Last night the Altadena Town Council voted to request Supervisor Mike Antonovich start a Grand Jury investigation into the the conduct of the Los Angeles County Community Development Commission, the Developer and the Los Angeles County Building and Safety Department.
Over twenty years ago, Delores Weaver and the Board of the West Altadena Merchants Association went to Supervisor Antonovich and asked for his help in getting a full service supermarket to West Altadena.
The result was the start of the West Altadena Redevelopment District.
To make a very, very, very long and convoluted tale short, this resulted in a Project Area Committee (PAC), an Environmental Impact Report (EIR), the disolution of the PAC the formation of a Task Force that resulted in several prosecutions and lawsuits for conflicts of interest and corruption no progress and big huge mess, a Community formed PAC, a lawsuit to reinstate the PAC, the reinstatement of the PAC, and finally after the project area being kept by the CDC in the hands of various companies associated with Andrew Oliver, a process whereby the public generated it's own report as to what was to be in the project area through a series of facilitated visioning meetings that were funded by the County of Los Angeles. I am happy to say I fought hard and long to get those visioning meetings. I am also happy to say that I sat silent in those meetings as the Altadena Community requested what it had been telling me for years it desired. I was right when I listened in hearing them, and what we all wanted as a community, I am still proud to say, was progressive and way way ahead of it's time.
As a result of those visioning meetings, the project area was put up to RFP. Many developers submitted, including ones who had been disinterested when approached in the years before. One developer hired Eric Lloyd Wright, a great Organic Architect, and Frank Lloyd Wright's grandson. They were going to do a very green project, solar electric, ground water recharge, passive solar buildings, native plant draught tolorant landscape,LED lighting back when that was cutting edge, a plan to retain the local businesses and keep the rents low, and a site plan with exciting diagonal vistas and Architecture. The lead developer and visionary behiend much of this, Harold James, developed cancer and died shortly after the contract was let. He was eventually replaced through the efforts of a minor partner of Mr. James, Ray Carlisle, by Dorn- Platz.
Dorn-Platz busily set about to alter every single aspect of the project. Out went the solar electric. Away with the diagonal vistas, away with native draught resistant landscape, away with Eric Lloyd Wright and his buildings in service to humanity and the planet, away with human scale, walkable environments and the pleasure of place. In came a horribly designed cartoon of Wright Architecture with a less than average underparked strip mall built with substandard construction and uber high end rents.
Floors, walls and roofs leak when it rains, for over a year the sewer system was incorrectly installed and waffed sewer gas back into the building that housed local(minority) tenants, main access to the project was closed off for almost a year after the project was "open". The windows in the afternoon heat the small buildings to a point of severe discomfort even with the AC maxed.
Things went wrong. Way wrong. Dorn Platz worked actively to eliminate the local shop owners the project was built for, building errors that were obvious seemed to get passed by Building and Safety, The Community Development Commission seemed to refuse to enforce its contract with teh developer.
Then the developer started suing the tenants and trying to drive them out through legal costs, were found in default on various financial arrangements, while they had the project openly advertised for sale, in spite of the fact that their contract did not allow it to be sold for several more years. Again the CDC who are supposed to act to benefit and protect this community did nothing. Business owners were either destroyed or in the process of being destroyed. Not improved, driven to extinction.
Several Altadena Town Council members had worked for almost two years attempting to put things right to no avail. Last night, very reluctantly, they voted to request a Grand Jury to inverstigate this mess on the theory that when things are not right there generally is a reason they are not right and that reason is unknowable without a investigation that demands answers under oath. Not having the power to compell whitnesses, and not being able therefore to assertain the exact locus of the problems, was it incompetence? Inertia, Corruption? or maybe something not thought of by the public? the Town Council not knowing, and not able to compel answers, made it's request broad enough that the Grand Jury could find the truth wherever it lay.
Things should have never gone this far. The second the developer turned away from the project design by Eric Lloyd Wright that got the project awarded to his team, that should have been the end of him, when the community agreed to design was removed. It was the right thing then, and it would have saved the community a great deal of pain and division and the business owners emotional and fiscal ruin.