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Brentwood Developer Banned From Building Mansions Over Illegally Removed Trees

Trees surround a palatial Brentwood estate. (Photo by Michael Locke via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr)
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All land developer Sam Shakib wants to do is build a pair of 15,000-square-foot mansions on a parcel of privately owned, and undeveloped, land in Brentwood's exquisite Sullivan Canyon. Back in 2014, Shakib applied for, and received, permission from the city of Los Angeles to remove precisely 56 trees on the chaparral property, in order to clear space for the mansions-to-be.

The tree-crews arrived, but instead of chopping down 56 trees, they chopped down 59. The three extra trees that were removed—a pair of California live oaks, and a purportedly "gorgeous specimen" of Sycamore—had "protected" status, according to the Los Angeles Times, and are the reason why the Los Angeles Board of Public Works voted to revoke Shakib's building permits on Friday.

Of course, the Board of Public Works would likely failed to have noticed the removal of the three extra trees if not for due diligence by the good people of Brentwood. The Sullivan Canyon Property Owners Association filed a lawsuit against Shakib—and his company called Sullivan Equity Partners—arguing that Shakib acted illegally by removing those three extra trees. Therefore, the suit alleged, the City of Los Angeles had grounds to revoke Shakib's building permits.

Shakib disagrees, and argues that the trees were removed by accident. As amends for allegedly accidentally removing the trees, Shakib says he's willing to plant up to 32 'large' replacement trees.

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The dispute worked its way through the rounds of government bureaucracy, eventually reaching the desk of Nazario Sauceda, the director of the city's Bureau of Street Services. In March, Sauceda released a four page letter declaring the trees were "intentionally" removed "to provide better access to the property or in some other fashion enable easier development," according to the L.A. Times. Councilmember Mike Bonin agreed, suggesting, at the time, that he found Shakib' words "to be a bogus claim, and not credible."

To the distaste of Shakib and his attorneys, the Board of Public Works voted unanimously on Friday to ban Sullivan Equity Partners from developing the land in Sullivan Canyon any further.

"We're definitely going to appeal [the decision] by any available means, including going to court," said Patrick Mitchell, the attorney for Sullivan Equity Partners, to the Times.

On the flip side, those who rallied against the mansion project are ecstatic. The decision by the Board of Public Works is viewed as a warning shot to developers who want to remove trees without permission.

"If the city fails in its duty to uphold the law, developers will simply continue to see tree massacres as the cost of doing business," explained Sara Nichols, a Sullivan Canyon resident two doors down from the project.

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Earlier this year, widespread outrage was briefly provoked when billboard retailer Outfront Media killed several trees on Silver Lake's Sunset Triangle plaza in order to clear a view for one of the company's billboards.