Palisades Neighbors Fear Marquette Development

By Sarah Stockman
Staff Writer

Thirty residents of lower Bienveneda (below Sunset), Marquette and Las Casas streets gathered at a park overlooking Las Pulgas Canyon on May 16. Many have lived in the area for more than 30 years; others have just moved in. They were there to share concerns about the proposed development of as many as eight houses along the lip of the canyon on Marquette Street.

Las Pulgas Canyon, which is the canyon adjacent to the Palisades Bowl Mobile Home Park on PCH, has been the center of many conflicts dating back to the 1980s.

In 1987, developer Neil Senturia purchased most of the canyon from Francis Goplen, who had been using the canyon as a place to dump excess dirt from his excavation business. Senturia saw the canyon as prime real estate, and in 1989 proposed a plan to build 180 homes.

After fierce opposition from local residents, problems with California Coastal Commission permits and geological studies showing the instability of the canyon, Senturia put the property back on the market in 1990. Barry Maiten purchased the land in 1996 for less than $1.6 million, but has never pursued any development plans.

These are lots seven and eight, where two houses might be built. Photo: Matt Stockman

These are lots seven and eight, where two houses might be built.
Photo: Matt Stockman

Residents had hoped that the City of L.A. and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy would team up and purchase Las Pulgas Canyon for public recreational use, but after a San Francisco-based research firm determined that the property was worth negative $10.5 million owing to its severe geological instability, those hopes were dashed.

The canyon has since remained the last undeveloped coastal canyon in Los Angeles—that is, until Cosimo Pizzulli submitted applications for Coastal Development permits with the City of L.A. in February. Pizzulli, who owns an interior architecture firm in Beverly Hills, has lived on his property on Marquette for 18 years. The property, which is slightly over an acre according to Zimas (the City of L.A.’s property information website), has a ranch house originally built in 1946 and a vineyard Pizzulli planted on the hillside below the house. The parcel was originally subdivided into eight lots by the City in 1928. Although Pizzulli has submitted plans to build eight homes, he says he does not plan to build all of them.

“I’m probably going to build one house for myself and my wife, and the others I really don’t know when they will be built and who will build them,” Pizzulli told the News. “I’ve raised my son and daughter on Marquette Street. It is my home and it remains my home. We are Palisadians. We love the Palisades. It’s a beautiful area.”

Many of Pizzulli’s neighbors on Marquette and surrounding streets are concerned that the fragile canyon will not be able to withstand the building, nor will the dead-end road of Marquette. They also fear that the wildlife in the canyon will be compromised.

“I totally get if someone wants to build a nice home. However, when you’re talking about the cliff side . . . [it] could impact the whole stability of the street,” said one resident, who asked to remain nameless for fear of legal retaliation from Pizzulli. “There’s really a good reason why no one’s built a house there.”

“It’s a dead-end street because the canyon actually fell in. This road actually used to go to Bienveneda,” said Linda Deacon, who has lived on Marquette since 1985. “The road itself is not stable because the land is not stable.”

Pizzulli argues that the street and canyon are geologically sound. “Geology has been submitted and approved by the City of Los Angeles,” he said. “There is no geological threat to any of the homes currently on our street.”

Deacon has trouble accepting this. She believes that the properties have shrunk considerably since their 1928 subdivision due to erosion and landslides, and she thinks that Pizzulli’s proposed houses, which will have basements and pools, will be built half in midair.

Another resident agreed with Deacon. “The eight lots are fictitious. They are not flat, buildable lots that he has diagrammed,” the resident said. “He [Pizzulli] has got all these artist renditions of eight rectangular lots, but in reality you’d have to build suspension homes . . . You’d basically have to anchor to the street and build out.”

Pizzulli sees his development as beneficial to the neighborhood and to his neighbors. Part of his building plan is to improve the street itself, including widening Marquette, putting in a new concrete curb and gutter, and installing a sewer (the residents currently have septic tanks).

“I’m a vested constituent of Pacific Palisades. I care deeply about my property and my home, to the point that I’m going to solve a very big health issue,” Pizzulli said. “There’s sewage on the street, children walk their dogs, their little fur picks up the sewage. [And] people wonder why they have a chronic disease.”

Deacon says that in the 32 years she has lived on the street, there have never been sewage issues. “We’ve been on septic since I moved in,” she said. “[Pizzulli] believes that there’s a problem because . . . the water table is pretty high, and it’s extremely high on his side of the street.”

Pizzulli says that he is open to listening to neighbors’ concerns, but “none of them have knocked on my door and rung my bell.” He also notes, “Currently we have letters of support from the majority of the adjacent neighbors on Marquette for the eight homes.”

None of the residents the News spoke to who live on Marquette across from Pizzulli’s property have signed anything.

“The majority of the neighbors are very much against the development,” Deacon said. “I’ve definitely not signed anything, [and] I don’t know anybody who’s signed anything.”

“Of everybody I’ve spoken to, not only are we not happy about it, there’s an overwhelming no [to] development,” another resident said.

Pizzulli has submitted plans for five of his houses to the Pacific Palisades Civic League for board approval.

“None of the projects have been approved,” said PPCL President Richard Blumenberg. “There were questions regarding the lot sizes being different than what was shown on the Zimas report by L.A. City, and structure heights.”

Blumenberg said that Pizzulli has since submitted new information. “He has provided documentation for the lot sizes and revised drawings which supposedly comply with the height requirements. The plan reviewers have not checked his re-submittals yet, but will do so before our next meeting [in July]. He has said that he lowered the houses so they will comply.”

The City of Los Angeles has not yet approved any of the eight permits. According to Cheryl Getuiza, the public information officer for the Department of City Planning, the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is still being put together.

“The department is in the middle of conducting the EIR and therefore we do not have a hearing date yet,” Getuiza said. “Once the EIR is completed, it will be published so the department may take in public comment.”

This means permits cannot be approved until the EIR is completed, and as Getuiza pointed out, “EIRs can take a year or years to complete.”

Since the property also falls under California Coastal Commission purview, if the city approves Pizzulli’s permits, the next step in the process would be to get coastal development permits.

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