I'm Just Sayin': Manipulating the numbers game

J.C. Watts wrote, "Character is doing the right thing when nobody's looking. There are too many people who think that the only thing that's right is to get by, and the only thing that's wrong is to get caught."

A concerned neighbor of the proposed mixed-use development at 2626 Foothill Blvd. had his suspicions confirmed last week that the grade that the developer indicated on his plans was misstated. According to Richard Claghorn of the L.A. County Department of Regional Planning, "The existing grade lines drawn by the architect on the building elevations do not match the observed grade. Consequently, the analysis of the height was off by about 7 to 8 feet for some areas of the building."

In other words, had the neighbor not caught this inaccuracy, parts of the building would have been built nearly one full story taller than the 35 feet allowed by code.

Developer Gevorg Voskanian explains this as an error. There are lots of synonyms for error, including blunder, boo-boo, faux pas, goof and screw-up. None of these seem to fit.

The county expects the developers to submit accurate plans and not to fudge the numbers. My mother would have said that this is like letting the fox guard the henhouse.

What incentive is there for them not to lie? It's not for fear of a penalty, such as a fine, because the county will simply allow the plans to be revised to what they should have been in the first place, and they will be approved. No harm, no foul.

Sadly, this error has resulted in the century-old Moreton Bay Fig tree on the adjacent property losing three major limbs that were hacked off to make room for this illegal building. The tree's very survival is now in doubt.

This situation reminds me of another development where the height was understated.

In 2005, while I was serving on the Crescenta Valley Town Council, neighbors of a condominium project that was being built on Florencita Avenue in Montrose came to the council to voice their concerns about the height of the building.

The building had been approved by county regional planners, had been inspected on numerous occasions by building and safety officials, was nearly completed, and the units were about to be sold. When I met county representatives at the site and the plans were again reviewed, it was found that the front of the top floor was 5 feet higher than allowed. The result was an unprecedented move by the county in which they made the developer demolish one unit.

Currently, the county does not notify anyone, nor do they provide copies of plans, for projects that are by-right. According to Paul Novak of Supervisor Mike Antonovich's office, they've heard from people who don't want any notification. What are these people afraid of?

The county must change this policy and notify the community and make available copies of plans for all projects, discretionary or by right, just as is done in the cities of Glendale, La Cañada and Los Angeles.

Those of us who live in unincorporated Los Angeles County should be treated with as much respect as our neighbors.

SHARON RAGHAVACHARY is on the steering committee for Crescenta Valley Community Assn. and a member of the Family Advisory Council for Childrens Hospital Los Angeles. She may be reached at sharonchary@gmail.com.

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