City set­tles Da Vinci fire law­suit for $400,000

L.A. orig­i­nally sought $20 mil­lion, but of­fi­cials call the deal ‘an ex­cel­lent re­sult.’

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Emily Alpert Reyes

Los An­ge­les is get­ting $400,000 to set­tle its law­suit against real es­tate de­vel­oper Ge­of­frey H. Palmer over a mas­sive fire at a down­town con­struc­tion site that dam­aged city prop­erty, city of­fi­cials an­nounced Tues­day.

The money is a tiny frac­tion of the $20 mil­lion that the city had orig­i­nally sought in the case for dam­ages tied to the 2014 fire, which sent flames roar­ing seven sto­ries high, shut down part of a down­town free­way and roused home­less peo­ple from their sleep blocks away.

But Rob Wil­cox, a spokesman for City Atty. Mike Feuer, said the city be­lieves it has none­the­less re­couped all its costs be­cause its to­tal losses were lower than ear­lier es­ti­mated.

“We’re pleased that be­yond the nearly $62 mil­lion paid by the in­surance car­rier, the city re­cov­ered $400,000 from the de­vel­oper,” Wil­cox said in a state­ment Tues­day, call­ing it “an ex­cel­lent re­sult for the city.”

City lawyers had ar­gued that Palmer and his com­pa­nies “al­lowed the cre­ation of a fire haz­ard” through “im­proper and de­fec­tive con­struc­tion meth­ods” at his Da Vinci apart­ment com­plex, which went up in flames while it was un­der con­struc­tion 2½ years ago.

The fire en­gulfed one of the apart­ment build­ings that was be­ing erected along­side the 110 Free­way, rain­ing ash on much of down­town.

The scorch­ing heat also shat­tered win­dows, melted com­put­ers and set off fire sprin­klers in nearby Figueroa Plaza, caus­ing tens of mil­lions of dol­lars in es­ti­mated dam­age to city prop­erty. Sev­eral city de­part­ments that were housed at Figueroa Plaza were dis­placed for months, ac­cord­ing to a re­port pre­pared for city law­mak­ers.

Fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors con­cluded that the fire was arson, and a man was re­cently sen­tenced to 15 years in prison for set­ting the blaze.

Prose­cu­tors al­leged that Dawud Ab­dul­wali, whom they de­scribed as a “ban­dit taxi­cab driver,” had ig­nited the down­town build­ings be­cause he was an­gry about po­lice killings of African Amer­i­cans across the coun­try.

But in the law­suit filed last year, Feuer also laid blame with Palmer, ac­cus­ing the de­vel­oper of ne­glect­ing to fol­low in­dus­try stan­dards for fire safety and preven­tion, fail­ing to prop­erly in­stall fire walls and doors, and not hav­ing an ap­pro­pri­ate wa­ter sup­ply to fight a fire.

City lawyers also al­leged that the down­town site did not have ad­e­quate se­cu­rity mea­sures to stop in­trud­ers.

Palmer de­clined to com­ment Tues­day, ac­cord­ing to a rep­re­sen­ta­tive at his com­pany of­fice. In le­gal fil­ings, his at­tor­neys de­nied the al­le­ga­tions and said he could not have pre­vented the fire.

The hefty dam­ages were the re­sult of some­thing “so out of the or­di­nary that pru­dent in­di­vid­u­als would not have an­tic­i­pated its oc­cur­rence,” the at­tor­neys wrote.

Los An­ge­les ended up scal­ing back its es­ti­mates of city dam­ages as the court case pro­gressed.

The Figueroa Plaza build­ings “were re­paired for con­sid­er­ably less than an­tic­i­pated,” ac­cord­ing to a re­port pre­pared for city law­mak­ers. In­surance also cov­ered lost rents for longer than the city had orig­i­nally ex­pected, the re­port said.

The Da Vinci apart­ment com­plex, one of sev­eral that Palmer has de­vel­oped near free­ways down­town, has since been re­built and now ad­ver­tises “lux­ury apart­ments” with an in­door bas­ket­ball court, busi­ness cen­ter and theater.

Palmer has been a di­vi­sive fig­ure in down­town de­vel­op­ment.

Busi­ness lead­ers have de­scribed him as a trail­blazer will­ing to build in ar­eas that other de­vel­op­ers shunned, play­ing a key role in re­viv­ing down­town L.A. But he in­fu­ri­ated housing ac­tivists by suc­cess­fully su­ing to over­turn a city pol­icy that re­quired af­ford­able housing in some down­town projects. He also has tan­gled with his­toric preser­va­tion­ists and spurred con­cern about health risks by build­ing mas­sive apart­ment com­plexes close to free­ways.

Pho­to­graphs by Pa­trick T. Fal­lon For The Times

FIRE­FIGHT­ERS bat­tle the Da Vinci project fire, which dam­aged city prop­erty, in 2014. L.A. al­leged the de­vel­oper “al­lowed the cre­ation of a fire haz­ard” through “im­proper and de­fec­tive con­struc­tion meth­ods.”

THE FIRE lev­eled the project along­side the 110 Free­way. The set­tle­ment goes be­yond the nearly $62 mil­lion paid by the in­surance car­rier, a spokesman says.

Bar­bara David­son Los An­ge­les Times

THE HEAT from the blaze set off fire sprin­klers in Figueroa Plaza, caus­ing tens of mil­lions of dol­lars in es­ti­mated dam­age. But the plaza’s build­ings were re­paired for much less than an­tic­i­pated, a city re­port says.

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