It all seemed so simple way back when the case of the house that became a tenement came my way.
Nadya Mahdavi bought a house in my tract out of foreclosure and got cited for construction without a permit and over the next three months wound up with four criminal charges for allegedly converting a single family home into a three-apartment tenement that seemed like a cancer in our neighborhood — the start of what could become the deterioration of modest 50-year-old Valley floor tract into a slum.
But the ownership of the house got flipped three times and her husband Nasir Shaikh emerged as a suspect too. Through month after month of legal maneuvering, the case has dragged on without resolution, costing untold thousands of dollars for the time of Chief Building and Safety Inspector Frank Bush and his team, Assistant City Attorney Don Cocek and various magistrates and court personnel.
Trial is supposed to take place Thursday but it won’t. Shaikh has finally hired a lawyer and undoubtedly will get another continuance.
In the meantime, the house on Haynes Street in Lower Woodland Hills north of Victory Boulevard has more or less been restored to legal status as a single family home under the law. There’s only one kitchen again and there are passageways between rooms so the apartments are gone although there are multiple tenants.
With maximum penalties of $1,000 per charge and six months in jail, a sentence unlikely to be imposed, it’s hard to see how my neighbors will ever feel justice has been done. There might be some satistaction though knowing that Mahdavi and Shaikh, for all their machinations, say they’re broke, their investments in this house and others under water, and their marriage on the rocks.
As the amateur detective in this case, I’ve come to understand they are not the real criminals. The city is filled with thousands of illegal conversions, illegal granny flats, illegal dwellings that don’t meet minimum standards for a civilized city.
I have sat in court for dozens of hours over the last 10 months and watched prosecutors, city officials, court personnel try to deal with rat-packers, prostitutes, druggies, building code violators, dog fighters and assorted petty criminals of one type or another like a woman cited for smoking a cigarette in the park.
They were dealt with compassionately with occasional stern lectures to get them to change their behavior and comply with the law. They even got compliance from Mahdavi and Shaikh whose profiteering schemes have apparently gone awry.
I also have come to realize the victims of crimes like the illegal conversion in my neighborhood are the people of Los Angeles.
It is we the people who suffer the consequences of the failure of the leadership of this city. It is they who are killing my neighborhood, and yours.
Weak laws with weak punishments, the failure to use civil laws in conjunction with criminal laws, the failure to fund the Building and Safety Department with the money needed to crack down on slumlords and all the others who flagrantly violate laws intended to protect the health and safety of our neighborhoods.
I’ve heard from people all over the city that what happened in my neighborhood is happening just about everywhere.
There are thousands of illegal conversions like this one. There are thousands of granny flats with illegal wiring and inadequate facilities. There are thousands of people getting government housing assistance living in squalor.
It is the shame of this city that the $7 billion we’re pouring into the city treasury isn’t enough to provide effective laws and adequate funding to enforce them.
If there was any doubt in my mind about who’s killing my neighborhood, my city, it was erased when I listened to the budget hearings going on this week when Building and Safety General Manager Andrew Adelman came before Councilman Bernard Parks’ committee.
The mayor admits to having created a $530 million deficit that is soaring so fast it will be closer to $1 billion by July 1 when it takes effect. He says it’s a balanced budget when it’s built out of $80 million in hypothetical revenue from selling off parking structures, $240 million from hypothetical reductions in city worker costs, $146 million from stealing the money for badly-needed parking structures.
It is a fraud and the consequences are disastrous.
Adelman’s testimony makes that painfully clear and he’s only running one department.
He’s supposed to enforce the city’s new proposal for tightening controls on digital and other off-site billboards with three inspectors when there are already 4,000 illegal ones. “It’s a joke,” Councilman Bill Rosendahl (building3.mp3)called it.
He described how the revenue stream from various building permits and fees fully supports his staff in quickly and efficiently carrying out inspections for new projects with its “enterprise” fund. But he noted his code enforcement team is paid for out of the general fund and is facing such steep cuts that the number of inspectors could be cut –”virtual elimination” of code enforcement, Councilman Greig Smith (building1.mp3)called it.
That means a lot of code violators will get away with it, among those Adelman cited being celebrities and other prominent people who have ignored height limits on fences and hedges to protect their privacy. Undoubtedly, more serious violations also won’t be dealt with as Building and Safety focuses its diminished resources on problems where this is an immediate health safety hazard (building2.mp3).
He was complaining, mind you> He accepts the idea of “shared sacrifice,” as the mayor calls it, or “shared responsibility,” as the council prefers. He was just stating the facts in response to prodding by the council who seemed to be staring the truth in the face but too weak to embrace it.
There are answers to this crisis and it’s not selling off our assets or raising our taxes or early retirements. It’s not deferring wage increases or slashing services or laying off city workers.
It’s about the leadership of this city standing up in public and acknowledging their actions over a long period of time are killing LA. It’s about forming a new partnership with the people of the city, not public-private partnerships with corporations happy to profit from our troubles.
It’s about city workers accepting sharp reductions in pay and benefits and most of all, it’s about making the Neighborhood Councils the agents of change by using them and the residents of their communities as the first line of service-providing and problem-solving.
Power must be pushed down and the people must rise up.
I know now who’s killing my neighborhood and I know who can save it.