In just about two weeks, an obscure Special Election is taking place in Beverly Hills. On Tuesday, May 23, mail-in ballots come due and voters decide whether or not to approve the development of a massive new, super-luxury hotel to move forward in an area that now includes the now-vacant Paley Center for Media’s iconic museum and archives, at the intersection of Little Santa Monica Blvd and Beverly.

We strongly encourage Beverly Hills voters to vote “No” on Measures B and C, which will prevent the ritzy Cheval Blanc Hotel to be built.

Measure B, if approved, would allow specific zoning code changes to be made to allow for a development of this size. Measure C spells out the specific development agreement voters would be approving for the hotel.

We are opposed to the hotel but are equally upset by the process by which this Special Election came to be placed on May 23 and subsequently funded. We’ll explore both.

The Hotel

It’s not that the site being a luxury hotel is our problem. But it sure is problematic that the company proposing the project, Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH) – one of the wealthiest parent companies on the planet – has no plans to allow its hotel and restaurant workers to unionize or collectively bargain for livable wages. To think the uber-wealthy clientele of this hotel would bat an eyelash at paying a bit more per night – over the high prices that already prove no obstacle to them – to make those wages possible is particularly galling.

It’s also quite problematic that LVMH is offering nothing in its plan to help the City of Beverly Hills reach its Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) numbers for the period between 2021-2029. As we’ve written on numerous occasions, the State Department of Housing and Community Development has dramatically increased the number of housing units that cities across the state must develop or plan for during this period after continuous cycles of low-balling housing requirements.

Beverly Hills must build or have planned for 3,106 units by 2029, something this city council doesn’t seem to take seriously enough, and often resents (See: City councils past and present have made clear they want to remain a community populated by wealthy individuals in single-family homes, and don’t enjoy the idea of everyday middle-class Angelenos moving into dozens of multi-family housing units. Never mind the fact that Beverly Hills falls smack dab in the middle of the Westside, and has a regional responsibility to house many of the people who work in or near the city, or at least give them a shot at some modicum of affordability.

Proposed for 468 North Rodeo Drive, the Cheval Blanc blows past the normal height limit in Beverly Hills of 45 feet and will stand at 115 feet. Something of this scale and massing would have never normally been allowed. But over the last couple of years, the council went out of its way to write a General Plan for just the Cheval Blanc to be developed. The project is a major upzone – calling for double the Floor Area Ration (FAR) of most buildings, triple the number of hotel rooms, and at nine stories, will be three stories higher than anything around it, completely out of place with the character of the downtown area in which it would sit.

Again, we have to ask: If you’re going to give a developer these kinds of privileges, shouldn’t they have been required to have contributed something to the development of affordable housing?

Last June, the Cheval Blanc was approved by the city’s Planning Commission. By September, it had received conditional approval from the city council, with final approval coming in November. Construction is slated to begin within a year and be completed by 2027 at a cost estimated at just over $660 Million. Both LVMH and city officials are clearly racing the Olympic clock so wealthy individuals from around the world will populate its opulent rooms for the L.A. Games in 2028.

The Process and Election

After being challenged by Unite HERE Local 11, the hotel and restaurant workers’ union, and their allies, who forced the issue on the ballot in the form of B and C, the city council threw just about every ethical and reasonable instinct they had out the window.

They had a choice between May 23, June 7, or November 7 of this year to hold a very expensive Special Election – at a cost of more than $850,000 – or wrap the issue into the next General Election, which would be the March 4, 2024, California Primary. This would have only cost $150,000 due to the advantage of coordinating with the regular election cycle, where costs are consolidated with other jurisdictions and municipalities. By forcing the special election so quickly, the council also put the entire cost on its own taxpayers alone, and at a much larger scale. But more on that in a minute.

