A few weeks ago, around 7:30 at night, I received a phone call from an upset stranger.

“Paul Dunbar” said he was a neighbor. A woman had given him my number. And told him Andrew, at “Here in Van Nuys”, might be helpful.

Mr. Dunbar explained that he lived with his wife and two children in a home he has owned for the past 16 years. His 1950s ranch has three bedrooms, and a large den facing a backyard pool. It is a classic old Valley house. But it is now under assault.

Dunbar Family Pool.
Just Beyond the Fence Behind the Dunbars.
A backyard paradise which will have an audience in the next few months.
A single famly house now developed as a multi-family rental property.
A few months earlier, the house behind the Dunbar’s was sold and purchased by an LLC. That entity was now constructing two houses, intended for rental use, on an 8,099 sf lot, zoned R1 (single family).

The back house, entirely new, will rise up two stories and contain a two-car garage below, and living spaces upstairs. The renters will enjoy an outdoor balcony whose view will be the Dunbar pool below and the back of the Dunbar House where all activities, indoor and outdoor, will be under the scrutiny of strangers.

A backhoe had dug up all the vegetation, and had deforested the backyard. A naked slat wood fence was all that stood between the neighboring houses. Rising up, like Godzilla over Tokyo, was a new 22.5-foot high house with many windows.

The egregious backyard neighbor’s two houses will be rented out. The renters (whomever they are) will live, and look down, across the entire width and breadth of the formerly private property. At night, the Dunbar Family drama will be a stage show for prying eyes.

Exhaustively, and in detail, Paul Dunbar kept records of the various letters, emails and phone calls he made to many city agencies and offices: Councilwoman Nury Martinez, District 6; Assembly member Adrin Nazarian; LA’s Department of Building and Safety; City Inspectors,the City Attorney’s Office. Senior Lead Officer Erika Kirk, LAPD, even intervened, with no results.

The upshot of the situation is that a speculator can buy a home on a single-family lot and put two houses on one lot with a “variance”.

All the neighbors in the area are aghast. They know anybody can now come in and demolish. And then construct two new, rentable houses on old, one-family 8,000 SF lots. A bad precedent has been set.

Construction for the new multi-family development on a single-family lot.
The New Homes of the LLC Family.
The New Homes of the LLC Family.
“What is the point of investing your life savings and a large portion of your monthly paycheck into a single family neighborhood? The city decides they will change it with no explanation/warning. And NO representation to voice your feedback, unless you spend more money and time for an attorney to fight what is already a done deal?” Mr. Dunbar asked.

A few hours later in the afternoon, the first story of the new guesthouse rises over the Dunbar fence.
The first story of the eventual two-story house rises above the Dunbar fence.
Privacy Under Assault.


Van Nuys, in the aftermath of the recession, has regained most of its pre-2007 property values. But the average house in our neighborhood might be worth $550,000. If a home sells for $500,000 and needs $150,000 worth of work to remodel it, there is little incentive to flip it if the ceiling is only $700,000.

Therefore, the only way to make property profitable in Van Nuys is to carve up the pieces and put some income producing business on it.

Some speculators are trying the LLC route. Others are engaged in various nefarious scams.

There are now businesses that are buying up houses around the area and using single-family houses as sober living halfway houses. The owners bill insurance companies thousands of dollars for each resident, and then cram six or seven un-related adults into a house. The operators can earn $20,000 or $30,000 a month paid for by health insurance, subsidized by Obama Care.

My cousin, who sometimes works in these “sobriety” houses, says they are a profitable business and he knows of people who bought up multiple $1,500,000 houses in Beverlywood and set them up as post-addiction estates. Van Nuys, with lower cost housing, is in the sights of unscrupulous people bilking medical insurance to finance these arrangements.

Other properties that are zoned for single-family houses are now being redeveloped as denser housing to encourage more intensive use of large parcels of land. Allegedly creating a more walkable city, the new “small-lot” zoning will pour additional cars onto the street day and night.

The LLC situation means that individuals are not the new homeowners. Companies owning many houses will buy up distressed properties and rent them out, and they will also find ways around the zoning laws to carve up lots and cram in homes.

