BY NICK DIAMANTIDES
Five years after being built, the houses on 2910 and 2914 Hill Street are still vacant with no utilities and no driveways connecting them to a public street. The owner of the two homes, Tarzana-based 6 Angels LLC, has spent several months trying to work out the issues but has made little progress so far. “We have put things in motion, and we are continuing to talk to property owners and city officials in Long Beach and Signal Hill,” said company spokesperson Brian Angel. “Unfortunately, the legal process is very slow.”
The problem is that the two million-dollar homes have no legal access to a public street, no legal access to utility connection and no certificates of occupancy. Although the two homes sit within the city limits of Long Beach, the portion of Hill Street adjacent to their front yards is in Signal Hill city limits. The man who built the houses in 2003 never obtained the necessary easements.
Since 2003, the two homes have changed ownership several times. In 2006, two groups of real estate investors purchased them and tried without success to get the necessary driveway and utility easements. 6 Angels acquired the properties in April of this year from Farmers & Merchants Bank for a total of about $800,000.
In early July, the code enforcement division of the City of Long Beach gave 6 Angels until August 3 to begin work on the code violations present in both houses and to show that progress was being made in obtaining the driveway and utility easements. 6 Angels appealed the code enforcement order to the Long Beach Board of Examiners, Appeals and Condemnations. That body gave the company more time to either comply with the order or show that progress was being made.
A subsequent hearing before the board was scheduled for November 17 but was continued to December 15. “We had some interested parties show up on the title report who were not notified of the hearing so we had to continue it,” said Tom Slater, Long Beach building code official. He added that the purpose of the hearing was to consider Angel’s request for a 60-day extension on the deadline for compliance with city codes.
Angel explained why he believes the extension is necessary. “We are trying to work with the City of Signal Hill to gain access from the front,” he said. “So far, they have not approved our idea.” He explained that a company representative had met with Signal Hill Public Works Director Barbara Munoz to suggest widening Hill Street where it abuts the front yards of the homes. “That would add a lane to the street, allowing cars to slow down before turning into the driveways, and also give them a place to wait before entering the traffic lane of the street,” he said.
“I met with their representative in September and told him that if they want to pursue that idea, they need to hire a traffic engineer to prepare a plan that will meet all traffic standards, and I do not know if the plan can meet the standards,” Munoz said. “I have not heard from them since September.” She added that she had advised the representative that it would probably be better to try to obtain easements connecting the properties’ back yards to Orizaba Street.
Angel has hired a traffic engineer to study the feasibility of widening Hill Street in front of the homes, but the study has not been completed yet. “We’ve also filed lawsuits against the two lots below us to gain easement rights,” he said. “The lawsuits were filed about a month ago, but it takes time.”
He added that his company will try to contact the property owners next week in hopes of reaching an out-of-court settlement. “Those easements would actually benefit them because that would allow them to develop those lots,” he noted. “If we get that resolved, everything else is easy.” He explained that the easements would accommodate driveways as well as underground utility hookups.
“This is no small feat,” Slater said. “Those properties have had problems and that’s why they are still sitting vacant today.”
Angel said he is hoping all the issues can be resolved by March. He explained that he cannot proceed with renovations to bring the buildings up to city code compliance until the easement issues are resolved. “Unfortunately, if I do not gain access to the properties, the city will order the buildings torn down,” he said. “But I am optimistic. I believe we will be able to get the easements.”