The owner of two vacant, upscale homes on a section on Hill Street just west of Redondo Avenue, on the border between Signal Hill and Long Beach, is heading for a showdown with the City of Long Beach. The City has filed a lawsuit seeking a court order to have the houses demolished. The owner, Tarzana-based Six Angels Inc., wants to keep the structures intact in hopes of selling them. Los Angeles County Superior Court will hear the case in Long Beach in late August.
The houses, at 2910 and 2914 Hill St. in Long Beach, were built by developer Wayne Ballinger in 2003, but he never got the necessary easements to hook up utilities or construct driveways linking the properties to city streets. Because the houses have no utilities or driveways, the City of Long Beach has refused to grant occupancy permits for them. Part of Ballinger’s problem was that, although the lots are in Long Beach city limits, the section of Hill Street directly in front of them is in Signal Hill.
According to Signal Hill Deputy City Manager Charlie Honeycutt, because of poor visibility and the slope of Hill Street at that location, driveways in the front yards of those houses would inevitably lead to a car accident. Therefore, the City of Signal Hill refused to grant Ballinger or any of the subsequent owners permission to construct driveways linking the lots to Hill Street.
“We saw the problem with permitting driveways into that section of Hill Street when Mr. Ballinger first began construction,” Honeycutt said. “We told him we could not allow the driveways to connect to Hill Street, but he continued to build the homes. Later we informed the City of Long Beach of the same thing, but Mr. Ballinger built the homes anyway.”
The problem with getting easements to hook up utilities stemmed from the fact that the owners of the properties behind the two Hill Street lots would not grant utility easements to any of the owners of the homes. Since 2003, the homes have been bought and sold several times. According to Brian Angel, a principal of Six Angels, his company purchased the homes in April 2008 for a total of about $800,000 and planned to obtain the necessary easements, hook up utilities, and construct driveways in order to sell the homes for a profit. “We have invested a lot of money in the two houses, but as it stands right now, even if we get the utilities and build the driveways, we will have to sell the properties at a loss,” he said.
His father, Dennis Angel, another company principal, expressed deep frustration with the process. “We keep doing whatever the City of Long Beach tells us we have to do, and then they add more conditions,” he said. “The City of Long Beach says one thing, and the City of Signal Hill says another thing, and no matter how hard we try to comply with their requirements, they will not allow us to get the houses ready for occupancy.”
Brian Angel agreed. “We now have the land necessary to build driveways to Orizaba Avenue because Long Beach told us that once we had it the City would allow us to build the driveways,” he noted. “We also have all the easements necessary to get all utilities except water, and Long Beach told us that once we get a will-serve letter for water from Signal Hill, Long Beach would permit us to go forward with work on the driveways and utilities.”
A will-serve letter is an agreement to provide a certain utility to a property. In this case, the letter would indicate the City of Signal Hill’s willingness to hook up the houses to the city’s water mains. “But Signal Hill says it will not give us the will-serve letter because Long Beach told them not to,” Brian Angel noted. “And Long Beach tells us they won’t allow us to do the other things until we get the letter.”
Meanwhile, according to Dennis Angel, several months ago, the City of Long Beach began imposing a $1,000-per-month fine for each of the houses because of code violations. “So they won’t allow us to fix the problems, and then they fine us $2,000 per month because we are not fixing the problems,” he said.
Honeycutt explained that there is a certain protocol cities must follow in such cases. “Because the houses are in Long Beach, we have to get the request for the will-serve letter from the Long Beach Water Department, not the property owner,” he said. “We cannot legally provide water to property in another city unless we first get a request for a will-serve letter from that city, and so far we have not gotten that from Long Beach.”
Honeycutt added that, in his opinion, the Long Beach Water Department was not requesting the will-serve letter because of other code violations present in the houses. “It’s my understanding that getting water to the houses is the least of the problems,” he said.
Assistant Long Beach City Attorney Mike Mais backed up Honeycutt. “We have been asking the owners– Six Angels and all the previous owners– to bring the property into compliance with building codes and get it occupied for several years,” he said. “To our view, they have done nothing to bring them into compliance.”
Mais noted that the City of Long Beach gave Ballinger a stop-work order early in the construction process because of the lack of driveway and utility easements, but Ballinger built the homes anyway. “Then we made it very clear to Mr. Ballinger and all the subsequent owners what had to be done to get the houses occupied,” Mais explained. “That includes building inspections, some of which have yet to be done on the homes.”
Mais stressed that the homes’ electrical wiring, plumbing and certain other components have not been inspected to ensure that they comply with building and safety codes. “The inspections would require that some of the interiors of the structures would have to be exposed to make sure that the utilities have been put together correctly so that whoever ends up owning the houses will not have any life-safety issues,” he said.
Mais added that although Six Angels has told the City that the company has acquired the land necessary to build driveways to Orizaba Avenue, the company has not provided the City with such proof. “But that’s only one of the problems,” he stressed. “Because of the slope of the land, and the locations of the gas lines, the water lines, and the sewer lines, it’s going to be very expensive to connect those utilities to the houses and Six Angels has not provided proof that they will be able to do that.”
Fourth District Long Beach City Councilmember Patrick O’Donnell said he has been aware of the problems with the two houses for several years, but he has been satisfied with the way the city attorney’s office and the code-enforcement division have been handling the case. “The best-case scenario would be that the houses had never been built,” he said. “It is my hope that the City of Long Beach wins the lawsuit and succeeds in scraping the two houses off the face of the Earth.”
Mais took a softer stance. He explained that city officials would have preferred that the homes were brought up to code and occupied, but in his observation, Six Angels has done little to make that happen in the past four years. “Because of that, we decided to sue them to get an order for demolition,” he said.
Dennis Angel insisted that by constantly adding conditions, Long Beach officials have stymied his company’s plans to bring the buildings up to code.
Mais said it will be up to the court to sort it all out.