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I join the growing and resolute chorus of Beverly Hills residents that oppose the LVMH Cheval Blanc project, and will be voting no on Measures B and C, as the truth about this project comes to light.
It’s quite a challenge to try to list all the things wrong with project, but here are four key reasons to vote no on Measures B and C, and to let the un-elected planning commissioners and their rubber-stamp City Council majority (who appoint the commissioners) know that the city’s residents know better than they do as to what is best for us and our community.
First, the future of our city and our way of life would be endangered by the very reckless and dangerous precedent that an entitlement for a non-compliant, unwanted and unneeded vanity project can be bought. What would then stop future developers, including those with projects now in the pipeline (such as the Saks project stretching from Camden to Bedford, that would decimate the Southwest residential neighborhoods) from simply writing a check and touting distorted renderings and exaggerated benefits to obtain an entitlement that is at odds with the residents’ well-being and quality of life?
Second, the hotel project itself is an unneeded vanity project – really just a garish billboard for LVMH (which already has about 12 of its brands’ stores in the triangle), and removes existing public benefits. Not only would its nine-story height (three-times the allowed amount) cast Beverly Drive in the shadows and ruin the streetscape of the business triangle, but the project would demolish the Richard Meier-designed Paley Center for Media (aka Museum of Television and Radio), and the hotel project (a 115-room hotel and 500-member private club) offers nothing for the benefit of Beverly Hills residents – not even more parking, as the project is purposely under-parked to save on building costs.
The touted tax benefits of $778 million over 30 years are speculative at best (assuming $2,000 per night rooms at very high occupancy year-round, etc.), and even if fully realized, would only amount to about a 10% increase in the city’s current gross revenues per year over 30 years. The city is financially healthy (including having a $100 million reserve fund), so selling out to a developer (at way too low a price) for a merely speculative and modest revenue increase makes no sense. Despite the claims of the LVMH proponents, our outstanding and essential services (police, fire, etc.) do not need this funding to maintain their excellent service, nor is one penny earmarked for the schools.
Nor do these exaggerated tax benefits take into account any decrease in revenues the Cheval Blanc project would cause, both from cannibalizing other hotels and the decrease in sales of neighboring stores and restaurants during the multi-year and highly disruptive construction process. This timing also overlaps with the already disruptive subway and other major construction projects choking our city.
The exaggerated benefits are also in line with the distorted and misleading images of the project that were used by LVMH in presentations to the Planning Commission and City Council, as well as in ongoing ads in favor of the project. It’s worth noting that many ads barely show full and accurate images of the project itself, as its height and mass are not exactly selling points.
Third, the city was out-negotiated by LVMH, and the Development Agreement is one-sided and flawed. The development agreement granted LVMH hundreds of millions of dollars in value by allowing almost three-times the density and three-times the height, for a mere $28 million payment (which amounts to only about 5¢ on the dollar). It also allows LVMH to sell its interest in the project (and why wouldn’t it, if it doubled its money virtually for free upfront via the Development Agreement?), so the city could be left with something other than a Cheval Blanc Hotel. LVMH can also extend the construction timeline by two years for a total of five years of disruptive construction.
Fourth, it is well reported that some former mayors, councilmembers and Planning Commission members have (and are) being paid hundreds of thousands of dollars by LVMH to support the project. The Beverly Hills Courier is being paid over $140,000 by LVMH to do the same via guest editorials and fluff pieces, with no meaningful coverage of the opposing arguments. If the project is supposedly so beneficial, why are so many supporters (many of whom are not even residents of Beverly Hills) being paid and outside agitators being hired by LVMH, while the project’s opponents are unpaid residents and civic leaders, including residents-focused former mayors – many of whose prior accomplishments relating to parking, height, density, zoning, etc. would be obliterated by this project – and the Beverly Hills Municipal League, etc., whose daily lives are at stake and truly have the best interest of Beverly Hills in mind?
LVMH is not only paying for the cost of the election itself, but is spending over $2 million (in addition to the payments to its “supporters” noted above), or more than 10-times what the humble opposition is raising and spending. It is not a level playing field, and surely indicative of the lengths LVMH feels it needs to go to in order to try to persuade us residents of its position. If the project were even half as meritorious as LVMH makes it out to be, it would have been a much easier “sell” than this.
For all these reasons, and many others promulgated by the many thoughtful and informed opponents of the project, it is in the Beverly Hills residents’ best interest to vote no on Measures B and C.
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This whole Pro B and C campaign has been incredibly annoying and scummy. Just as a personal anecdote, I was signed up without my permission for a mailing list to be spammed by the Yes campaign. The contact is some throwaway yahoo account which doesn’t respond to questions either.