From CityWatchLA Sullivan Canyon Scandal: Officials Tiptoe Around Whistleblower Accusations
Written by John Schwada
DEVELOPERS’ DUPLICITY-For almost exactly a year state and local officials have been dancing around the issue of what to do about startling whistleblower allegations that developers seeking permits to build two mega-mansions in LA’s pristine Sullivan Canyon had tried to bribe and intimidate state officials to get their way.
“These allegations are an inconvenient elephant in the room,” said former state senator Tom Hayden, Vietnam War protester, author, progressive icon and owner of a modest ranch house that overlooks the controversial Sullivan Canyon property. “No one wants to acknowledge the elephant is right there – in the room. No one wants to deal seriously with the allegations. The big question is why?”
State Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, has done more than any elected official to push the issue, prodded in part by Hayden.
In a June 17 letter Allen wrote to the city’s Zoning Administrator, which had ruled in favor of the developer’s project, that he was troubled by allegations made by State Water Quality Control Board engineering geologist Valerie Carrillo Zara. “[T]he allegations regarding corruption and bribery surrounding this project are serious and should be addressed,” the senator wrote. “Otherwise, the project risks engendering further ill-will and mistrust within the community.”
Zara, in an Oct. 20, 2014 memo to her boss, wrote about her belief that the Sullivan Canyon developers were alternately trying to bribe and intimidate officials in order to obtain the state permits needed to clear the way for them to build two 15,000 square foot mansions on their 13-acre parcel in Sullivan Canyon.
The project’s collateral damage included altering a stream-bed and disrupting the local habitats of deer, mice, raccoons and coyotes by flattening hilltops with 1,166,000 cubic feet of grading (enough earth movement to fill a football field with 75 feet of soil.)
Zara’s charges had the ring of credibility. The developers she was fingering were members of the Namvar clan, brothers of Ezri Namvar (photo right,) the so-called “Madoff of Beverly Hills,” who is now serving time in a federal lockup, convicted after an FBI investigation of running a Ponzi scheme to swindle tens of millions of dollars from members of LA’s Jewish Persian community.
Just days before this writing, on Oct. 1, Allen wrote to the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife of his concern about the Namvar project, saying “the allegations regarding attempted bribery…are disconcerting and certainly warrant examination.”
As in his earlier missive, Allen also argued that a new environmental assessment of the Namvar project was needed because it had become obvious that the project the city had evaluated for its environmental impacts in 2007 was not the same one the Namvar’s intended to build in 2015. Indeed the project’s new iteration, Allen wrote, is in many ways twice as impactful as the original one.
The developer’s bait-and-switch tactics were evident elsewhere. The Namvar’s originally told the city they intended to destroy 25 protected oaks and sycamores on their property to make way for two mega-mansions. But then the Namvar’s sought – and inexplicably – obtained permits from Mayor Garcetti’s appointees on the Board of Public Works to chainsaw 58 protected trees. The corpses of those trees now litter Sullivan Canyon’s hillsides.
It was the chainsaw massacre (photo at top) that awakened Sullivan Canyon neighbors to the project which they say had been proceeding under a cloud of secrecy, aided and abetted by loopholes in city rules and blatant and repeated failures by the city to notify the neighbors of what was happening.
The neighbors have now sued to overturn prior city approvals of the project, claiming the Namvar’s need to do a full and honest environmental impact assessment to replace the one they originally submitted that understated the project’s real size and impacts; that the project would involve grading 25 times more than legally permitted by the city’s Baseline Hillside Ordinance; and that the entire project has been cloaked in unconstitutional, due process-violating secrecy.
Local activists, including Hayden, have also alerted Mayor Eric Garcetti, City Attorney Mike Feuer and Brentwood Councilman Mike Bonin about the apparent irregularities surrounding the Sullivan Canyon project and the allegations of attempted bribery and corruption. Bonin quietly introduced a motion (no press release, no news conference) about the tree removals. But Garcetti and Feuer have not been heard or seen on this issue. There may be reasons for City Hall’s circumspection. For example, Feuer as recently as July 2014 received a campaign contribution of $1,000 from Homayoun (aka Tony) Namvar, one of Ezri’s four brothers. Council President Herb Wesson got a $700 contribution from Homayoun Namvar more recently, in February 2015. The Ponzi scheme allegations involving Ezri Namvar were widely known by Dec. 2008. But city officials took a total of $4,700 from members of the Namvar clan well after the scandal went public.
The Namvar clan has contributed a total of $27,200 to various city candidates and elected officials since 2000.
In addition, Sean (aka Houshang) Namvar (another of Ezri Namvar’s brothers) and the Namvar-controlled company, Sullivan Canyon Equity Partners, LLC, has paid at least $160,922.51 to Patrick Mitchell (of the Roseville, California law firm of Mitchell Chadwick LLP) to lobby City Hall officials and paid another $20,000 to Encino attorney Fred Gaines to do the same. All these payments were made in the past six months.