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Criminal probe is sought over Las Lomas housing

Developer may have falsified documents, two lawmakers say.

February 15, 2008|David Zahniser | Times Staff Writer

Escalating their fight against the proposed 5,553-home development known as Las Lomas, Los Angeles City Councilman Greig Smith and Assemblyman Cameron Smyth (R-Santa Clarita) called Thursday for two law enforcement agencies to determine whether a real estate developer perjured himself in public documents submitted on behalf of the project.

Smith and Smyth, who represent portions of the San Fernando Valley, said in a news release that Santa Monica developer Dan Palmer submitted "falsified statements" in paperwork identifying his company, Las Lomas Land Co., as the sole owner of the property.

The accusations are the latest in the increasingly nasty fight over the 555-acre site, which is north of the interchange of the 5 and 14 freeways. The Los Angeles City Council is expected to decide this year on whether it will review the project, which -- if approved -- would rival in size Playa Vista, a mega-project being built near Marina del Rey.

Six of the 14 parcels on the Las Lomas site are owned by Van Nuys resident Fred McHaddad -- information that should have been disclosed in the permit application submitted by Palmer to the city and county of Los Angeles, according to the two politicians.

Councilman Smith planned to ask Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley and state Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown to investigate.

Las Lomas spokesman Matt Klink disputed the accusations, saying Palmer had had a long-standing option agreement to buy McHaddad's land and was legally authorized to fill out the application on McHaddad's behalf.

"This is a smear campaign conducted by project opponents such as Greig Smith, Assemblyman Smyth and others in an effort to deny Las Lomas due process," Klink said.

For weeks, Smith has been engaged in a form of low-grade warfare against the proposed project, which would be built in hilly terrain north of Sylmar -- property that is currently outside the city of Los Angeles. To counter those efforts, Las Lomas has relied on a team of lobbyists that includes former Assemblyman Mike Roos and former Councilman Richard Alatorre.

Councilman Smith and Assemblyman Smyth said they want investigators with the state's Department of Real Estate to determine whether Palmer tried to defraud McHaddad out of his property -- which makes up nearly half of the site.

Smith released a Dec. 7 letter from McHaddad to county officials saying that Palmer had incorrectly identified himself as the sole owner. In the letter, McHaddad, 77, said he had become worried after seeing a notice from the county stating that he had given Palmer permission to represent him. He wrote that he had not agreed to have his property merged with other nearby parcels.

"I became scared and I still am," he wrote. "I called Mr. Palmer and I could not reach him. I sent Mr. Palmer a message of inquiry and concern and I received no reply."

Contacted Thursday about the letter, McHaddad declined to comment. But Klink responded by faxing a copy of an 8-year-old agreement signed by McHaddad that authorized Palmer to obtain the "necessary public permits" to develop the land.

Politicians at City Hall have been quarreling over the project for months. In December, City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo issued an opinion stating that the city of Los Angeles must process the application because it began reviewing the matter years ago.

That opinion showed up on the website of a neighborhood council in December, prompting another politician -- Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon -- to call for an investigation into whether attorney-client confidentiality was breached at City Hall.

Smith was unhappy with Delgadillo's opinion and retained his own attorney, Lloyd W. Pellman, a private-sector lawyer who spent years representing Los Angeles County -- the entity that has been asked to annex Palmer's land into Los Angeles.

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david.zahniser@latimes.com

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