3/17/07 The Monterey Hills Disaster

When Greenhills Investment Co. Inc purchased a group of parcels on the east side of Elephant Hills at the end of Lathrop Ave and started making noises about sub-dividing and building 30+ 'luxury homes' there was already a development underway directly across Collis Ave from Elephant Hills.
It was supposed to be the answer to all of Highland Park's housing needs, providing subsidies for low income families to be incorporated into the overall plan of 1781 upscale condo's. The geology of both areas is identical, with unstable soil on top of shale bedrock with underground water everywhere.
Residents of Collis Ave were shocked when they learned of the huge project being planned right behind their homes, anyone who knows these hills knew that there would be problems if
the plan was approved, The then Mayor, Tom Bradley treated this project like it was his baby and his most avid supporter was the councilman of the 14th district: Richard 'Don't call me Dick' Allatorre. These two were as thick as thieves demonstrated clearly by the scandal that surrounded Allatorre's reign and eventual dismissal and the stack of indictments filed against him.
The only thing more controversial than the two of them was the CRA's hack job and gross mishandling of just about every aspect of the Monterey Hills Condo's project starting with the relocation of the existing residents and the compensation they received (or didn't, depending on who you talk to) Families were told one thing then another and smooth talked out of their property or bullied and threatened and scared away and a fortunate few...very fortunate and very few souls made out like bandits. I was young at the time but I could see even then that it was all about who you knew and who knew you that determined whether you were on the 'get' list or the 'sh!t' list.
The project was funded with tax dollars, that's what the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) is all about and like most things the government [be it Federal, State or Local City Government] touches turns expensive, it takes a lot of money to cut through red tape but even more to create said red tape. Essentially we had the fox guarding the hen house or the crooks counting the money in this case, there were no overt improprieties but anytime you have a multi-million dollar project and so many lucrative contracts to be had, the corruption usually isn't far away.
When we mix the overwhelming temptation to accept gifts or campaign contributions in exchange for contracts, cut throat, cash fat developers, bloodthirsty contractors, a complete lack of third party oversight, and a group of city inspectors that were easier to buy than a pack of Marlboro's, Then throw in a 'rubber stamp' planning department and a Mayor with an agenda, here's what you get in about 20 years:

//1989 – 1990 Longest Civil Jury Trial in Los Angeles County
Over a decade earlier, the Castro firm successfully litigated the longest land subsidence jury trial in Los Angeles County history. Joel Castro tried the massive 200 unit Eaton Crest project in Monterey Hills, a structure that was constructed on a defective 100 foot deep landfill. The $21,634,466 award reported by the Los Angeles Daily Journal was the largest jury award of the year.

"There was a canyon with an artesian well at the bottom. The fill was subsiding so fast, nothing could be corrected until the fill was stabilized. The water in the swimming pool was at an angle and the building was falling apart." (Los Angeles Daily Journal, August, 1994)
Over 300,000 construction documents were produced and managed by the firm. "Castro accomplished this partly by using a specially designed computer program, long before the technology was used by most lawyers. Other attorneys believe he might have been the pioneer in database litigation." (Los Angeles Daily Journal, August 1994).

The jury returned a multi-million dollar verdict which was increased by the addition of attorneys’ fees and costs, together with interest. As a result of this favorable jury verdict, all Monterey Hills owners were able to settle their aggregate claims for $65,000,000 which represented the remaining coverage for all insurance carriers after $40,000,000 was paid in defense costs. Mr. Castro was instrumental in achieving that global settlement.\\

