City Council Reviews Draft Response to County’s Robinson Gardens Project

At its Aug. 23 regular meeting, the Beverly Hills City Council reviewed a draft letter that it intends to send to the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation in response to the proposed changes of operation to the Virginia Robinson Gardens.

Located at 1008 Elden Way, the Gardens is the former home of retail moguls Virginia Robinson and Harry Winchester. The couple lived in the home from 1911 to 1977. Following the death of Robinson, the house was granted to the County of Los Angeles to be utilized as a botanical garden and historical monument. The grounds contain a variety of unique plant species, a mansion and a pool pavilion. Outside the Gardens, the six-acre property is surrounded by single-family residential housing.

The proposal to change operations was announced by the County’s Department of Parks and Recreation in November of 2021. Among other changes, the County’s proposal over the Gardens would increase the number of visitors from 100 to 200 per day, extend the business hours to sunset instead of 4:00 p.m., increase days of operation from five to seven days a week and open up the Gardens for private events like weddings and parties.

In order to execute the proposal, the County must update the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in the form of a Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Report (DSEIR). A draft DSEIR became available on July 21. 

The Council’s proposed letter in response to the DSEIR echoes concerns the community has raised regarding noise, parking and traffic. “Right now, our community is experiencing a lot of difficulty with safety and security,” said Councilmember Sharona Nazarian. “To open this up to so many people in such a tight, cul-de-sac-residential area, I would be concerned with that as well.”

Kathy Checchi is a resident of the local community and has been mobilizing neighbors against the County’s proposed operational changes. “This really changes the fabric of our neighborhood, if 73,000 people a year come in,” Checchi told the Courier. “Nobody is for this in this neighborhood. I’ve got almost everybody on Cove Way, Crescent Way, Carolyn Way, Hartford, Elden Way, Laurel Way, Lexington, Beverly Drive and our concern is always the same.”

Checchi and her neighbors argue that the Gardens are simply not prepared to handle the changes.

Environmental attorney Charles Alpert, who lives near the Gardens, believes the DSEIR fails to thoroughly analyze key issues. Specifically, he told the Courier that it fails to consider the lack of parking and impact of other events that may be happening nearby, at the Beverly Hills Hotel for example. The report also fails to consider the neighborhood’s fire risk and the fact that not all of the Garden’s six acres can be accessed by emergency vehicles, he told the Courier. 

The community has also claimed that the proposal violates the terms set by the original grant deed. The Garden’s original grant deed states that the property should be “held and used by said grantee perpetually for the purpose of an arboretum or a botanic garden and for no other purpose,” and that if the terms are breached the property “shall immediately vest in the City of Beverly Hills.”

The Friends of Robinson Gardens are in favor of the operational changes, hoping that increased access will help them serve the community.

“We respect our neighbors and the environment,” President of the Friends of Robinson Gardens Betty Goldstein told the City Council. “I urge the Council to see the wider benefits and deep community support of, and for the County’s proposal, as part of the greater good that will be gained.” 

The Courier also reached out to the County Department of Parks and Recreation, which replied that it has worked hard to keep the lines of communication open with the local community. 

“The expansion of access and educational programming uplifts the wishes and legacy of Virginia Robinson to showcase and connect the public, with a special focus on children, to the importance of historic preservation and the beautification of the environment that she and her family created for decades at the VRG,” Parks and Recreation Chief of Planning Sean Woods told the Courier.

Woods added, “Programming will continue to comply with city ordinances, and valet service must obtain city parking permits for use of public streets to avoid overlapping events with surrounding neighbors. In addition, the current requirement of an event-specific traffic and parking plan will remain and strengthened in the SIER. Noise impacts associated with the use of amplified sound at special use events will be reduced by limiting when such events may occur and requiring a processor to control the maximum output of speakers. Also, the types of special events being proposed have been analyzed and decibel levels will remain within acceptable levels.”

The comment period for the DSEIR closes on Sep. 5, after which the County will then prepare a final SEIR, which is expected in October. That document will then be presented to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for review and approval.