Neighbors call it an "atomic energy plant," "an abomination," "the ugliest thing I have ever seen."
Los Angeles County Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. Gilbert I. Garcetti calls it home.
Garcetti's futuristic, $1-million estate under construction in Brentwood Park has gained him unwelcome notoriety in the exclusive community, which is dominated by more traditional-looking homes, many built half a century ago.
But complaints about Garcetti's new home--he and his family moved into the unfinished house in July--have gone beyond architectural taste. On Tuesday, Garcetti and dozens of his neighbors crowded into a City Hall hearing room to debate the future of his three-car garage, which neighbors say is threatening property values in the area because it is too close to the street.
When they emerged from the hearing room three hours later, neither Garcetti nor his neighbors were happy. Garcetti was instructed to tear down about 11 feet of the garage--roughly one stall and a small storage area. He had wanted to keep the entire garage, while the homeowners wanted to see a bigger chunk torn down--about 22 feet of it.
Garcetti's garage violates a city ordinance that requires structures in Brentwood Park to be set back at least 40 feet from the front property line. Garcetti built his garage about 43 feet from the North Cliffwood Avenue curb, but because the city owns a 25-foot deep strip along each side of Cliffwood, the garage is actually only 18 feet from the property line, city officials said.
Garcetti has insisted that he knew nothing of the 25-foot strip and that he thought his property line was at the curb--an error, he said, that city officials compounded when they approved his building plans and issued a building permit. The homeowners have said that they warned Garcetti about the confusing property line, but that he went ahead with his plans.
"He thinks he is bigger and better than everybody," said one member of the Brentwood Park Property Owners Assn. "There has been a very arrogant side to this man whenever he showed up before our board."
"There is no question that the design has caused some consternation," Garcetti acknowledged this week. "I have accepted that people aren't going to like the architecture."
Garcetti and his neighbors have been battling over the garage since last October, when the city Department of Building and Safety discovered the error and ordered Garcetti to "demolish and remove that portion of the building which extends into the required front yard." Garcetti's appeal of that decision resulted in Tuesday's hearing before the city's Board of Zoning Appeals, the final arbiter on such matters.
Garcetti and several people hired to work on his house acknowledged Tuesday that the garage violates the city's setback requirement, but they argued that the mistake was innocent and the intrusion is minor. They pointed to fences, shrubs and tall trees placed on city property by other Brentwood Park homeowners as evidence that the 40-foot setback has not been strictly enforced and that the garage would not appear out of place.
Garcetti challenged his neighbors to prove that the garage has caused them economic hardship.
"Who is injured here?," Garcetti asked. "If there is going to be any house affected because of my architecture or because of where the garage is placed . . . it is going to be the house directly across the street. They sold that for almost $2.5 million, cash."
Garcetti said that only he would suffer financially if ordered to tear down the garage. And unlike his neighbors, he said, he has already suffered in other ways because of publicity surrounding the dispute.
"I did not need this notoriety," he said. "I am involved in a business that doesn't always prize notoriety, especially when you are putting criminals in jail. A lot people now know where I live."
But Garcetti's neighbors said they, too, have suffered--financially and in terms of quality of life. While unable to point to specific monetary losses, one resident suggested that the house across the street from Garcetti's could have sold for more than $2.5 million if the garage had not been there.
More important than direct financial losses, however, the residents argued, has been the immeasurable damage to the area's park-like ambiance, which they said is created by the deep setbacks.
"One of the reasons we chose to live there was because of the open-park atmosphere," said resident William Poms.
Poms and others said they fear that city tolerance of the illegal garage would set a precedent in the 385-member homeowners association, which has relied on the cooperation of its members to ward off setback encroachments. Several homeowners said after the hearing that they had wanted to build structures near the front of their properties but opted instead to honor the association's voluntary restriction.