Cal­abasas cracks down

Canyon res­i­dents say city code en­force­ment is heavy-handed.

Los Angeles Times - - Latextra - Bob Pool bob.pool@latimes.com

Up­scale Cal­abasas at the west end of the San Fer­nando Val­ley has pumped up a con­tro­ver­sial crack­down on ru­ral home­own­ers it says are vi­o­lat­ing a new sep­tic sys­tem or­di­nance.

Lat­est to be slapped with vi­o­la­tions are res­i­dents of sparsely pop­u­lated Old Topanga Canyon at the south­east edge of the 13-squaremile city. Of­fi­cials want to con­struct a new sewer line in the area.

City of­fi­cials say their sole aim is pub­lic health and safety. But the en­force­ment has fu­eled talk of de-an­nex­a­tion by Old Topanga Canyon res­i­dents who com­plain that Cal­abasas has al­lo­cated $250,000 to pros­e­cute code “vi­o­la­tors.”

Prop­erty own­ers in the oak-shaded canyon say the city is tar­get­ing them be­cause their homes are more mod­est than those in nearby gated neigh­bor­hoods. They com­plain that some in City Hall have de­ri­sively re­ferred to Old Topanga as “Dog­patch.”

In a July raid on a pi­o­neer­ing Cal­abasas fam­ily’s 60-acre ranch about three miles away in Stokes Canyon, city in­spec­tors or­dered wa­ter and power shut off, forc­ing fam­ily mem­bers off the prop­erty.

“You cor­rect one thing and they find an­other,” com­plained Ch­ester Allen, who lives in a home built in 1939 on an acre par­cel on Old Topanga Canyon’s Valdez Road. “I think the city is spying on us.”

Allen, 82, said city in­spec­tors ques­tioned him when they spot­ted him in front of his house work­ing on his sep­tic tank leach line. When they asked if they could take a look, Allen in­vited them into the yard.

Once there, “they cov­ered ev­ery­thing on the prop­erty,” Allen said. “They said ev­ery build­ing was il­le­gal be­cause they don’t meet the city’s cur­rent build­ing codes. I said I thought ev­ery­thing was grand­fa­thered in, that this place was ‘le­gal non­con­form­ing’ since ev­ery­thing here was built be­fore the city was formed” in 1991.

The re­tired con­trac­tor es­ti­mated that it will cost $50,000 to bring his house up to stan­dards that of­fi­cials have de­manded in a 30-page com­plaint.

A short dis­tance away, Robert Hahn was served with a 100-page no­tice and given un­til Oct. 10 to com­ply with city or­di­nances or board up and va­cate his

Cal­abasas ‘does not gen­er­ally search for code vi­o­la­tions [but doesn’t] look the other way when we see’ them.

— Tony Coroalles,

city man­ager ‘You cor­rect one thing and they find an­other. I think the city is spying on us.’

— Ch­ester Allen,

long­time res­i­dent

home of 31 years, a struc­ture built in 1928.

Hahn, 64, said city in­spec­tors showed up when a ten­ant he was at­tempt­ing to evict re­ported a sewage smell at his Dale Road prop­erty.

“They were out here Johnny-on-the-spot,” said Hahn, a con­trac­tor who spe­cial­izes in fire-proof­ing struc­tures. “Seven­teen peo­ple came in a car­a­van. They climbed over my house like ants. What they’re de­mand­ing is go­ing to cost me $150,000. I’m go­ing to have to tear down three-quar­ters of my house.”

Nancy Schreiner, a lawyer who rep­re­sents Allen and for­merly rep­re­sented Hahn, said city of­fi­cials are “open­ing them­selves up to civil rights vi­o­la­tions, se­ri­ous ones,” by tar­get­ing el­derly peo­ple who have lived in their homes 30 or 40 years.

Schreiner de­scribed Cal­abasas’ ac­tions as “a sledge­ham­mer ap­proach … a witch hunt.” She said pub­lic en­ti­ties usu­ally work col­lab­o­ra­tively with cit­i­zens on mu­nic­i­pal code is­sues.

In the Stokes Canyon in­ci­dent, Cal­abasas of­fi­cials said they were look­ing for sus­pected sewage pol­lu­tion. The Las Vir­genes Mu­nic­i­pal Wa­ter District has re­ac­ti­vated a fire hy­drant on the ranch that the city had or­dered shut and last week re­stored do­mes­tic wa­ter ser­vice for an­i­mals and gar­dens owned by Lloyd Smith and his fam­ily.

Smith’s sup­port­ers were out­raged when pho­tos taken in­side of Smith’s home dur­ing the raid were posted on the city web­site.

“I don’t think they in­tend to let Lloyd re­turn to that prop­erty,” said Jim Moor­head, a fam­ily friend who has at­tempted to in­ter­vene on Smith’s be­half as the 70year-old re­cov­ers from a stress-re­lated ill­ness at a con­va­les­cent home.

Cal­abasas City Man­ager Tony Coroalles de­nied that. He said the city is will­ing to

grand­fa­ther in a struc­ture on the ranch for Smith to live in.

“Our sole aim is to try to get Mr. Smith back to a home that is safe and san­i­tary,” he said.

Coroalles said the city “does not gen­er­ally search for code vi­o­la­tions,” but doesn’t “look the other way when we see” them.

“We go out of our way to work with prop­erty own­ers on com­mon-sense so­lu­tions,” he said.

In Old Topanga Canyon, some res­i­dents worry that the pro­posed mu­nic­i­pal sewer line will lead to devel­op­ment of hill­side lots now con­sid­ered un­build­able. They say over-devel­op­ment would end their area’s ru­ral feel.

“This has be­come an au­thor­i­tar­ian city that tar­gets its own res­i­dents with im­punity. It’s do­mes­tic ter­ror­ism,” said res­i­dent Toby Keeler. He said Coroalles “runs Cal­abasas like an Army base and only un­der­stands the Uni­form Code of Mil­i­tary Jus­tice, not the Con­sti­tu­tion.”

Coroalles, a for­mer in­fantry colonel who spent 27 years in the mil­i­tary, said he un­der­stands the rule of law.

“If one of these un­safe, un­per­mit­ted struc­tures were to col­lapse and peo­ple were hurt, we would not have much of an ar­gu­ment that other ser­vices were of a higher pri­or­ity,” he said.

“What is at play here is that some res­i­dents in the area want to pre­vent other prop­erty own­ers from en­joy­ing the same ben­e­fits that they en­joy,” Coroalles said. “They now fear that a sewer will make it less ex­pen­sive for other prop­erty own­ers to build a home — and they don’t want that.”

Allen and oth­ers dis­agree. “They want to run us off so they can build some man­sions up here. It would be a shame to turn this into some­thing that looks like Lau­rel Canyon,” he said.

“And you can tell peo­ple we don’t look like Li’l Ab­ner.”

Mel Mel­con

RU­RAL HAVEN: The city of Cal­abasas is crack­ing down on res­i­dents who vi­o­late its new sep­tic sys­tem reg­u­la­tions. Some res­i­dents of Old Topanga Canyon — who’ve been there since be­fore the city was founded — thought they were “grand­fa­thered in” and didn’t have to com­ply.

RES­I­DENTS: Ch­ester Allen, 82, left, and Robert Hahn, 64, have been cited by Cal­abasas for hous­ing-code vi­o­la­tions that may cost tens of thou­sands of dol­lars.

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