Crime & Justice

Soylent CEO faces criminal charges over Montecito Heights 'eyesore'

Soylent CEO Rob Rhinehart holds a bag of finished product in this September 2013 file photo. Rhinehart faces criminal charges for unpermitted construction on a vacant lot in Montecito Heights.
Soylent CEO Rob Rhinehart holds a bag of finished product in this September 2013 file photo. Rhinehart faces criminal charges for unpermitted construction on a vacant lot in Montecito Heights.
Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

The CEO of Soylent, a startup focused on liquid nutrition, has found himself mixed up in allegations of criminal misconduct.

Robert Rhinehart, whose powdered drink is intended as a meal substitute, has been charged with grading and building without permits on a hillside property in Montecito Heights, according to the office of Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer.

Rhinehart's company is named after a food substance featured in the 1973 dystopian science fiction film "Soylent Green."

Regular "Take Two" listeners may recall Rhinehart from an appearance on the show in 2013. KPCC staff sampled his potable product, which (spoiler alert!) is not made of people.

The illegal construction prosecutors mentioned includes a big, cherry-red cargo container with squares cut out of the sides, giving it the look of a makeshift unfinished trailer.

"Unpermitted structures pose a safety risk. They also can be unsightly and erode the quality of life in a neighborhood," Feuer said in a written statement.

Rhinehart shared pictures of the structure on his Instagram account. 

 

A photo posted by Robert Rhinehart (@robertrhinehart) on

The 30-foot-long converted container sits on a vacant lot on the 2900 block of North Ashland Avenue. The hillside otherwise appears to be relatively undeveloped, and prosecutors said the community has been complaining.

 

A photo posted by Robert Rhinehart (@robertrhinehart) on

Feuer's office referred to the container as an "experimental living facility" and said that follow-up investigations showed recently installed windows had been smashed and the container was covered in graffiti.

 

container life

A photo posted by Robert Rhinehart (@robertrhinehart) on

A commenter on one of Rhinehart's photos complained about the impact of the container on the local community.

"No one likes your stupid 'experiment' that's been an eyesore and an invitation for derelicts such as yourself to stay and trash the place. Just leave dude we don't want you nor your distorted Eco experiments," wrote the commenter, who appeared under the user name "reversengineer."

Feuer's office said it held a hearing in June, but that Rhinehart has refused to remove the container or agree to any timeline for compliance.

In response, prosecutors have filed four criminal counts against him, including construction and grading without permits, zoning code violations and failure to comply with orders from the Department of Building and Safety.

If convicted, Rhinehart could face up to two years in jail and $4,000 in fines, prosecutors said.

An arraignment has been scheduled for Sept. 7.

KPCC reached out to Rhinehart through a press contact at Soylent but had not heard back before publication.