Tenants of Hollywood high-rise caught in middle of legal dispute

The 22-story Sunset and Gordon tower in Hollywood in October 2014.

The 22-story Sunset and Gordon tower in Hollywood in October 2014.

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Worried they could be kicked out of their homes, tenants of a new Hollywood high-rise at the center of a legal battle spoke out for the first time Saturday.

“It’s been a nightmare,” said Melanie Culvey, who moved into the 22-story Sunset and Gordon building with her husband and toddler in September. She said she’s stressed by not knowing whether she’ll have to leave her apartment, and where she’ll go if she does.


For the Record


April 11, 7:55 p.m.: A previous photo caption that accompanied this article misidentified Alexander Ali as Abraham Ali.


Tenants say they feel like they’re caught in the middle of a fight between the city of Los Angeles and building developer CIM Group.

L.A. building officials last month ordered CIM Group to remove its tenants by April 19 because its temporary occupancy permit had expired.

Tenants, however, say they ignored the order to vacate tacked on the complex’s lobby door because building managers said it didn’t apply to them. A representative for CIM Group declined to comment.

But on Friday, those same city orders were slipped under or taped to individual apartment doors, making tenants afraid they could be removed from their apartments in a week.

“The not knowing is one of the hardest parts,” said tenant Tracy Kahn. A photographer who’s lived in the building since January, Kahn was among 40 residents who piled into a studio apartment Saturday morning to discuss their concerns.

On March 19, the city gave CIM Group a month to remove tenants from the building.

However, that 31-day clock stopped ticking at the end of March, when CIM Group filed an appeal. Until a decision has been rendered about the appeal, the city’s orders won’t be enforced, said city Department of Building and Safety spokesman Luke Zamperini.

The city’s Board of Building and Safety Commissioners is scheduled to hear the appeal on April 21. If the appeal fails, the city’s orders would go into effect again and would be enforced about 18 days after that date.

The contention over Sunset and Gordon traces back to a legal challenge waged against the developer by a neighborhood association.

When the building project was approved, city officials called for the historic facade of the Old Spaghetti Factory, a restaurant building on the site that once served as an actor’s studio, to be preserved and incorporated into the residential tower. CIM Group said in 2012 that the facade was too deteriorated to be saved, opting to raze the structure and build a replica instead.

City officials approved the demolition permit, but the city’s Central Area Planning Commission later found that the building and safety agency had “erred or abused its discretion” by doing so.

The La Mirada Avenue Neighborhood Assn. went to court to invalidate the project’s permits, saying that CIM Group had failed to comply with the terms of the city’s original approval of the project.

Robert P. Silverstein, an attorney for the neighborhood association, said CIM Group saved millions of dollars by agreeing to preserve the facade of the Spaghetti Factory because it didn’t have to build underground parking. He said that since CIM Group did not uphold its side of the deal, the building should not be occupied.

Last year, a judge issued a ruling invalidating the construction permits, leading city building officials to tell CIM Group last month that their temporary occupancy permit had expired and couldn’t be renewed until the project goes through a new environmental review and approval process.

Silverstein called CIM’s pending appeal a “phony process,” saying that he doesn’t think the Board of Building and Safety Commissioners can make a decision that would overrule the courts.

The problems with the Sunset and Gordon building are one of several setbacks for big, new developments in Hollywood as the city tries to remake the neighborhood.

Last year, a judge ordered Target Corp. to halt construction on a 74-foot-tall shopping center project on Sunset Boulevard, saying the city had improperly allowed the project to exceed a 35-foot height limit. Another judge overturned the city’s Hollywood Community Plan Update, which called for taller and denser construction projects near transit stops.

Neighborhood groups also are challenging the Millennium project, a pair of skyscrapers planned near the Capitol Records building.

Alexander Ali, who’s lived in the Sunset and Gordon building since October, said he thinks the city is trying to make an example of CIM Group for not following the city’s stipulations, and that the tenants are unfairly caught in the middle. “They’re having a fight, they’re trying to call each others’ bluffs, and we’re the ones who are scared, and we could be rendered homeless,” he said.