A court judge recently ordered that the owners of two vacant houses on Hill Street just west of Obispo Avenue have to meet a strict timeline for permit approvals and construction or the homes will get the wrecking ball.
The two-story, upscale homes, which have remained unoccupied for more than a decade, are located at 2910 and 2914 Hill St. on the border of Long Beach and Signal Hill at the top of the steep street, formerly known as Shell Hill.
While the homes are within Long Beach city limits, the street right-of-way in front of the houses is in Signal Hill, creating complications for the current property owner, Tarzana-based 6 Angels, LLC, which purchased the homes in 2008.
The main issue is that the original developer, Wayne Ballinger, never received necessary easements for utilities and never built driveways to link the properties to city streets before constructing the homes in 2003.
The City of Signal Hill has rejected any plans to build driveways leading out to Hill Street. Given the poor visibility and sloping nature of the street at that location, Signal Hill determined that such driveways would be too dangerous and may cause a car accident. Without utilities or driveways, however, the City of Long Beach has refused to grant occupancy permits.
One solution would be to construct driveways in back of the homes, crossing over adjacent properties and creating an extension onto Orizaba Avenue, but the adjacent lots were owned by a number of shareholders, said Kendra Carney, Long Beach deputy city attorney.
“They purchased the [adjacent] lots themselves and have solved the access problem at least, but, unfortunately though, it still has taken them a long time to make even that amount of progress,” Carney said.
The City of Long Beach filed a lawsuit against the property owners in 2011, seeking an injunction and threatening to have the houses, deemed a public nuisance, demolished. Carney said the property owners stepped up efforts to meet requirements, but by the time a court hearing was scheduled this year, they still hadn’t received access to utilities.
“I think they made more of an effort since the City filed [the lawsuit], but, due to all the complications, … they weren’t able to complete the necessary projects in a timely manner,” Carney said.
She said part of the problem with the utilities is that the property owners have to work with four separate entities. The goal is for the City of Signal Hill to provide water, the City of Long Beach to provide gas and Southern California Edison to provide electricity. The property owners are also required to get approvals from the County of Los Angeles.
“It’s perhaps doable if all those entities are willing to supply them, but it’s just more complicated because there are more entities involved,” Carney said.
On April 14, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael P. Vicencia issued a stipulated judgment, ordering that the property owners meet a strict timeline or face having the structures torn down.
The stipulated judgment, agreed upon by the City of Long Beach and the property owners, including 6 Angels, LLC and BDR, Inc., ordered a strict performance schedule to be completed with three main deadlines.
By June 30, the property owners are required to complete 11 stipulations that include: submitting and obtaining valid easements for driveways; obtaining Long Beach Fire Department approval for turnaround access; submitting a plot plan for the properties; removing retaining walls; and submitting a grading plan for on-site and off-site areas.
By Aug. 31, the property owners are required to obtain all permits required from Long Beach, Signal Hill, Southern California Edison and Los Angeles County in addition to commence construction and call for all necessary inspections.
By Jan. 31, 2015, the property owners are required to complete all necessary construction, including the extension of Orizaba Avenue to provide vehicular access, the connection of electrical, gas, sewer and water utilities and final work to make sure the properties are in compliance with current Long Beach city code.
However, if the property owners fail to meet the benchmarks or complete all construction by that time, “the City may demolish the existing construction, utilizing labor and performance bonds obtained by the property owners on behalf of the City for the expense of demolition,” states a Long Beach city memo.
Carney said that, if the property owners at any time during the performance schedule fail to meet deadlines, the City has authority to demolish the buildings at that time.
“At any stage, if they don’t complete it, then the City would demolish it at that time prior to January,” she said. “There’s nothing scheduled in court, but the City continues to work with them to see if they can accomplish this in the timeline provided.”
Signal Hill Deputy City Manager Charlie Honeycutt said that, as of Wednesday, May 14, the property owners still hadn’t received what’s called a “will-serve letter” from the Long Beach Water Department to allow Signal Hill to provide water to the property.
A will-serve letter is an agreement for a city to provide utilities for a property in another city. Honeycutt added that the reason Signal Hill is providing the water is that there wasn’t adequate water pressure in the Long Beach water system to serve the hillside properties. Signal Hill has already agreed to provide the water, but the property owners still have to correct code violations for the homes to be valid, he said.
“It’s one of those things where you have to have a valid development before we’ll provide water service,” Honeycutt said.
Attempts to reach representatives of 6 Angels, LLC for comment were unsuccessful before the Signal Tribune’s deadline.
In a previous Signal Tribune article, Brian Angel, principal of 6 Angels, LLC, stated that the property owners had invested a substantial amount of money into the project since purchasing the homes for $800,000, adding that, after all is said and done, they would most likely be selling the homes at a loss. The property owners also stated that the City of Long Beach had previously imposed $1,000-per-month fines on each of the houses for code violations. Also, in September 2012, one of the properties caught fire by an unknown arson.
According to the court judgment, the property owners had to obtain a $30,000 labor bond and a $30,000 performance bond to insure that, should they fail to meet the performance schedule, the bonds would come due and the City would be able to utilize the funds to compete the demolition.