CEO’s Off-the-Grid Plan Nets Criminal Charges

     LOS ANGELES (CN) — Rob Rhinehart doesn’t live here anymore. Or at least his red shipping container doesn’t.
     Earlier last week, Rhinehart’s ersatz but unoccupied corrugated residence sat atop of the dusty hilltop in a small neighborhood in the Northeast of Los Angeles where Rhinehart — the creator of the meal replacement drink Soylent — had planned to dip his toe in “experimental living” and power his unlikely red abode with solar energy.
     But by Thursday afternoon, a flatbed truck had hauled the graffiti-covered container away, leaving a footprint of the 30-foot wide container, a pile of shattered glass and deep tire tracks.
     On Friday, the City of Los Angeles piled more misery on Rhinehart by filing criminal charges over permitting and zoning violations on a patch of land he reportedly bought in the Montecito Heights neighborhood for $21,300.
     City attorney Mike Feuer said this past Friday that the city was prosecuting Rhinehart for noncompliance with city laws and for refusing to remove the container. The start-up entrepreneur faces up to two years in jail and $4,000 in fines.
     “Unpermitted structures pose a safety risk. They also can be unsightly and erode the quality of life in a neighborhood,” said Feuer in a statement. “My office will work to hold property owners accountable if they flout our building and safety laws.”
     Rhinehart did not respond to a request for comment on Friday, but he told the Guardian that he believed authorities should be doing more to protect his property.
     “My home was graffitied and the windows were smashed. That’s my fault? Where are the police? I have spent thousands improving the surroundings including cleaning trash, graffiti and cutting grass not just on my land but the whole hilltop,” Rhinehart said.
     Neighbors complained when it became apparent that Rhinehart was not going to live in the container, which became a magnet for vandals and a nuisance for residents who live at the foot of the so-called “flat top” hillside.
     Eva, 76, who moved to the neighborhood in 1960, said that she was glad to see the container go but added that she was irked more when Rhinehart hosted a big party on the hilltop, clogging the small neighborhood’s narrow streets with cars.
     “We don’t mind people walking up there, walking their dog, looking at the view and stuff. We do mind when they drink, and they park their cars and they’re drunk and they party up there,” Eva said.
     “If he built a house I guess people wouldn’t complain. But for him to build a house up there he’s got to get permits,” she added.
     Hot winds whipped around the hilltop on Friday, rustling parched grass. The dirt track to Rhinehart’s land was strewn with flattened beer boxes, styrofoam cups and empty firework encasings, hinting that the businessman is not all that ails the hilltop.
     Sam Baumer, a 34-year-old immigration lawyer who lives nearby, represents a growing number of people who have bought property in the neighborhood in the hope it will become more gentrified.
     He said that regardless of Reinhart’s presence, adults and kids would still flock to party at the hilltop.
     “People are having a good time on this hill because it’s a million-dollar view,” Baumer said.
     He said he thought criminal charges are harsh.
     “I think some of the other neighbors were not so happy with the red container but I thought it was cool. I thought it was awesome. I hope he comes back and I hope he rebuilds it. I think he needs to get the permits and follow the rules of course, but I welcome him,” Baumer said.
     Another resident whose property faces the hillside and Rhinehart’s property was less enthusiastic about his wealthy neighbor.
     “It was definitely a nuisance. I understand where his head was at in terms of living off the grid and living off the land. It would have only worked if he actually did live off the land. He just kind of plopped that thing there and never really lived in it at all,” he said.
     The city attorney said that Rhinehart will be arraigned on Sept. 7.

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