Poor Van Nuys.

Even when properties are rehabilitated they are simultaneously degraded.

Who is in charge of zoning? And who is in charge of handing out permits? Why and how is it allowed that an LLC can throw up two houses on one lot in the midst of our single-family home neighborhood?

Why are we always fighting new forces intent on destroying Van Nuys?

Why are people in power deaf to their constituency?

9 thoughts on “The Plaintive Call.

  1. Perhaps you could go back to the early decades of the twentieth century in Van Nuys and find the newspaper clippings depicting irate alfalfa and orange farmers who complained bitterly about how their property rights and way of life were being bulldozed by an unresponsive and unaccountable city bureaucracy. Freeways, tract homes, and shopping malls were the undisputed future of the Valley back then and nothing could stop it. And nothing did. That’s where you and Mr. Dunbar now live. Your homes were once someone’s orange grove. That farm was more beautiful, cleaner, more natural, more private, and peaceful with less traffic congestion and crime that your current suburban subdivision.

    Van Nuys has a few options. One includes declaring an absolute moratorium on new infill construction and density. That works great for people who already own property in the area. A “Godzilla ” sized 22.5 foot infill project? Really? Two whole stories! That’s one story taller than a one story home. My God. It’s Hong Kong right there on the cul-de-sac.

    But don’t bitch about the side effects. That’s the de facto Northern California approach. That’s how you end up with a seven hundred square foot $1.2M one bedroom Victorian flat that rents for $4,200 a month here in San Francisco. See also: the adorable country villages an hour and a half to the north (or south, or east) where a little fixer upper with a view of some wine grapes costs $3M. Pick your poison.

    My advice to Mr. Dunbar is to embrace the new reality. Sell at a profit to an LLC developer, take the cash, and move to a pristine subdivision in Arizona where 1954 lives on in magnificent splendor by the backyard pool.


      1. I wasn’t being snarky. I’m examining the facts. Mr. Dunbar’s best option is to sell out and live a better quality life elsewhere. I’m ready to cash out of San Francisco myself, but my boyfriend doesn’t want to move. Yet…


  2. I am not sure that a variance can be issued without a public hearing. I also believe the neighbors are notified of the public hearing as well. If they were notified and ignored it or did show up, thinking someone was going to protect them, they were wrong. They should check if a public hearing was made. The reason we have zoning rules is to protect homeowners like this.
    In regards to the LLC, this is a limited liability corp. The reason they do this is to protect their other assets if someone gets hurt during the construction or as a tenant. It protects their personal assets.

    They must register the corp with the department of corporations, and a person, usually one of the members names will be listed there.


  3. Man, that sucks! I feel for these homeowners! Wow! Half-way through that read I was asking myself ‘ what’s up with the zoning?’ I’m no authority on zoning in the Valley to be sure, but I wonder how this came to be? So sad…. I suppose this is happening more and more often…… Definitely not Opie-town I grew up in, I’ll tell ya! 😩


  4. Andy. the assumption has already been that the right amount of money can buy any zoning commissioner in the Valley! And the idea of illegal rentals has been around for decades now. Here in S.Oaks, we are truly plagued with such places-many of which were basically stolen during the last recession/near-collapse in housing prices. Since then, the worst of the worst have taken over/moved in/created their own laws. Very few of the new owners even regard laws as applying to them. Just look to the corner of Kester and Magnolia, where the Feds took over/Eminent Domain over an old market and built a Post Office with over 300+ employees and less than 200 parking spaces…and the condos built on a single family space and finally, removing the entire business center on Magnolia for more profitable apt. units-over 100 more. It’s gone way past any form of laws or logic. I thought we were running water shortage (this all long before the past rains)? Developers bring in money, they bring in higher tax rates and they bring in more bribes for local government agencies and politicians…isn’t that really what life in the Valley has come to be about? Van Nuys died when the removed the small businesses, took over neighborhoods for their government buildings and then allowed major additions of apartments over houses…and it appears-eventually-this is the plan for the brunt of all major/and even some minor streets…wall-to-wall. Good luck with that kind of living-if you wanna call it that…


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