Garcetti panel revokes building permits over illegal tree chopping

Developer Sam Shakib, pictured earlier this year, at the Brentwood building site where three trees were improperly removed.
(Ricardo DeAratanha/Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles Board of Public Works moved Friday to punish a developer that illegally cut down three trees in Brentwood, saying the move would send a message to property owners about flouting the city’s urban forestry rules.

The panel, made up of appointees of Mayor Eric Garcetti, voted unanimously to bar Sullivan Equity Partners from building on the sprawling 12-acre site for five years.

Patrick Mitchell, the company’s attorney, had been looking to persuade the board to overturn a decision to block construction on the site, which was issued by the city’s urban forestry officials in March.

Mitchell said city officials were wrong to portray the loss of the trees as significant. And he argued that his client is being punished far more harshly than property owners in similar tree-cutting cases.


“We’re definitely going to appeal [the decision] by any available means, including going to court,” he said.

Mitchell said his client has already spent “millions” on its development project, which calls for two 14,948-square-foot mansions. As part of that project, the developer originally obtained city permission to remove 56 trees on the property.

In 2014, landscaping crews took out most of those trees. But they also ripped out two live oaks and a towering, decades-old California sycamore, all of which were supposed to be preserved. All three had “protected” status and required special permission for removal.

If the city fails in its duty to uphold the law, developers will simply continue to see tree massacres as the cost of doing business.

Sara Nichols, neighbor

The loss of the trees provoked an uproar among neighbors and environmental groups. Sara Nichols, who lives two doors away, told the board more trees will be destroyed unless the city cracks down.

“If the city fails in its duty to uphold the law, developers will simply continue to see tree massacres as the cost of doing business,” she said.

The city’s forestry officials concluded three months ago that the developer had intentionally ripped out the trees to gain easier access to the site. Los Angeles Councilman Mike Bonin, who represents the area, said he did not buy the developer’s assertion that the trees were removed in error.

“I find that to be a bogus claim and not credible, and I urge this board to make the same finding,” he said.


Sullivan Equity Partners offered to make amends by planting 32 large replacement trees. Property owners in other tree-cutting cases have faced similar punishment, Mitchell said.

In Glassell Park, a property owner was recently caught removing seven black walnut trees without the proper permits. The city responded last week by ordering the property owner to plant 28 replacement trees, Mitchell said.

“We’re being unfairly treated, and punished massively disproportionately compared to people in the same situation,” Mitchell said.

Ron Lorenzen, assistant director of the city’s Bureau of Street Services, said the Glassell Park case was “totally different” from the one in Brentwood.


In Glassell Park, the property owner had been instructed by the Fire Department to clear the site as part of required brush clearance. In addition, the trees were determined to have been in “severe decline,” he said.

“Every case is different,” Lorenzen said.


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