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4-Year Battle Over Rustic Canyon House Ends

California Coastal Commission approves plans for a three-story house on Vance Street despite opposition from neighbors.

A four-year battle over development of a hilltop property on Vance Street in Rustic Canyon has ended with the California Coastal Commission's approval of the project.

The property owners, Jeanne Chen and Robert Dolbinski, were joined by geologists and neighbors who made the trip from the Los Angeles area to the Coastal Commission meeting in San Francisco on Dec. 8.

Arguments were made both for and against plans to build a three-story, 1,966-square-foot house which some neighbors fear will undermine the stability of the Pacific Palisades hillside.

The Coastal Commission ultimately voted 11-1 to approve the project in the 300 block of Vance Street. This was the second time the commission heard this application and appeal.

In arguing for their development request, Chen and Dolbinski, as well as their attorney and geologist, said the hillside would be stronger with the house on the property than without it.

"There is not a reasonable probability of failure," said Chen and Dolbinski's attorney, Sherman Stacey, at the meeting.

Chen and Dolbinski are architects and will design the home.

In a previous Patch report, Community members told Patch contributor Sharon Cotal there is little flat land on the site where the home would be built and they were worried about the safety of residents who live nearby.

Neighbors repeated their concerns in front of the Coastal Commission.

"They talk about the outcome after the building is over, but they don't explain what will happen to the hillside, how it might collapse while they are building," said Jerry Kagan, a longtime resident of the Rustic Canyon area, during the public hearing.

Kagan told the commission he was worried about the safety of the residents and the workers who might be assigned to the project.

"Let's not repeat the mistakes we've made in the past. We ask [that] you do decline this request," Kagan told the commission.

Residents also referenced a report from Daniel Pradel, a geotechnical engineer and adjunct professor at UCLA, in which he doubts the property can be safely developed. The 2009 report was done about two years after Chen and Dolbinski filed for a building permit.

A neighbor, Betty Landis, voiced concern about seismic stability. She spoke to the commission about a crack in the road believed to be from the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

"I don't know why this would be taken, knowing that there is a crack in the road ... 50 feet from the cliff," Landis said. "We are truly frightened of this project."

"I know you feel afraid that the cliff will fail. I'm sure you're afraid right now," Commissioner Dayna Bochco said at the meeting. "It's more likely to fail [now] than it is when the house is built."

Bochco added she wasn't sure what the property owners could do, short of building the home, to ensure that the structure won't collapse the hillside. Bochco also said she believed the property owners would comply with neighbor requests while building.

Before making her decision, Commissioner Jana Zimmer asked several questions of the commission's panel of experts, including whether or not the site needed a stronger fence to control debris, and if having drilling equipment on the cliff would make the area unstable. After voicing her concerns, she told the commission she would support the building.

"The most convincing is our own experts' views," Zimmer told the commission. "Since they are so strong, I'm willing to abandon my fears."

Commissioner Esther Sanchez solely opposed the development. She told the commission she felt there were safety issues.

"There has been strong, credible testimony that this does present as a public nuisance," Sanchez said during the meeting.

Coastal Commission Chair Mary Shallenberger voted in favor of the development but noted she couldn't fathom living on a hillside like the one along Vance Street.

"I don't like supporting this. I think it's a crazy place to build," Shallenberger told the commission. "But, with our experts, I have to agree."

TJ Hand May 15, 2012 at 01:15 AM
As long as the City of Los Angeles Building Department approves all structural details then what's the problem? Sounds like another case of "I have a house in the Palisades but you can't have one". People forget that when their homes were built, they to upset one or more of their neighbors. If you don't like it? Move or buy the property yourself!

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