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Beverly Hills News – Bel Air Residents Oppose Massive Somma Project


Updated Tuesday, July 15 – 9:30 AM

By Victoria Talbot

Bel Air residents traveled downtown this morning to voice their opposition to a massive project planned for their neighborhood at 10697 Somma Way. Today’s hearing before the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety is for the approval of the export of 29,476 cubic yards of earth from the project site.

This massive amount of dirt is for a 40,000 sq. ft. residence that has only 16,000 sq. ft. above ground. The rest of the project, including a 16-car garage, will be underground, requiring that a significant portion of the property be excavated.

The property that is being developed is situated on a particularly narrow street, abutted by 22 residences. This project would be at the end of the street.

The “road” is made of concrete – like a sidewalk – not asphalt. It is only 211-239 inches across. It was paved about two decades ago for the first time at the urging of Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. Each household was invoiced for $20,000 to cover the dirt road.

Hauling out that much dirt is expected to destroy the road and could take years.

In addition, the narrow width prohibits more than one vehicle at a time on the road. In the event of a disaster, such as a fire, the residents would be trapped behind such a heavy haul vehicle.

Multiple residents, including the project’s next door neighbor, said they received no notice of today’s hearing. The developer is required to notify everyone within 300 feet from the center of the project.

The Bel Air hillsides have been besieged by heavy haul vehicles and cement trucks as developers excavate to create massive underground spaces beneath homes in order to comply with the hillside ordinance that limit heights above ground. In addition, developers do not need approvals and permits for underground space. Only haul routes and grading permits are required.

Conditions in Bel Air are not unlike the conditions in Trousdale Estates, Beverly Hills, which led to the deaths of two LAPD officers in two separate incidents on steep, winding roads where the heavy haul vehicles lost their brakes. In Bel Air the conditions are equally steep, winding and treacherous; in fact, there are far more heavy haul vehicles in Bel Air, and developments that are three times the size of the White House and the Bel Air Hotel being treated as if they are simply single-family homes.

The Bel Air Homeowners Alliance has been formed by residents who seek a much more sane approach to development. They believe that the mitigations that are being applied in Beverly Hills to achieve Zero Tolerance should also be applied throughout the hillsides of Los Angeles and surely, in Bel Air.

Those mitigations include both traffic mitigations and restrictions on planning and permitting.

In addition, in order to achieve a more sensible approach, they advocate that the City of Los Angeles should be looking at the overall map of development in the region instead of looking at each project individually. With such a narrow vision, the LADBS is not sensitive to the overall encroachment or the density of development affecting residents’ quality of life.

The BAHA also would like to see homes that are over 20,000 sq. ft. treated as commercial properties, requiring the same environmental reviews as any commercial construction venture and the same approvals. Currently, a home that is 2,000 sq. ft. and a home that is 97,000 sq. ft. (such as the home at 944  Aerole Way, being built by Mohammed Hadid) pay the same meager fees and put up the same bonds to repair the roads. The underground portions are not subject to any approvals, no matter how deep.

The drive to approve plans and issue permits is testament to how important this source of income is to Los Angeles. It has taken precedence over safety and sensible long-term planning, say residents. The hillsides have become the Wild West for developers who candidly do not care about fines for rogue developments, which are so low that they are not a deterrent. Fines and lawsuits are a small fee, the “cost of doing business”, for developers raking in $30-100 million per project.

Finally, residents are uniting to protest this latest development in the hopes that their protests do not fall on deaf ears.

The meeting began this morning at 9:30 a.m. in Room 900 (9th Floor), 201 N. Figueroa Street in downtown Los Angeles.

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