Sullivan Canyon Developer Temporarily Halted

By Sue Pascoe

Residents of Sullivan Canyon learned of an impending development only after more than 50 protected mature California oaks and sycamores had been chopped down in the narrow canyon located between Will Rogers State Park and Mandeville Canyon.

There had been no public hearing or warning, until developer Sam Shakib and graders were discovered on the property on Oct. 1.

Graders stand idle in Sullivan Canyon. Photo: Sue Pascoe
Graders stand idle in Sullivan Canyon. Photo: Sue Pascoe

“The most beautiful tree on the block, they cut it down,” said Cathy Taylor, who lives next door to the narrow entrance that is slated to be a 1,160-ft. driveway leading to two single-residency homes: 16,000- and 17,000- sq.-ft. structures, each with its own guest house, barn and swimming pool.

Councilman Mike Bonin, in a Nov. 13 e-mail to the News said, “I was aghast when I learned about the destruction of such beautiful trees. Native Southern California trees, including coastal oaks and Western sycamores, are ecological treasures.”

“As soon as I received e-mails from neighbors, I notified the Bureau of Street Services, members of the Board of Public Works, and several members of the mayor’s staff,” Bonin said. “Urban Forestry staff was dispatched to the location.

“Unfortunately, I learned that Public Works issued a permit February 2013 (be- fore I took office) for the removal of 56 trees; that there is no existing community notification requirement for the removal of protected trees on private property; and that existing city policy allowed for multiple extensions of tree removal permits— also without public notice.

“Additionally, the process did not allow for consideration of the impact of tree removals by the Board of Public Works as part of the planning review,” Bonin said. “The process is broken, which is why I am preparing to submit a motion to the City Council that will require a 30-day public notice and public hearing for any permit application for the removal of three or more trees on private property.”

The destruction of trees is only the start of what could be a major disruption for residents in an area accessed by a narrow two-lane road with no curb or shoulder. The posted speed limit is 10 mph with a warning to watch for children and horses.

“Namva [property owner] is predicting that he will take out 87,000 cubic yards of dirt,” neighbor Sara Nichols said, noting that this would be the equivalent of filling a football stadium from end zone to end zone 33 ft. deep.

Nichols said when she expressed concerns city official Ray Chan told her, “We’ll just have to put a flag man on the road.” Residents have filed an appeal of the grading permit.

Additionally, neighbors said in the middle of the 12.4-acre lot there is a blue-line stream [i.e., flows for most of the year], which is governed by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regulations. The Los Angeles Water Board is now investigating.

As neighbors fight to protect the canyon, they ask, “How could this happen?”

“Somehow the city came up with an in- sane approval for something that shouldn’t be built,” Nichols said. “Leo Lacy bought the property from [architect] Cliff May and owned it 28 years and was never able to develop it.” She thought Lacy sold the property around 2008.

Last May, the Los Angeles City Council voted to include Sullivan Canyon as a his- toric location because “it is the culmination of Cliff May’s lifelong dedication to designing, developing and promoting an urbanized form of ranch living.”

“There’s no rational explanation for this project,” Nichols said.

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