Audit finds LASD did not get proper approval for helipad near sheriff’s home

An audit found the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department did not obtain the proper approval to build an emergency helicopter landing pad above Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s home, according to a report published Wednesday.

The Los Angeles County Auditor-Controller released a report that contradicted Villanueva’s claim last year that his department had secured permission from La Habra Heights—where the sheriff lives—or the landowner, Southern California Gas Co., the Los Angeles Times reported.

Construction of an emergency heliport requires a state heliport permit, one that the sheriff’s department did not seek approval for, according to The Times.

The audit revealed La Habra Heights officials determined that “the grading activity at the property was not permitted or approved and allegedly did not comply with municipal codes related to grading permits and erosion prevention,” The Times reported.

An internal Sheriff’s Department memo written by a captain claimed J. Isaac Gonzalez and a site supervisor “gave verbal permission for the sheriff’s department to enter the property and level the hill for an emergency landing zone.”

Gonzalez is a former sheriff’s deputy who worked for the parent company of Southern California Gas Co. and with Villanueva at the East Los Angeles Sheriff’s Station in the 1990s.

In August 2020 after an internal threat assessment to identify risks to Villanueva’s safety was conducted, the idea that he needed a sheriff’s department helicopter near his home for quick extraction took shape.

The audit recommends the Sheriff’s Department improve internal policies and controls and ensure that it obtains “legally sufficient written authorization from owners of private property prior to engaging in construction on such property.”

A statement by the Sheriff’s Department to The Times said it agrees with the recommendation “to improve its contracting process.”

The department also agreed to make sure it secures local government permits before starting any construction projects.

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