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Panel May Ease Developer's Punishment for Demolition

September 27, 2006|Jeffrey L. Rabin | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Board of Building and Safety Commissioners on Tuesday signaled their intention to ease a five-year ban on development imposed after developer Richard Meruelo tore down four old industrial buildings near Union Station without obtaining demolition permits.

After a two-hour hearing, the commissioners voted 3 to 1 to uphold the Department of Building and Safety's decision to penalize Meruelo, the largest landowner in downtown Los Angeles.

But the commissioners also made clear they believe the five-year ban on building is excessive. They encouraged an attorney for MerueloMaddux Properties to apply for a reduction of the rarely imposed penalty.

"To put five years on this site, I think is extreme," said commission President Javier Nunez. "I would be comfortable with 24 months."

Meruelo attorney Timothy L. Neufeld apologized for the failure to obtain the required demolition permits. "We made a mistake," he said.

He noted that before Meruelo bought the property last September, the site had become a magnet for graffiti, prostitution, rave parties and drug sales.

However, when Neufeld argued that Meruelo was involved in three other demolition projects at the time and "this one slipped through the cracks," Nunez and commissioner Pedro Birba took exception.

Birba, an architect, said he did not appreciate "anyone as sophisticated as MerueloMaddux" failing to obtain the required permits.

Nunez declared that "it is not acceptable in the city of Los Angeles to perform any type of work without a permit."

Despite the violation, Commissioner Marsha Brown argued against any penalty that would restrict development of the property and creation of construction jobs. "This neighborhood desperately needs a helping hand," she said.

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jeffrey.rabin@latimes.com

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