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Whodunit, Chapter 16: Who’s Killing My Neighborhood?


Crime and Punishment:

The Repentance of Nadya Mahdavi and Nasir Shaikh


Judgment Day was finally here


It had taken 18 months to get to this moment.


A lot had happened since city inspectors first cited Nadya Mahdavi for construction without a permit at the house on Haynes Street in my modest Valley tract of single-family homes.


The case snowballed after neighbors figured out that Mahdavi was illegally converting the house into a three-unit tenement that threatened the quality of their lives and the value of their property.


They complained to the city, to Councilman Dennis Zine. They researched property records, they finally got mad enough to walk door-to-door with petitions demanding the city do something about it


That’s how I got involved and started asking questions. I wanted to help, I wanted to know who was killing my neighborhood.

Thumbnail image for nadyanasier.jpg


Was it just a greedy landlord trying to get more than $5,000 in rent by converting a 2,000-square-foot house into three units, each with its own kitchen and bathroom, 12 rooms in all? Or was it the system itself, the city, that was responsible for failing in its duty?


Everyone was a suspect.


The trail led to Chief Inspector Frank Bush and others in the Building and Safety Department, to Zine and his staff and finally to the Van Nuys Courthouse and Deputy City Attorney Don Cocek.


Citations started piling up even as Mahdavi flipped ownership of the house each time a court date approached. The ownership went from Mahdavi’s Wall Street Properties to her employee to a company called Fidelity Investment Group which listed her husband Nasir Shaikh as president.


A simple permit problem, an infraction, escalated into a series of charges, misdemeanor crimes subject to fines and jail time, that were filed against Mahdavi, Shaikh and Fidelity Investments.


It took officials a while to unravel the chain of ownership and identify exactly who to hold accountable and for what.


The accused played the system for time, provided misleading information, asked for Public Defenders, didn’t have lawyers representing them.


Mahdavi’s failure to appear in court led to a warrant for her arrest being issued — something that took two months to achieve because of the multiple addresses where she might be living.

Authorities’ attitudes hardened as the months dragged on. My neighbors adjusted to the irritation of many cars parked at the home on Haynes and the comings and goings of the tenants of the three units.


Finally, 13 months after the first citation, the deconstruction of the house got under way and it was brought back into compliance with the law. It took six more months for Judgment Day to arrive.

Mahdavi and Shaikh were already at court when I arrived yesterday. They didn’t look as cocky as they had before. They greeted me with smiles.


A lot had happened in their lives since they bought the house on Haynes. Their marriage had broken up, their high-flying lives had come down to earth as the collapse of the housing market cost them dearly, unraveling their various property schemes.

Encino attorney Gerald Cobb had worked out a deal with Cocek: Fidelity would plead guilty to three counts, Mahdavi and Shaikh would plead no contest to two counts each. They would
be fined just under $10,000 and pay $1,500 in investigative fees. They would be on probation for a year and if they stay out of trouble and pay the fine, the charges will be reduced on their record from misdemeanors to infractions.

It was just before noon when they were called to appear before Commissioner Thomas E. Grodin who had imposed his own condition on the plea bargain: Each of the defendants was required to write a 1,000-word essay of contrition for him to consider at sentencing.

Mahdavi’s essay ended this way:

“I would just like to state that I am extremely grateful for being
given an opportunity to resolve this case. I sincerely appreciate and am appalled by the
kindness and generosity displayed by the People and the City in respect to not placing a damaging note on my record. The People have been very patient and generous with
me and I do not deserve such mercy. I assure you that this will never happen again.”

I’m sure she didn’t mean to use the word “appalled” but she was late getting her essay to Grodin who was not amused and found both their essays “self-serving…barely made it.” Grodin lectured them, awarding a grade of D to Mahdavi and C-minus to Shaikh.

“I was not terribly impressed …frankly, with either one.”

As we left the courthouse, Cocek said all the information he had gathered was turned over to the state Department of Real Estate.

“If they screw-up again, they will lose their licenses,” he said.

The case was closed.

My neighborhood is as safe and tranquil as ever. The suspects were identified and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

The system worked, if slowly. The inspectors, Cocek, the court system had done their jobs well and honorably.

But I couldn’t help wondering how much my own role might have changed the course of events, the exposure of the case for all the world to see causing officials to spend far more time on it than was usual.

In her letter to Grodin, Mahdavi acknowledges how that affected her: “The
humiliation and disgrace I have felt from
being
portrayed as a criminal and the harassment I have received through internet
exposure
has caused such a terrible impact on me and my family


In the grand scheme of things, this was a small matter.


There are thousands of more serious violations of housing codes going undetected all over the city, especially in poorer areas.


Building and Safety is grossly understaffed and taking a bigger hit in the city budget crisis with our elected officials gutting funds for code enforcement to protect jobs that facilitate developers moving ahead on new projects that generate revenue.


So who is killing our neighborhoods?

