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In January, the Beverly Hills City Council declared a nearly five-acre tract of land in the city’s entertainment business district as “surplus,” potentially allowing for the development of four parcels currently home to a vacant office building, dog park, storage yard and Public Works Department facility.
The declaration upset some residents, who claimed the city acted without transparency by initially listing the item on the consent calendar of the Jan. 24 City Council meeting, which would have allowed the council to vote on the land without public discussion.
In an attempt to force the City Council to rescind the surplus declaration, Beverly Hills resident and attorney Darian Bojeaux sent the city a cease and desist letter on Feb. 22 claiming the council violated the Brown Act, which governs how California legislative bodies conduct open meetings.
“Despite the applicable laws, city officials did their best to conceal their intended actions by inaccurately, insufficiently and misleadingly describing the subject agenda item,” Bojeaux wrote. “As a result, residents were prevented from fairly participating in the decision and assuring the preservation of a unique large area of city land for city use only.”
But according to City Attorney Laurence Wiener, the council was well within the purview of the Brown Act.
“The Brown Act is supposed to give members of the public a general idea of what is being discussed so [residents] can then read the item or attend the meeting. This did exactly that,” Wiener said. “[The agenda item] said what government code section it was operating under, and then said it was a declaration of surplus land.”
Under the Brown Act, residents have 30 days after a surplus land declaration to inform the city it has violated the law, and the city then has 30 days to correct the violation, Wiener said.
Since the city has not violated the act, it is not required to respond to Bojeaux’s letter, Wiener said. The idea that land must be vacant to be declared surplus is not accurate, he added.
“The city doesn’t have to take any action. Whether we will or not remains to be seen,” Wiener added.
In her letter, Bojeaux stated that, if the city does not respond, “residents will seek judicial invalidation of the council’s action, declaratory or injunctive relief, and the recovery of costs and reasonable attorney’s fees.”
Wiener was confident the city would prevail if residents filed a lawsuit over the matter, he said.
The City Council declared the land surplus after being approached in November by global talent company United Talent Agency, which has offices near the Foothill Road land, to discuss the possibility of leasing the land.
The Surplus Land Act, which took effect in 2020, requires the city to declare the land as surplus and send notices of availability to affordable housing developers, school districts and open space organizations, which have 60 days to send a proposal before it can discuss sales or leases with UTA or other private entities.
Assistant City Manager Ryan Gohlich said the city has no intention of selling the land, and it must negotiate “in good faith” with entities who signal their interest within 60 days after notices of availability are issued.
The city has received inquiries about the land but has not received any formal proposals, Deputy City Manager Keith Sterling said.
Thomas A. White, chairman of the Municipal League of Beverly Hills, said the land on Foothill Road had previously been set aside for public use, and he shares Bojeaux’s view that the city acted improperly by listing the surplus land declaration on the consent calendar.
“It’s probably the single most important asset the city has in order to ensure high quality city services in the future,” White said. “When objection was raised about the impropriety of concealing [the surplus land declaration] … the city proceeded with the matter regardless, and that shows a real tone deafness to the kind of open, encouraging public interest kind of disclosure and participation we ought to see at all council meetings.” land without public discussion.
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