Even Councilmember Lester Friedman, who we personally like, tried to justify the quick May 23 date stating in a February 21 council study session that he liked the idea of a special election that featured only these two items for voters to concentrate on. Arguments like this are wittingly or unwittingly statements basically calling voters stupid and unable to handle the rich, full ballot of a General Election. But guess what? The voters of Beverly Hills are very smart, and smart voters in general make a point to study more closely all items on a ballot when elections are held in November, which they are more accustomed to. He should, and likely does, know better.

General Elections always turn out the most voters, and that obscure special elections held in the middle of the year yield low turnout. The city council is likely counting on it, knowing that LVMH would spend lavishly to get the measures passed, and with such a short lead time for voters to hear adequately from both sides. And boy has LVMH spent money. A recent campaign finance reporting period between January and March 31 exposed the “Yes” side for outspending Unite HERE Local 11 and its allies by almost 15-1, spending a whopping $1,785,000. There are only about 22,000 registered voters in Beverly Hills, making that amount insane.

Oh, and one more expenditure: The Friends of Cheval Blanc are expected to reimburse the city for the entire $800,000-870,000 the campaign will cost, something that was fully welcome by four out of five councilmembers.

Councilmember John Mirisch, the one opponent of the project on the council, said during the February 21 study session, “I also feel it’s unethical to let a developer choose their preferred [election] date and then to pay for it.” He later said, “That’s buying an election.” His sentiments were further aided by comments submitted by residents Adrienne Baron and Robert Villaseñor, who said, “It is outrageous that the city would even consider allowing a developer’s allies to subsidize the cost of an election – and not just any election – one that would be held at the developer’s behest where the developer’s interest is potentially the only thing on the ballot.”

One of the council’s common tactics is to refer to the Unite HERE Local 11 as an out of town “special interest” or “outside agitators,” if you can believe that coded language. So wait – the hotel and restaurant workers union, which represents thousands of area workers in a number of L.A. cities and neighborhoods, can only have an opinion if they are based in Beverly Hills? Councilmember John Mirisch wisely pointed out the double standard in pointing out that LVMH isn’t even an American company, let alone based in Beverly Hills. Sure its American subsidiary is working to build Cheval Blanc, but a point well made.

Councilmember Sharona Nazarian, during the council question period on Feb 21, set up City Clerk Huma Ahmed to bash Unite HERE Local 11, asking her if she received any complaints about how the signatures were gathered. Ahmed affirmed that she did, but the complaints were things like senior renters being concerned that canvassers knew their names and possibly even their voter registration status and history. First of all – they qualified for the ballot. What is the point of bringing up this now if not to publicly throw shade at the union that nobly represents hotel and restaurant workers? And of course the union canvassers had pertinent voter data and registered voter’s names – the voter rolls are public. It’s how grassroots campaigning takes place! As for Nazarian, we’re sorry — is campaigning in council chambers allowed? Of course not. What a ridiculous and unethical stunt.

But more campaigning ensued. Vice Mayor Julian Gold also got in on the Unite Here Local 11 bashing, accusing petition canvassers of “strong-arm tactics” and saying their supposedly bad behavior has somehow been rewarded in the form of the two ballot measures. It’s apparently just not possible in Julian Gold’s mind that residents would ever be opposed to his precious Cheval Blanc unless they were coerced through some nefarious means.

When Gold later said “How do we make sure this never happens again?” it’s pretty clear that under the guise of resident safety and privacy protection, he really means how does the council prevent Unite HERE Local 11 from succeeding at exposing them ever again. Democracy and grassroots organizing are apparently only okay when it fits the council’s own personal pet projects and development goals.

The voters of Beverly Hills need to stand up to not only an out-of-scale project that does nothing to fund any affordable housing in the city but also the bad judgment and tricky and unethical decisions that went into setting up a Special Election on the day the developer is paying for themselves to try and rig a beneficial outcome.

This kind of slimy politics must be rejected. Vote No and Measures B and C.

Image rendering, by the developer, obtained in city documents

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