There’s a lot people like Mahdavi and Shaikh who do stupid and greedy things. Only the few are caught and punished despite the efforts of people like Frank Bush, Don Cocek and Judge Grodin to protect us. Usually, it takes the neighborhoods themselves to bring these problems to their attention and persist until they get action.

The same cannot be said for the city’s leadership.


Throughout the current budget process, they have only talked about how to bring in more revenue to the city — not how to preserve the neighborhoods or the quality of life for the residents.


Laws for our protection are haphazardly enforced and resources are expended to get developments approved faster and faster even though the infrastructure is deteriorating and inadequate for our needs.


Whodunit? It’s really not a mystery.


Read the full text of Mahdavi’s essay:





Dearest Judge Grodin,

I am
writing this essay not to justify my acts regarding the property located at
19953
Haynes St
in Woodland Hills but to announce my gratitude for the
disposition
which the People have offered me.

I
purchased this property in January 2008 with my now estranged ex husband
, Nasir Shaikh. The property
was a vacant, bank owned, single family residence that had been destroyed by
its previous owners as many foreclosed
homes unfortunately are
The property was extremely distressed and seemed to have been abandoned for
quite
some time. When we purchased the property we were aware of the fact that we
would
have to spend at least $50,000 to renovate the home so that it would fit the
standards of
the homes in the surrounding area. The property had severe damages inside and
out.
The pool had a large crack in its foundation which caused it to be unusable.
The exterior
of the home had been completely neglected. The property’s landscaping and trees
had
all died due to lack of water and care. Regardless of these issues, we knew the
property
had potential to live up to the standards of the homes in the area if it just
had the proper
clean up
, maintenance and reconstruction that it
needed.

Once
we closed escrow on the property we began construction to transform the
property to a 2 unit residence plus a garage. We spent over $50
,000.00 constructing
and upgrading the property
.
Our goal was to make the
home as beautiful as possible
.
Some of the upgrades made
to the property were brand new exterior refinishing and
paint, the air conditioning was completely replaced, the interior of the home
was
completely repainted, the landscaping was entirely redone, the crack in the
foundation
of the pool was repaired, the carpet was changed, the kitchen was completely
redone
with new appliances and countertops. I mention these important details because
I truly
want the People of the court to understand that our intention was never to
damage the
neighborhood in any way. On the contrary, we invested our own funds into the
property
to bring it back up to par so that the neighbors would not be forced to accept
a
distressed property in their neighborhood.

While
the construction was being done I was not aware that the division of the
home would be considered non compliant with Building & Safety Laws. My ex
husband
had hired a contractor who performed the construction on the property and he
too did
not mention the necessity for permits. I am not a contractor and had never done
construction on a home in the past so part of this negligence was due to
naivety on my
behalf. I do however acknowledge the fact that later on I learned that Building
and
Safety was trying to get my attention and yet I ignored their efforts. Please
understand
that the only reason I ignored them was because at that time I really did not
believe I
was do
ing anything illegal by converting a home
into three separate tenements
:
realized that the neighbors had been complaining yet I did not understand why; especially considering
the major renovation the home was receiving that would only
better the surrounding area.

The
construction took a few months to complete. Once it was completed I
managed to rent the property to the tenants from March 2008 through
approximately
December 2008. I was forced to evict the tenants at that time per the City’s
request
which we did immediately comply with. Again, it is important that you know my
intentions were never to break the law, make the neighbors unhappy or damage
the values of the properties in the area. I place great significance to the
location and
neighborhood of the property as it is the neighborhood in which I was raised.

I
also acknowledge the fact that I learned that Building and Safety was trying to
get my attention and yet I ignored their efforts. I ignored them because at
that time
really did not believe I was doing anything illegal by converting a home into
three
separate tenements. I realize that the property is predominantly surrounded by
single family residences yet I did not comprehend that a 2 unit property would not be
allowed
to be constructed in that area due to the surrounding homes.

I am
a mother (recently single-parent) who takes great pride in the examples I set
for my children
. My children are my life and I work
extremely hard to support them by
myself. I would never forgive myself if my children learned immoral practices
from me
and the thought of this alone has caused me much grief. This has been a
tremendously
valuable lesson for me. I have learned as a result of going through this
transformative
process, that nothing matters but health, peace of mind and the well-being of
my family, my neighbors and myself.

I am
a person who holds true to my morals and values. I was raised in a very
strict, proper home, had always been a straight A student in school and had
NEVER
been involved in legal matters prior. The journey I have been on due to the
mistakes
have made throughout this process have been so tormenting to my beliefs and
image
that I am simply ashamed of myself
. The
humiliation and disgrace I have felt from being
portrayed as a criminal and the harassment I have received through internet
exposure
has caused such a terrible impact on me and my family
. The amount of money spent on
attorney fees, bail, costs of modifying the property, time and anxiety which I
have felt
over this past year due to this incident are simply NOT worth ever allowing
myself to be
in this position again
.

In
closing, I would just like to state that I am extremely grateful for being
given an
opportunity to resolve this case. I sincerely appreciate and am appalled by the
kindness
and generosity displayed by the People and the City in respect to not placing a
damaging note on my record. The People have been very patient and generous with
me
and I do not deserve such mercy.

