Lawsuit to overturn permits tied to Huizar appealed to state Supreme Court

AIDS Healthcare Foundation seeks to pause projects approved by corrupt City Hall

A legal challenge at the state’s highest court could imperil construction projects tied to former Los Angeles councilman Jose Huizar, who has admitted taking bribes from developers.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation has filed an appeal to the California Supreme Court seeking to challenge permits for projects linked to the City Hall corruption scandal, the I-Team at NBC Los Angeles reported.

The lawsuit, originally filed in 2020 by the Hollywood-based nonprofit, demanded the city pause building projects approved by a council committee headed by Huizar, who last week pleaded guilty to at least $1.5 million in bribes. He faces up to 13 years in prison and $1.85 million in restitution.

Such projects include a 35-story, mixed-use apartment tower now under construction by Carmel Partners at 520 San Mateo Street in the Arts District of Downtown.

The developer led by Ron Zeff, now known as CP Employer, paid tens of thousands of dollars for Huizar’s benefit in exchange for a reduction of affordable housing units, according to federal prosecutors, and agreed to pay a $1.2 million fine to avoid prosecution.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, an advocate of affordable housing, has asked the California Supreme Court to consider overturning an appellate ruling so the public can challenge building approvals made by crooked officials in the widespread corruption case.

The request pits building regulations against anti-corruption laws, according to NBC LA.

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Last month, a California Court of Appeal ruled the public had 90 days to challenge permission for construction projects. The reason the 90-day limit exists is so that real estate developers can take on the financial risk of construction, knowing that the window for legal challenges has closed.

But with the L.A. City Council permits linked to Huizar’s bribes, that time window passed long before anyone found out the process had been corrupted, according to NBC LA

“It doesn’t make sense to have a short statute of limitations to protect a real estate project that is the product of corruption,” Jonathan Eisenberg, deputy general counsel for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, told NBC LA. “We’re hoping that the California Supreme Court will see that and, within their power to modify the common law, will change the relevant legal test, and allow for a longer statute of limitations.”

When former L.A. city attorney Mike Feuer tried to get the City Council to reopen the permits that were corrupted after the scandal was exposed, the council never took up the issue.

An ordinance which would permit the City Council to revoke building permits and entitlements obtained through fraud was drafted in August 2020 and referred to the Council’s Planning Committee. But it, too, stalled.

— Dana Bartholomew