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Calabasas widens building-code crackdown

Inspectors raid the home of Shelly Palmer and Ion Bugar, part of a controversial effort targeting older, rural houses.

March 24, 2011|Bob Pool, Los Angeles Times

Hours before Calabasas' hard-line mayor stepped down, city officials widened a controversial crackdown on alleged building code violations in older, rural-area homes.

Inspectors raided an 87-year-old Canon Drive house, taking measurements and photographs in a search for unpermitted room additions, fixtures and other features.

"This is a court-ordered inspection of both the inside and outside of the property," said city prosecutor Kenneth Dapeer as officials arrived Wednesday at the gate to Shelly Palmer's home next to a gurgling Old Topanga Canyon stream at the southwest edge of the San Fernando Valley.

Past Palmer's ornately carved front door, city building official Sparky Cohen led building inspector Jason Reithoffer and code enforcement officer Ray Soria through the house as Palmer, a 52-year-old real estate agent, watched silently along with upset neighbors.

FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said the raids occurred on Tuesday.

The hourlong inspection of the 1924 home covered bathrooms, bedroom, living room and kitchen, as well as outside areas.

The action was reminiscent of a raid in July that forced a Stokes Canyon rancher off his pioneering family's land after officials ordered water and electricity cut off. Lloyd Smith, 70, has not been allowed to return to the property.

The crackdown stems from strict enforcement of a beefed-up septic system inspection program championed by Mayor Barry Groveman, a self-described environmental activist. Groveman did not seek reelection last month and left the City Council as newly elected members were sworn in Wednesday night.

Groveman did not respond to requests for comment. But opponents of the crackdown in older neighborhoods on Calabasas' mountainous south side say he had pledged publicly to press for vigorous code enforcement as long as he was in office.

Steven Gambardella, an attorney representing Palmer and several of her neighbors, asked Cohen not to post photos of Palmer's property and possessions on a city website, as officials did after the Smith raid.

Palmer was "selected because she has come to City Council meetings and come out against" the tough septic system enforcement policy, Gambardella said.

City officials left without commenting on their findings. Dapeer said Palmer's septic system — which has been the trigger for past enforcement actions — was not on the list of things inspectors were looking for during their visit.

Others who witnessed the raid were critical of the city's actions.

"It's ludicrous," said Bob Stephens, who lives in the nearby Calabasas Highlands area. He said other rural residents wonder if they're next in line for the scrutiny.

Palmer said husband Ion Bugar, an electrician, was at work Wednesday and missed the raid. "He fled communist Romania 27 years ago by swimming across the Danube while being shot at. He hates police states," she said.

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