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Artist appeals city findings on controversial piece

La Jolla artist Nasser Pirasteh argues his installation is an artistic sculpture and is not subject to the same Municipal Code violations as an accessory structure.
La Jolla artist Nasser Pirasteh argues his installation is an artistic sculpture and is not subject to the same Municipal Code violations as an accessory structure.
(Ashley Mackin)

A San Diego administrative hearing officer has requested up to 25 days to determine whether an installation in La Jolla artist Nasser Pirasteh’s front yard facing Nautilus Street is an artistic sculpture or an unpermitted accessory structure.

Following a hearing held the morning of June 17 in a downtown San Diego office building, in which both Pirasteh and City of San Diego code enforcement officers had the opportunity to state their cases, hearing officer James Queenan said based on the “complexity of issues involved,” he would try to render a decision within 10 days, but asked for up to an additional two weeks.

“For issues such as these, which are unique, (more so) than our garden variety code enforcement cases, I need more time to do legal research. I understand both parties’ positions … and I would feel more comfortable if I had more time to hit the books, so to speak … and think this through,” he said. Neither party objected.

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At issue is whether an approximately 10-foot cylindrical installation fronting Pirasteh’s property at 6707 Avenida Manana, as the city has determined, an unpermitted accessory structure placed in the front yard setback of the property. In March, the city notified Pirasateh that construction of the “accessory structure” in the front yard area was in violation of city code and would need to be removed.

If confirmed as a structure, the city asks within 60 calendar days of hearing officer’s findings, for Pirasteh to move the structure from the front yard setback or be assessed civil penalties and administrative costs of up to $250,000. Administrative costs accumulated thus far that the city is asking Pirasteh to pay include $1,143.57, in additon to civil penalties of $10,000 for being out of compliance for a recorded 40 days.

Arguing that the work is instead an artistic sculpture — not an accessory structure — and therefore not subject to the same Municipal Code violations, Pirasteh, his wife Zahra, and approximately 15 supporters spoke at the hearing to voice the work’s contribution to the public art community.

But the city has the burden of proof, and Code Enforcement Officer Lisa Poston, who carried out the initial and subsequent inspections, said she observed “a structure that had been built in the front yard setback of the property” and “exposed wires with a lightbulb hanging from the interior center of the ceiling, electrical outlets, and a conduit running up and over the (adjacent) tree.” It was later noted that upon learning the electrical work would have required a permit, Pirasteh removed the wiring.

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Explaining the front yard setback issue, she added, “The curb to property line is 10 feet from the Nautilus Street side and the required front yard is 20 feet, which places the structure in the setback. …No accessory structure can be in that area.”

City investigator Leslie Sennet, speaking with Poston on behalf of the city, said the structure itself would not require a permit, but its placement and the unpermitted installation and removal of electrical wiring, is the issue.

Queenan will review the presented exhibits and render a decision. Read more about the hearing in the June 23 issue of La Jolla Light.


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