Planning Commission Tables Hillel and Reviews 24-Hour Gas Station

The Beverly Hills Planning Commission sided with the owner of the 76 Gas Station on Olympic Boulevard at a June 23 meeting, allowing the gas station and convenience store to operate 24 hours a day without any new conditions. The commission also granted a request from the Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy to postpone hearings on its expansion project to an undetermined date in the future. Finally, the commission said goodbye to both its Chair and Vice Chair, Andy Licht and Thomas Hudnut.

The 76 Gas Station near the intersection of Beverly Drive and Olympic Boulevard has likely received more attention from the city than the other two gas stations located within Beverly Hills. The station, owned by Morris Pouldar, is the only business in Beverly Hills exempt from the city’s prohibition on selling tobacco products (though that exemption ends in five months).

It is also open 24 hours a day and has been for the last 65 years, Pouldar said.

In 2015, the business sought and received permits for a remodel, including an extended hours permit. The permit was conditioned on a review of operations by the Planning Commission two years after the completion of the remodel to determine whether the gas station was complying with the terms of the permit and whether new conditions needed to be put in place.

The commission heard from irate neighbors who claim that the 24-hour operations of the 76 Gas Station has contributed to trash and loitering near their homes. One commenter complained of strangers congregating in the nearby ally, trash on her yard, “loud conversations” and other noises audible from her bedroom.

Pouldar pushed back against the claims that his gas station contributed to any of these nuisances, telling the commission that he instructs staff to clean the area and shoo away loiterers. Additionally, his store has 33 security cameras on the property and is well-lit, making it the “eyes and ears for the neighborhood,” Pouldar said.

Commissioner Myra Demeter, who lives less than 1,000 feet from the gas station, felt that the business has had a “significant adverse effect on residents” and voted to place additional conditions on the permit.

The four other commissioners disagreed. “It would be unimaginably unfair to alter the rules by which Mr. Pouldar has been playing for a long time,” said Commissioner Peter Ostroff.

The Vice Chair sought to clear up “the rampant misinformation under which numbers of the complainants labored.” Hudnut said that issues regarding “vagrants and homeless people” could not be attributed to the gas station.

“These are things that are beyond a reasonable gas station provider’s ability to control,” he said.

Licht said that the 24-hour convenience store might not seem necessary to most residents who live on a typical diurnal schedule, “but maybe the baker who goes to Urth Caffe at 4 a.m. to bake croissants for us, they may need something at 4 in the morning,” he said. “Or the bartender who leaves South Beverly Grill at 2 in the morning, they need something on their way home.”

The commission also granted a request by the Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy to table consideration of its controversial expansion project.

“The school is in the process of a leadership change at the administration and board levels,” said Shane Swerdlow, a representative for the project. “As Hillel balances a mix of current priorities, including keeping students safe and providing a top-quality education during the current pandemic, it’s important that the school’s new leadership has an opportunity to review and consider any resolution before it is adopted.”

There is not a strict timeline for when the project returns before the commission.

Finally, the commission bid farewell to both its Chair and Vice Chair. Licht, who has served on the commission for six years and unsuccessfully ran for City Council this year, previously announced that he would step down regardless of the outcome of the race. He will be replaced by Theresa Kaplan.

Hudnut is turning himself out to pasture, in a sense. After only two years on the commission, he steps down to serve on the California Horse Racing Board per an appointment by Gov. Gavin Newsom. He will be replaced by former Public Works Commissioner Jeff Wolfe.

“I don’t understand why he would prefer the company of California thoroughbreds over Commissioner Ross, Commissioner Demeter and myself, but there’s no accounting for taste,” Ostroff said.

Hudnut left with some parting wisdom for his remaining colleagues and his successor, stressing that “it’s incumbent upon future commissioners to maintain a balance between the proper needs of the residents and the proper desires of commerce. That will always be a delicate balance, but it’s one that commissioners must strive to maintain.”

Licht recounted when he was invited to serve on the Planning Commission, replying that “I’d love to, but I know nothing about land use.”

“This person laughed and said, yeah, but you’re reasonable. Maybe I’m reasonable, but I clearly knew nothing about land use and some of you here may still think that’s the case.”

Licht shared similar wisdom in his closing remarks.

“We generally hear much more from residents than we do from businesses. Keep in mind that 70% of the revenue in the city comes from businesses and if we do things to discourage businesses from coming here, where are we going to get that 70% of the revenue?” he said. 

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