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Probe Puts New Homes at Risk

Newport architect is investigated for allegedly falsifying plans. Dozens of his houses exceed the city's height limits.

November 12, 2003|Stanley Allison | Times Staff Writer

A Newport Beach architect is under criminal investigation for allegedly falsifying building plans for about three dozen custom homes that, as a result, exceed the city's height limits.

Tonight, the Newport Beach City Council will discuss what to do about the homes, which are scattered across the city. The city may grant them after-the-fact approval to bend the city's height rules.

Andrew Goetz was arrested last month on suspicion of forging surveyor's elevation measurements at 35 home sites over a three-year period, police said. The completed homes exceed the city's height limit by as little as several inches to two feet, city officials said.

The criminal investigation has thrown into question the legal status of the homes, some of which are still under construction.

Work was ordered stopped on about 10 of them, said Deputy City Atty. Robin Clauson.

The city attorney's office is recommending a "special circumstance" variance for projects with building permits that were issued based on false information allegedly submitted by Goetz.

Such a variance would protect the homeowners from any legal issues over the problem, city officials said.

"Is it proper to have that person rip that house down, or the framing down, because that person was victimized? My feeling is no," said Mayor Steve Bromberg, an employment litigation attorney. "We have to make a decision that's fair to everybody."

Goetz was arrested Oct. 15 after building department employees discovered that signatures or stamps on surveyor reports appeared to be forged or altered. The employees also discovered that information in those reports did not match field measurements.

Goetz is scheduled to be arraigned Dec. 1 on multiple felony counts of forgery. He is free on $10,000 bail and said he was advised by his attorney, Paul Ultimo, to not discuss the case. Ultimo was unavailable for comment.

City Atty. Bob Burnham said he believed the city had the right to seek a court order requiring the owners to bring the homes into compliance.

But, he said, the courts would then be forced to weigh the best interests of the city against the interests of the property owner, specifically the cost and hardship of making the home conform to the height limit.

The special circumstance variance would take those issues into account, Clauson said.

"There are certain circumstances where the property is just built, or they are so far along that it would require substantial work to make them comply with the zoning code," she said.

The delays and the work involved could be a financial burden to the homeowner, who is a victim, said Bromberg.

Police Sgt. Steve Shulman said detectives, other city employees and architecture experts are searching for other possible falsifications or forgeries.

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