’s units to low-income housing. The city should have an approval process that can withstand a legal challenge, he said, so that renters don’t have to endure such uncertainty.

“The victims of all of this are the tenants who’ve gone through a year and a half of hell, not knowing from one day to the next whether they will be able to stay there,” he added. “And that’s a shame.”

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david.zahniser@latimes.com

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