How “Improvement Fatigue” and Bad Manners Have Inflamed a Neighborhood
By JOHN HARLOW and GABRIELLA BOCK
When Alexander Vallin decided to clean the air conditioning ducts at his rental home last summer, he little realized it would lead to an 18-month nightmare that has set neighbor against neighbor and resulted in dawn police calls, vulgarity and broken friendships.
And the possible establishment of a new community council committee to calm neighborhoods when constant building leads to “improvement fatigue,” when not even the prospect of higher home prices feels worth the problem of living with construction.
There are also demands for a tougher “builder’s code” to ensure they follow the rules.
This reflects the negative feeling on Las Lomas where Vallin has owned a single-family residence on the 600 block for 33 years.
Last summer he discovered that removing canine hair from air ducts in between tenants was escalating into a major rebuilding project.
A year later, delayed by bad weather and over-runs, Vallin claims he is facing mob anger.
“The neighbors ambush me, they want to cut my head off, they call the police all the time, this is madness,” he told the Palisadian-Post on Monday, Aug. 7.
Some of the clashes are familiar tales of Angeleno redevelopment: blurred property lines, industrial noise and frayed nerves. This is the new normal.
But on Las Lomas, civility became an early casualty of conflict between neighbors and Vallin’s contractor, Russian-born Vladimir Barashkov. A breakdown that had not happened during six recent redevelopments on the street, neighbors said.
It escalated last month when Barashkov cut down a venerable Eugenia hedge shared with an elderly neighbor, Mary Hagerth, much to her distress.
Vallin’s surveyor ruled it was on his property. That has been challenged.
The hedge was replaced with plywood spray-painted with the words “cameras in use, bitches.”
Vallin confirmed he now has CCTV trained on the property line in case, he said, of trespass.
A jackhammer has been used to remove concrete up to the legally permitted limit of 9 p.m., and, according to neighbors, later than that.
Vallin has been cited for a dumpster in the street.
He has declined requests to erect a noise-buffering, dust-shielding fence around the house: It’s not legally required.
It was not always thus. Thirty years ago, Vallin recalled, he gave sanctuary to Hagerth’s mother as her home was fumigated. Hagerth said more recently she allowed his renters to shower at her home when his sub-pump overflowed with raw sewage.
When a reporter from the Post approached the contractor on site, he swore at her and spat at her feet. She beat a hasty retreat.
The Polish-born Vallin apologized but defended his contractor, saying that he was “good man but very Russian. He does not know how to deal with people being hostile to him very well.”
Vallin insisted that Barashkov has always operated within the law and had 30 permits to prove it, but admitted that he could have negotiated with neighbors in a more diplomatic style.
Now, with six months of work to go, Vallin promised that the heavy work is over, and he hopes to rebuild old relationships in the future.
Neighbors remain unconvinced.
The conflict has been brought to the attention of the Pacific Palisades Community Council as another example of a perceived rise in “bad manners” and short cuts being taken by contractors in a hurry across the town.
This includes public urination, abandoned trash and working beyond permitted hours.
Maryam Zar, PPCC chair, said she is considering establishing an ad hoc committee to deal with issues that the city fails to address through its 311 reporting app.
Neighbors are encouraged to collect evidence, such as video of active code violations.
They have raised the issues with CD11 Councilmember Mike Bonin. His area representative, Lisa Cahill, said it was legally tricky if the contractor was following city permits.
“Unfortunately,” she added, “we can’t regulate kindness.”