After approximately eight and a half hours of reports, public comments and questions over two nights, the Beverly Hills City Council has yet to take any votes on the One Beverly Hills project. Discussions will resume tonight, May 27, at 7 p.m.
While nothing has yet been decided, it appears that Eric Amdursky, an attorney with O’Melveny and Myers who is representing the project’s head, Beny Alagem, has drawn the ire of Beverly Hills city officials.
Earlier this month, Beverly Hills residents Andrea and Rick Grossman raised concerns about the development team and referenced media reports, including from the Wall Street Journal, that alleged unsavory business practices by Alagem. Beverly Hills-based Alagem Capital Group is undertaking the project in partnership with London-based Cain International. In response, Amdursky wrote to the Grossmans and called their statement “defamation” and demanded the Grossmans retract it, which they did in an effort to avoid a lawsuit.
Planning Commission Chair Peter Ostroff interceded on the Grossmans’ behalf, writing to the council that Amdursky had been successful in using “intimidation tactics” to muzzle public comment. Councilman John Mirisch agreed.
“I believe that the process must be protected. When I found out about this, it made my blood boil. Our residents need to be protected. They need to be able to speak their minds,” Mirisch said.
City Attorney Laurence Wiener confirmed that not only were the Grossmans’ comments protected from defamation lawsuits – they would likely emerge victorious in court – but also that Amdursky’s letter was intended primarily to limit criticism of Alagem and the project.
“[The Grossmans] could be sued, and that would chill speech, probably,” Wiener said.
Mirisch made clear he did not believe Alagem himself directed the sending of this letter, but he asked that Amdursky be made available on May 27 to answer questions.
Mirisch’s colleagues agreed that the letter went too far.
“Sometimes an attorney is overzealous in their protection of their client. Perhaps that is what occurred here, and that is unfortunate. I believe our residents must come first and must be heard, whether I agree with them or not,” Councilman Lester Friedman said.
Councilman Julian Gold suggested the letter be discussed further at a future study session, which seemed to draw support from a majority of the other council members.
“We’re not going to solve this tonight … It may well have been an overreaction, and we should not overreact [in response],” Gold said.
The topic is likely to be discussed again on May 27, as will some of Mirisch’s remaining questions and the development agreement for the project.
Aside from the discussion of the Grossmans’ letter, the project team faced hours of comments from the public and questioning from the council members about One Beverly Hills, which will include residences, hotels – including the existing Waldorf Astoria and the Beverly Hilton – retail and restaurant space, and botanical gardens on both sides of Merv Griffin Way.
The public comment was largely split, with dozens of residents speaking in favor of the project and its anticipated benefits for the city. Dozens of other residents criticized its scale – it includes a 28-story and a 32-story tower – and the timing of the project, which has cleared many necessary hurdles during the pandemic.
The development team, led by Alagem, praised the project as being transformative for the Beverly Hills community.
“We are building a bright future for our city and our great community … One Beverly Hills will be the spark that ignites the city’s economic recovery,” Alagem said.
The development team highlighted the project’s sustainable features and the availability of 4.5 acres of the gardens to the public, which drew praise from the council members.
However, plans to implement fractional ownership – some units would be sold in one-twelfth portions – and how best to allow for multimodal transportation on Santa Monica Boulevard, among other topics, drew multiple questions that may indicate some concerns.
For instance, Mirisch asked if the fractional units would count toward the city’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment numbers since they are technically homes, or if they would be treated more like hotels and thus do not count toward the state-mandated numbers.
“It does have more of the character of part-time vacation ownership, as opposed to full time,” Mirisch said.
“To me, it’s providing housing … It would make no sense to me that it wouldn’t count,” Vice Mayor Lili Bosse said.
Ted Kahan, president of the One Beverly Hills project, affirmed that these units are different from hotels in that they have “permanence, even though [the units are] used only for a portion of the year.” He did not have an answer to the RHNA question.
“These units are not hotel rooms. They have full kitchens, they have dining rooms, they have residential-style bathrooms and closets. It’s a living situation that’s very different from staying in a hotel,” he said.
Though some questions remain for the May 27 meeting, much of the questioning is done, and the council is likely to move into the council comments portion of the meeting tonight, the final step before a vote. That said, there is a chance the discussions will continue into the June 1 council meeting.
“This is the most impactful project perhaps in the history of the city,” Mirisch said. “The old saying, ‘where’s the fire?’ [applies here.] Let’s do it right.”
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