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Firms Gave Thousands for Building Dept. Event

November 18, 2005|Richard Fausset | Times Staff Writer

Developers, builders and lobbyists donated as much as $3,750 each in food, cash and door prizes at a Los Angeles Building and Safety Department charity event that was mostly attended by department employees, according to records released this week by the department.

The event, billed as "casino night," was held Nov. 7 at the White Lotus, a Hollywood nightclub. Building and Safety employees asked donors to sponsor the event or buy $30 tickets. Solicitations were sent on city letterhead.

Last week, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's office learned of the event and demanded that Building and Safety employees stop soliciting donations from people who do business with the department, saying the practice could be perceived as "coercive." The department's approval is needed for construction or remodeling in the city. And it regulates seismic, electrical and plumbing work and enforces zoning codes.

Building and Safety officials vowed to return about $7,800 that was raised from donors and was intended for the March of Dimes and other charities. A number of checks had been returned to businesses by Thursday.

The remainder of the money, nearly $12,800, was used for expenses.

The department prepared a list of the donors and their contributions, which was made public this week.

The biggest donor was Mark Handel, president of MWH Development Corp, who provided $3,750 in food for the event. Handel hopes to build homes on the Verdugo Golf Course in Tujunga, and has other projects planned in Pacoima and Sylmar, according to the company website.

The next-largest donor was Richard Gould, vice president of Torrance-based JCC Homes, who gave $1,000. The company recently completed subdivisions in Los Feliz, Agoura Hills and Rancho Palos Verdes, according to its website.

Others gave door prizes, including gift baskets and gift certificates.

Mark Armbruster, a lobbyist and attorney, is listed as having given a $400 wine cooler and a case of wine of undetermined value. Armbruster has lobbied the Building and Safety Department on a number of projects this year.

Armbruster said that the gift was from Cascades Park Properties, which he co-owns. He said he learned about the party from a flier -- nobody solicited him.

"It just sounded like one of those good deed, public benefit type of things," he said.

Sinanian Development Inc. of Tarzana donated a $500 gift card. Sinanian has a city contract to build the Barrio Action Youth & Family Center in Monterey Hills, according to its website.

Other donors included Keyes Toyota of Van Nuys, which gave $500, and T. Viole Construction Co. of Tarzana, which gave $350.

Tim Viole, president of the construction firm, said he figured the money was "a minor little token of appreciation" that was going to a good cause.

"We do a lot of business with these people," he said in a telephone interview Thursday.

One $500 cash donation was listed as "anonymous," which department officials could not be reached to explain.

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