Sunset Developer Charged with Corruption

BY JOHN HARLOW | Editor-in-Chief

A developer who tried to build a five-story apartment complex at 17000 Sunset Blvd., a plan approved by city officials but held at bay by determined residents with the rallying cry “Save the Bluffs,” is now facing up to 10 years in jail on federal bribery charges.

Arman Gabaee, known professionally as Arman Gabay, allegedly paid $1,000 monthly bribes to a Los Angeles County employee for six years in exchange for “county leases, non-public information and other benefits.”

Gabaee was arrested at his Beverly Hills family home on Wednesday, May 16.

No plea has yet been entered, and a trial could take months.

The county employee, only known as Confidential Witness #1, who, according to nine taped telephone calls, was also to receive a $1.1 million home in Santa Rosa wine country in exchange for helping Gabaee negotiate a lucrative lease at a Hawthorne mall.

The bribes are said to go back to 2010: The county employee is believed to have stopped working last August.

The investigation is “on-going,” a Department of Justice spokesperson said, but it is unknown whether this will include other projects carried out by Gabaee’s company, Charles Co.

A rendering of the original
Photo courtesy GMPA Architects

Gabaee paid to make influential friends, including up to $50,000 donations to political candidates from Hollywood to Hawthorne.

He and his family made a series of $700 donations to Councilmember Mike Bonin, who may have disappointed him by voting against the 17000 Sunset plan. Last week, a spokesperson said that the donations would be passed on to good causes, possibly to homelessness nonprofits.

Meanwhile the fate of the vacant lots on Sunset, purchased with the help of a $7 million loan from Wells Fargo Bank and still registered to Gabaee, remains uncertain.

The land, a rare undeveloped pocket in Pacific Palisades, might be sold on and/or developed, with suggestions ranging from two-story homes to parkland.

But it’s unlikely to be as dramatic as the scheme promoted by Gabaee five years ago.

He initially mooted a 98,900-square-foot 49-apartment block on the bluffs overlooking a mobile home park on PCH. City planners approved it.

The Pacific Palisades Residents Association, then led by Amy Lundberg and Sarah Rena Conner, rose up. It became the most urgently contested development in the Palisades between Rick Caruso’s Palisades Village project and Rony Shram’s eldercare complex in The Highlands.

They were deeply concerned about landslides on the fragile ecosystem, storm water drainage issues, traffic density, loss of ocean views and overall density.

Residents appealed to the California Coastal Commission, a process not clarified when city planners allegedly sent across the wrong paperwork implying there were no serious development issues or community concerns.

City zoning official Charles Rausch said city laws took precedent over outdated Coastal Commission laws, which would have halved the number of units on the site.

Residents suggested planners were keen to push through a tax-generating project at all costs.

Charles Co. returned with a diminished plan, reducing car parking, density and necessary grading, and splitting the complex in two to allow “oceanic views” through a corridor.

Views are not protected by law but the issues of geological weakness on the bluffs remained.

These amendments, however, were filed too late for West Los Angeles Planning Commission, then including Palisadian Joe Halper, which in December 2015, voted on the original blueprints—and, at a packed meeting with residents wearing Save The Bluffs, rejected them, 4-0.

The developers, frustrated that it took until August 2016 for the commission to formally publish its findings, threatened further legal actions—but nothing has since happened.

Now the firm, being run on a day-to-day basis by the developer’s partner and brother Mark Gabaee, is itself under legal stress. The firm did not respond to calls seeking comment.

Then as now questions remain: What happens to this land on Sunset Boulevard? Did Gabaee or associates unduly influence any part of the planning process? And can trust be rebuilt between city planners and the residents of Pacific Palisades?