Los Angeles turns to city veteran to run building department
Los Angeles’ interim head of the Department of Building and Safety was given the permanent job Wednesday after a 13-0 City Council confirmation vote.
The move elevates Raymond Chan, a longtime veteran of the Department of Building and Safety. Chan has been with the agency since 1987, and was appointed to the agency’s No. 2 position, executive officer, in 2003. He has served the top job at the agency since last year.
The building department has come under scrutiny over the last year for allowing construction projects in areas close to or on top of earthquake faults without detailed seismic studies. The agency has also weathered a bribery scandal that has resulted in prison sentences for employees of the agency.
City Council members did not address the controversies Wednesday and focused on the desire to quickly approve construction projects in Los Angeles.
“You and your team have made great strides in reducing the steps that it takes to get projects off the ground after due diligence,” Councilman Mitch O’Farrell said Wednesday.
“You really stand out as someone in our city who gets the job done,” Councilman Jose Huizar said at a council committee meeting a day earlier.
“L.A. city is going through a construction boom,” Chan said, adding his agency has come up with new ways to ensure that projects will be built safely, well, and fast.
“It will cut down the approval time, it will reduce the construction time… it will boost our economy,” Chan said.
Among the controversies Chan is facing is the agency’s oversight of construction projects near or on earthquake faults. Millennium Hollywood, which would bring two skyscrapers on either side of the Capitol Records building, has been one of the projects drawing the most attention.
The California Geological Survey has released a draft map showing the approximate path of the Hollywood fault going underneath the Millennium site; the developer has said there is no evidence the fault exists underneath the property.
The developer has agreed to conduct further seismic study, including digging a trench, before seeking building permits to begin construction.
Chan has attracted criticism from opponents of the development. In a September ethics complaint, opponents alleged that Chan had a conflict of interest because of his son’s internship with the Millennium developer’s law firm, Sheppard Mullin, the developer’s lead counsel on the project.
Chan’s son, Jeremy, was a law student and a paid student intern between January and May 2013. The City Council approved Millennium in the summer of 2013.
In a letter, Chan said that the allegations in the complaint were “false and frivolous,” and he said he did not make any decisions during the Millennium project before, during, or after his son’s clerkship with Sheppard Mullin. The ethics complaint was investigated and closed with no disciplinary action taken.
The Department of Building and Safety was the subject of a sting operation by the FBI in 2010. The FBI used an undercover agent who posed as a contractor to get recordings of inspectors soliciting and accepting bribes. During that operation, one confidential informant told agents that bribes were “systemic” at the agency and described giving cash, building materials and even a vacation in exchange for city approvals, according to affidavits filed by investigators.
Two department employees pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges in 2011 and were sentenced to prison. Two other workers were dismissed in connection with the city’s internal investigation of wrongdoing.
In March, a retired building inspector, Samuel In, was sentenced to 2-1/2 years in prison after pleading guilty to taking $5,000 from a Koreatown businessman. He admitted to accepting more than $30,000 worth of bribes involving at least a dozen properties that he handled as a city employee between March 2007 and December 2010. All were in or near Koreatown.
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