Hermitage/Weddington Project: Squatters Threatening Neighbors, Lawsuits Filed, City Hall Snoozes

LOS ANGELES

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-Back in May, I wrote about the Hermitage/Weddington project proposed by Urban-Blox. A structure built in the 1930s would be replaced with a small lot subdivision of 26 condos with an expected purchase price of $600,000 each. The project had been granted a density bonus and would have environmental impact, as well as eliminating existing rent control, according to Save Valley Village.

Since I first started covering grassroots activism, I’ve listened to homeowners, tenants and neighbors express their frustration, anger and disappointment that their neighborhoods were being taken over by often unscrupulous developers with accomplices in City Council and on the Planning Commission.

I’ve heard neighbors blind-sided by slipshod planning approvals that have permitted an adjacent house to be demolished without the next door neighbors consent, exposing neighbors to asbestos and knocking down trees on their properties. Houses at the cusp of receiving Historic-Cultural Monument Status have been destroyed; tenants with disabilities and those on fixed incomes have been evicted from their longtime homes to make space for more expensive condos. Properties have been demolished under a loophole that allows “renovation” to mean stripping a property to a single board and some nails. 

Although all of these scenarios are mind-boggling, none of these situations quite reaches the level of shock value as the scenario a tenant shared with me this week. 

The story features lawsuits to determine property rights, plans to privatize what is now a public street, a handful of squatters who are believed by neighbors to be involved in criminal activity, drug dealing and stealing utilities. 

An activist shared with me that council members have ignored thousands upon thousands of pages of evidence on planned projects, as well as the legalities of giving away a public street to a developer. The street issue has elicited the attention and support of State Assembly Member Patty Lopez who has written a letter on the activists’ behalf, although the property is not in her district.

Let’s start at the beginning. In 1934, Clinton Lathrop, Sr. and Jean Lathrop purchased the land on which the property at 5303 ½ Hermitage sits. (Photo left.) This property now contains four residential units. 

Upon their parents’ deaths, Sydney Edwards and now deceased Clinton Edwards each owned half interest in the property. Sydney’s interest is now held in The Edwards Living Trust. Upon Clinton’s death, his interest has been held by his wife, Marta Lathrop, who currently holds one-half ownership of the interest. 

The sole remaining paying tenant of the property, Jennifer Getz, has been living at the property for over 20 years and claims she entered into a property management agreement with Clinton in 2009. Getz is currently in litigation over what she says was the expectation of first right of purchase, should the owners decide to sell the property, per the property management agreement. Instead, the property was sold to Urban-Blox, the developer that plans to demolish the structures as part of a larger 26-unit small lot subdivision.

UB Valley Village, LLC (Raffi Shirinian, co-founder and principal of Urban-Blox) filed a suit on September 7 against Sydney Edwards (Trustee of the Edwards Living Trust), Marta Lathrop and “Doe’s” 1 through 20 for Specific Performance for Breach of Contract to Sell Real Property and Damages. The suit states that the escrow was to close within 15 days after Getz has been evicted and removed from the property but on September 1, 2016, the defendants had communicated their intention to offer Getz the option to purchase the property. That case is in litigation. 

(Neither Urban Blox nor Mr. Shirinian responded to my request for comment.) 

If this scenario weren’t eye-opening enough, a posse of squatters has moved into the property. My source says, “We’ve done everything we can to get them off the property and are upset that it’s not working. A larger group joined the original two squatters, unloading trucks on September 2. They’ve been terrorizing and threatening the neighbors. Law enforcement has said this was a civil matter.”

(I confirmed with a spokesperson from LAPD North Hollywood Division that the eviction of squatters is a civil matter. The spokesperson also confirmed the property was currently in litigation.) 

On September 29, Sydney Edwards and the trustees of the Edwards Living Trust filed a forcible detainer suit against the squatters, who include Brandon Lee Gregg, Sean M. Mahavik and “Does” 1-10. In 2014, Mahavik was indicted on drug trafficking charges, possession to distribute a Class B Drug and trafficking in methamphetamine in Massachusetts, where he was allegedly connected with a Cape Cod meth lab. 

According to my source and a Los Angeles Times neighborhood crime mapping app, there has been an increase in violent and property crimes in the neighborhood. “The squatters are already going through the eviction process,” says my source. “We are not expecting LAPD to remove them, as that must go through the court system. What we DO expect is accountability for the drugs, the vandalism, the break-ins, the damage and harassment to members of the community. Just because they are squatters doesn’t mean they get to break all the other laws. The entire community has been compromised for no other reason. 

“At some point, someone does have to stop this. It’s completely unacceptable. It’s not unreasonable for a constituent to ask a council person to follow the guidelines that have been clearly outlined,” said my source. “Nobody seems to understand how permanent these decisions are. Removing a public street changes the grid and the layout of a community that was planned by planners who knew what they were doing. Councilmembers are silent. There’s not a word, despite so many people contacting them. Nobody is stopping the developers. The council people are giving these people an inch and they’re literally taking it all the way.”

What’s next? The two cases are in litigation and the PLUM Committee/City Council will have a final appeals hearing on October 25. Two of the South Valley Planning Commissioners (Maher and Beatty) have voted to uphold the appeal to stop the Urban-Blox development.

My source is appealing to as many concerned citizens as possible to attend the hearing. We’ll keep you posted. 

For more information, visit Save Valley Village or the San Fernando Valley Neighborhood Coalition sites.

 

(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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