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Building on Lies?

Posted: February 8, 2008 1:54 p.m.
Updated: April 10, 2008 2:01 a.m.
The Las Lomas Land Co. LLC, which is planning a 5,000-plus housing development in the Newhall Pass, owns less than half of the property, although the firm has told county officials it's the sole owner, an investigation by The Signal has revealed.

For the better part of a decade, parent company Palmer Investments has been developing plans for a mini-community in the hills above the junction of Interstate 5 and Highway 14.

The Las Lomas Land Co. only owns a portion of the 555 acres, though papers filed with the county of Los Angeles list the developer as the sole owner, according to documents obtained by The Signal.

Van Nuys resident Fred McHaddad owns nearly half of the site, and though he told company president Dan S. Palmer Jr. he will have an option to buy the land, there's been no sale yet.

"I am so scared," McHaddad said, his eyes beginning to water and his voice shaking during an interview with The Signal on Thursday. "I'm an old man. I'm so scared I'm going to lose my property."

Owner of six of the 14 land parcels, McHaddad, 77, isn't exactly a silent partner in the Las Lomas project. He's more of a mute partner, as two weeks of research has revealed.

McHaddad signed an agreement with Palmer pledging his commitment to the Las Lomas project, empowering the developer in a letter to do what is necessary to secure the necessary permits and entitlements to make the Las Lomas development a reality, including bids for annexation.

He offered Palmer, he said, an eventual option to buy his property.

He never sold his property to Palmer, he said.

The Signal found McHaddad among land records that show he owns 251 acres of the 555 acres of land off The Old Road that Palmer has been referring to publicly as Las Lomas for more than six years.

In a zoning and subdivision application obtained by The Signal, submitted to the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning and dated Dec. 10, 2003, Las Lomas Land Company LLC is listed as the owner of the 555 acres earmarked for the project.

Matt Klink, spokesman for Las Lomas and Palmer Investments, said Thursday he would answer questions raised by McHaddad's concerns as soon as possible.

"I would respectfully request that you hold on to the story," Klink said Thursday afternoon, promising to do his best to reach either Palmer or Hilary Norton Orozco, vice president of the Las Lomas Land Co., for official comment. "This is not giving my client a fair opportunity to respond."

Klink responded shortly before 6 p.m. Thursday: "We have had conversations with Mr. McHaddad's son and have kept him updated about the project."

Asked why communication has not been with McHaddad directly, Klink said that is the way business has been carried out, though he is sure there will be some sort of conversation with McHaddad to address his concerns.

McHaddad said the only time his son dealt with Palmer Investments was related to oak trees on one of the parcels.

McHaddad, who describes himself as "ancient," not elderly, owns about 45 percent of the land touted as the future home of Las Lomas - almost all of its southern half.

Last November, Palmer submitted a bid to the county to reconfigure 14 parcels into one. McHaddad and his wife, Janet, own six of those parcels, but they didn't know of Palmer's actions, McHaddad said Thursday.

The couple live quietly in Van Nuys - old and disabled and shut off from the news about a 5,800-unit housing project proposed for their property.

McHaddad knew nothing about Los Angeles city's budget and finance committee meeting Monday which attracted more than 500 people who came to debate the future of Las Lomas.

McHaddad was never told about the meeting and didn't learn about it until informed by The Signal.

McHaddad's wife cannot walk, and McHaddad himself has a difficult time walking, he said, because his knees are "shot."

He had no trouble, however, expressing his frustration with the Las Lomas Land Co. and Palmer.

"He never returns my calls. I sent him e-mails, nothing happened," McHaddad said.

The only call McHaddad said he received about Las Lomas was a phone call from Ramon Cordova of the county Department of Regional Planning.

"When the county called about the parcels they asked if Palmer was the owner. I said 'No. I'm the owner.' They said, 'We need something that says you are the owner. Send us a copy of your tax bill,'" McHaddad said.

Cordova handles special projects for the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning.

"He also started crying when I talked to him," Cordova told The Signal on Thursday. "You always want to make sure you're dealing with the current owners. We want to make sure we have all the property owners," he said, explaining that he called McHaddad when he began reviewing a Tentative Parcel Map submitted by the Las Lomas Land Co. in November.

On Parcel Map No. 060792, which encompasses the entire projected Las Lomas mini-city, Las Lomas Land Co. LLC is listed as both the owner and the applicant.

Cordova said Thursday he identified three additional owners of land inside the area designated for Las Lomas. They include: Newhall Calgrove Estates Limited Partnership, Carole Bergin and Samuel R. Biggs, and the Trustee of Ralph Thomas Flora Trust.

In checking the property owners, Cordova discovered that McHaddad was the owner of seven parcel lots of land inside the proposed Las Lomas area. Six of those were included in the bid to lump all 14 lots into one.

Once Cordova confirms the identity of all the property owners, he has to get their consent for public hearings on the proposed changes.

Cordova's phone call two weeks ago was the first time anyone has called McHaddad about his property, McHaddad said.

"All the legal owners have to give their consent to a public hearing; if even one doesn't consent we can't proceed," Cordova said.

Tentative Parcel Map No. 060792 is now off the calendar.

Cordova said McHaddad is still the owner of his property.


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