           I assure you that this
will never happen again
. Thank you for your consideration.

Nady Mahdavi

 

 







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11 Responses to Whodunit, Chapter 16: Who’s Killing My Neighborhood?

  1. Anonymous says:

    She was reared in the neighborhood? She got straight A’s in her school? I hope she is not a
    typical Valley Girl. Irresponsible and greedy.
    The zoing laws are not to make it harder for people like her. The zoning laws are to make sure that the home one purchases in a good neighborhood stays that way to protect your family and your investment.

  2. Kristin Sabo says:

    Don Cocek is GOD.
    He is absolutely one of the brightest lights in this dark dark city. I don’t know how he keeps his sanity, to tell you the truth. The gentleman fights the system every single day. Your fight for your neighborhood, Ron, is pretty typical, with the all the delays and giving of the benefit of the doubt over to the accused.
    Cocek should be mayor. Imagine this town then!

  3. Sandy Sand says:

    G. Shepherd and I are glad for you. We’ve been following the mystery since Chapter One, which the culprits might have to declare eleven times, but I doubt it. People like them cry “poverty,” but always seem to have money squirreled away somewhere.
    The one that’s killing your neighborhood and so many others like it is the city itself. They have time to enact unenforceable laws like one rooster rule, which reminds me. I just heard the UPS truck; I wonder if mine is now on my doorstep.
    They designed a harmful water restriction plan that’s bad for the environment, property values and seems to be punishing an antiquated water delivery system; encourage development faster than the infrastructure can handle; and today there’s a story about $1,000 fines for people who do evil deeds to parkway trees by bad pruning that either stunts them or kills them off.
    Yeah! Right! Like the City which is a thousand years behind in their tree pruning obligation is going to be able to catch tree killers…they can’t catch graffitists.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Ron, you are right to wonder if your participation affected the outcome, I can guarantee you that it did. As you know I have been involved intimately in a battle, not unlike yours, only much larger for seemingly a lifetime now. I have watched as greed of landlords has literally killed senior citizens. You write eloquently about zoning, well the nemesis that I battle, State, correctly that they are bigger than zoning laws. They ignore zoning Laws, business laws, Health and safety laws, Civil Laws, and criminal statutes. Hell these people have special dinner parties with the governor. You see the people that you were dealing with either didn’t have enough money, or they didn’t know which local politician to give it to make everything go away. Your power is awe inspiring,
    Glenn

  5. Spiffy says:

    “the exposure of the case for all the world to see causing officials to spend far more time on it than was usual.”
    If you were not a former editor of the local newspaper and author of this blog, I doubt this case would have been resolved as quickly as it was.
    What shocks me—because I am so naive still—is how they kept flipping the house from owner to owner. We need tighter regulations on real estate investments of all kind in this city.
    City revenue? Maybe the city needs to concentrate on enhancing every other kind of business except “Flip This House” enterprises if it needs more revenue.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I wonder if you would have been so persistent if the characters here were named John and Jane.

  7. Teddy Howell says:

    “I wonder if you would have been so persistent if the characters here were named John and Jane.”
    A name is a name. Right is right. Wrong is wrong. Do you not understand this? Accusing
    Ron Kaye of all people in this city of an “ism”
    is definitely a big mistake on your part.
    I feel very sorry for you. Grow up and be a real
    American! We are all in this together and taking
    advantage of each other is a negative thing, not a positive.

  8. lucille Saunders says:

    this is lucille saunders.
    ron, we have closely followed the saga of your neighborhood which mirrors the murder of so many others.
    we applaud your efforts in the long trek to resolution as a guide to our battles.
    your blog offers opportunities to you–and now to others– to continue the fight. it is a long slog, but truly the only way we can preserve our neighborhoods and quality of life.
    thanks, ron.
    lucille

  9. Steve says:

    Don’t forget that a root cause of these sad situations is overpopulation fueled by massive increases in both legal and illegal immigration resulting from passage of the Hart Cellar (Immigration Act) of 1965. You know, something that the pathetic environmental groups used to logically care about until they started drinking the politically-correct Kool Aid.

  10. anonymous says:

    “By Steve on September 26, 2009 9:59 AM
    Don’t forget that a root cause of these sad situations is overpopulation fueled by massive increases in both legal and illegal immigration resulting from passage of the Hart Cellar (Immigration Act) of 1965. You know, something that the pathetic environmental groups used to logically care about until they started drinking the politically-correct Kool Aid.”
    Yes, one of Ted Kennedy’s causes. But let us not forget who opposes and discourages birth control. The Catholic Church might actually loosen their stance if they had the support of their conservative political backers-or vice-versa. The Catholic immigrant population that I know of supported the Republican candidates because of their birth control stance that is in sync with their religion.

  11. Delmarva says:

    I agree that we’re reaping the legacy of Hart Cellar and Ted Kennedy. Long after the Kennedy family is all but forgotten, our descendants will still be paying that price.

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