In case you lost track of the number of zero's in that final number...I'll spell it out for you:
That's sixty five million dollars aggregate settlements...forty million dollars defending the indefensible and guess who was picking up the tab ? Not the contractors who paid off the inspectors to look the other way, not the inspectors who looked the other way, not Tom Bradley who was long gone spending the money he didn't make brokering deals all over this project, not Dick Allatorre he was under indictment and had legal costs of his own, nope none of them, it was you and me who funded this little fiasco and every other tax paying citizen in the city of Los Angeles.
I wonder how many schools we could have built in 1990 with 125 million dollars ?And, speaking of schools, where's the one they promised to build when we agreed to let them come leave this turd in our back yard ?...It was supposed to be an elementary school to accommodate the population explosion caused by building seventeen hundred and eighty one housing units where we once had 12.
If they think everyone has forgotten all the lies and bullsh!t they laid on us when they needed 'community support' they're mistaken, although finding anyone who was involved in this disaster who is willing to admit it is easier said than done. Trust me when I tell you, there were more broken promises than ones kept on this project by a bunch.
Why do I care about the MHC catastrophe and what does it have to do with Elephant Hills ?
Allow me to explain:
First: This is Elephant Hills, or at least it used to be, before they filled in the valleys and graded down the hilltops and turned it into this [see photo titled 'MHC landfill' below] once upon a time Pullman Street valley continued across Collis Ave up through the valley where we now have terraced unstable fill dirt 120' deep with charming [not] 'bench drainage ditches' covered in weeds where the soil hasn't washed out, and colorful blue tarps where it has.
Keep in mind, all of these issues: unstable landfill, mudslides, underground water systems, excessive traffic etc. were all brought up at City Council meetings and planning department hearings and submitted in writing in triplicate with copies to the city planners, the grading dept,
building and safety, the CRA and anyone who could read on the 6th floor at City Hall by the people who are still suffering from the faulty planning, engineering and execution of this albatross. The first ones who's lives should have been considered before this project got its first nod from the city, THE PEOPLE WHO ALREADY LIVED HERE ! The taxpaying, property owning, registered voters who now can say, "We told you so" <---that and two fifty will get us a cup of Starbucks coffee.
Second; When the developer submitted his Environmental Impact Report for the project we're opposing today, he had to fill out section III titled:
This is where the developer in this case Greenhills Investments Inc had to show some number of similar projects in the immediate area and cite the particulars of that project calling out
any city approvals ,variances or sub-divisions approved by the city to show that their project is appropriate for the area.
Personally I think this section like every other section in the report is either critically outdated or faulty or misleading going in.

The first 'related' project he reported was;
Case No 89-341-DB Located at 4968 Figueroa St in Council District 1
A density bonus was granted to allow the construction of two apartment buildings consisting of a 54 unit and a 42 unit building on 1.32 net acres. Parcel zoned R4-1. Twenty four units are reserved for low to moderate income. Construction Status: Not Yet Begun Miles away: 4.36

The Second was:
Case No 89-1192-PM Located at 6420 Monterey Rd. East of Lomitas Drive in CD 14
Preliminary Parcel Map No.6544 was approved for three single family residences on 0.47 acres the area is zoned R1-1 and R4-1. Construction Status: not yet begun Miles Away: 3.52

The Third was:
Case No.90-0442-SUB
Located at 4100-4102 Abner Street in CD 14. Tentative Tract Map No.49389 was approved to allow the construction of a 9 unit condominium project on 0.39 acres The area is zoned R3-1
Construction Status: Completed Miles Away: 3.47

And the fourth was:
Case No 90-0313-CUZ (DB) Located at 3707-3711 Baldwin Street east of Lincoln Avenue in CD 14. A conditional use and density bonus was approved to allow the construction of a 111 unit apartment building on 4.94 net acres. Parcel is zoned R3-1 and designated Medium Density Residential. Construction Status: not yet begun Miles Away: 3.05

This is outrageous, you have to drive past Monterey Hills to get to three of those projects from the one he is proposing, yet he lists these four and not a word about the $120 million dollar geological nightmare less than 400' away, right across the street. Not only was this EIR #172-84 screaming 'LOOK AT ME' to the city planners because it was submitted at the same time as the above documented legal action and [you can bet the farm that anyone who worked in or around the planning process for the city of L.A in 1980-1994 knew about MHC debacle because it was no secret] However, the close proximity to MHC isn't the only red flaming neon day-glo flag that should have popped up because this project is so similar to that one it isn't even funny. Inasmuch as the grade and fill method and bench drains and slab type construction and haul routes that it calls for, every person who came close to this EIR should have STOPPED IT IN IT'S TRACKS for further review at which time undoubtedly a major change of plan would have been required. At the very least further hydrology and supplemental geology and soil stability tests should have been ordered.
Our system isn't broken, because to be broken it has to have worked at one time and I'm not sure ours ever did work for anyone but the developers. We are the last major city in California to allow the developer to pick a geologist to generate his EIR without any third party oversight then take their word that everything is on the up and up even when their obvious priority is profit and bottom line while public safety and quality of life isn't given a second or even a first thought.

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