By SARAH SHMERLING | Editor-in-Chief
The West Los Angeles Area Planning Commission hosted a five-hour hearing on Wednesday evening, November 15, regarding a proposed project along the 17500 blocks of Tramonto and Revello drives in the Castellammare area of Pacific Palisades—ultimately deciding to sustain previous determinations to conditionally approve the now-amended project.
The start of the meeting, which took place hybridly via Zoom and in person at Palms-Rancho Park Branch Library, was delayed when President Lisa Waltz Morocco asked some of the attendees—mainly residents of the neighborhood who attended to speak—to leave the room and attend virtually, at the request of the library, citing the potential for overcrowding.
The proposed project was originally approved on October 4, 2022, and then appealed by several entities. The hearing—split into seven case numbers all regarding the same project—was delayed from April and then again in September to allow additional time to gather details regarding the impacts of the project, earthwork and compatibility.
The proposed development, by Springhouse Hamilton Park LLC and Demos Development, is to span 12 existing lots, which make up four separate sites.
“The project consists of the construction of four single-family dwellings … one detached accessory dwelling unit, swimming pools, decks, retaining walls, grading necessary for the residential development, remedial grading and a 200-foot extension of Revello Drive with required grading,” according to the meeting agenda.
The total grading for the project would consist of approximately 29,148 cubic yards of earthwork, of which 28,314 would be remedial. The single-family residences would all be two stories, ranging from 2,619 square feet to 7,695 square feet (each with 2,428 to 6,292 square feet of basement space)—referred to in the document as SHP House 1 and 2, and JDR House 1 and 2.
Three appellants of the project—Castellammare resident and architect Ivo Venkov (on behalf of 24 neighbors), Castellammare Mesa Home Owners (represented by Kristina Kropp, an attorney with Luna & Glushon) and attorney Mir Saied Kashani—spoke first at the November 15 meeting, raising concerns about the project not addressing the landslide, which “will have a significant impact on the environment,” not complying with the Baseline Hillside Ordinance, and needs an Environmental Impact Report.
“We’re back before you today after about a six-month break with essentially, we believe, an insignificantly altered iteration of the same project,” Kropp said. “The project remains four sprawling estates of approximately 40,000 square feet of habitable basement and above-ground dwelling space, in addition to ADUs, decks, pools, spas in one of the most active landslides in the city. All of the issues we raised in April remain.”
Consulting geologist Don Micheal also spoke on behalf of the homeowners association, stating that, in his opinion, the “mitigated negative declaration is technically inappropriate.”
“Fundamentally, the problem is that the proposed method of slope [stabilization] for the project cannot be shown to correct the existing landslide condition,” Michael said. “Rather it is speculative and if undertaken at this time as now proposed, it could exacerbate the landslide condition.”
Following the appellants, Greg Demos of Demos Development and Tony Russo of Crest Real Estate spoke on behalf of the developer of the project, speaking on the concerns raised by the appellants and detailing updates the developer had made to the project, incorporating changes flagged by residents at previous meetings.
“Since the last hearing, the commission and the council office asked us to investigate some key additional items regarding compatibility and visual resources; the Tramonto driveway, access, walkway, and bulkhead; and safety, particularly as it pertains to landslide, Revello roadway and construction management,” Russo said. “We believe that the latest project adequately addresses all these items after extensive review with the city and appellants, and the resulting changes and commitments that we’ve made.”
Russo continued the presentation with a comment previously made by Commissioner Esther Margulies: “It’s in no one’s interest to do nothing,” as “a project is necessary to make these sites safe.” All of the sites, Russo explained, are located within the Tramonto landslide, and the city requires the project “must remediate the landslide per code to ensure the safety of the development in the area.”
“To be clear,” Russo said, “we cannot do nothing. The only way to address the geological hazard and address the orders to comply is to perform construction.”
In the late 1960s, Russo explained, Tramonto was restored to its pre-landslide condition through the construction of a bulkhead, which was later reinforced in 1981. In February 2021, city engineers concluded the bulkhead and tie-back system appear “structurally sound,” according to Russo.
“Ultimately, the project proposes the four residences on piles that will stabilize the landslide and achieve the required factors of safety,” Russo said.
More than 30 attendees signed up to speak on the project during public comment—almost entirely residents of the Castellammare area. Speakers, who each received one minute, detailed concerns regarding the “magnitude” of the project, the condition of the neighborhood while proposed construction would be underway, impacts on public safety and beyond.
“No development should be approved that has the potential to damage the existing homes and roadways,” said a resident in the neighborhood, “and this potential disruption to our community is so great.”
Several people spoke in support of the project during public comment, citing the benefits of having a turnaround that emergency vehicles can use and remediation work on the Tramonto landslide.
“Each time I go there on Revello Drive, in order for me to do a turnaround, I either am going to fall off the cliff or I hit the mountain,” another resident said, “so I’m looking forward to the turnaround that the applicant is going to provide … this turnaround is extremely important for public safety.”
Following public comments, Council District 11 Planning Deputy Jeff Khau spoke on behalf of Councilmember Traci Park, stating that their office has been monitoring the project since April.
“At that meeting, we expressed concerns about the safety of residents and the stability of the hillside,” Khau said. “Those concerns were distilled into three priorities: preventing obstructions in the public right of way, ensuring the projects are completed expeditiously and scaling the proposed homes to reflect Castellammare’s existing development pattern … while the project is far from perfect, it is our understanding that it will benefit the community by bringing in much-needed improvements, such as new sidewalks, roads and railings.”
After speaking with representatives from the city on the call—including geologists with the Bureau of Engineering, the Department of Building and Safety, Los Angeles Fire Department and beyond—the commissioners voted to approve the project and deny the appeal, to “sustain the planning director’s and zoning administrators’ joint determination” in support of the proposed project, through a grant part, deny part due to a technical modification (amended findings and an updated exhibit).
The project is “not further appealable per Los Angeles Municipal Code,” according to the appeal recommendation report, but residents in the area were considering further actions, at the time of print.
The next, and final, action of the WLAAPC regarding the project will be issuing a determination letter.
A full recording of the meeting, as well as the 1,100-plus-page appeal recommendation report, are available via planning.lacity.org.