A bid to block the development of a Bulgari Resort in Benedict Canyon failed in a 7-7 vote during a recent Los Angeles City Council meeting, allowing the project to continue working its way through city approvals.
The luxurious development would be nestled in the Santa Monica Mountains to the north of Beverly Hills and feature 58 hotel rooms, eight private residences, a spa, gym, theater, sushi bar and fine dining restaurant.
The project has been divisive since it was introduced in 2017, with supporters praising its economic benefits and world class amenities and detractors saying it would have negative environmental and traffic impacts.
Bulgari is a subsidiary of luxury retail conglomerate, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (“LVMH”), which is also seeking to build the Cheval Blanc Beverly Hills hotel on Rodeo Drive. Beverly Hills residents will decide the fate of that project in a May 23 special election.
Meanwhile, the fate of the Bulgari Hotel rests with LA City Council, which is set to discuss the project again when an environmental impact report is released in the coming weeks.
The motion to block the project was brought forward by Councilmember Katy Yaroslavsky whose fifth district includes the proposed project site at 9704-9712 West Oak Road.
Yaroslavsky believes the project is out of character with the surrounding neighborhood and poses environmental dangers. Her motion asked the city’s planning director to rescind a General Plan amendment that was passed in 2017 to allow the hotel to be developed in the residential neighborhood.
“Allowing an intensive commercial use in a very low density, fire-prone residential area is a terrible idea,” said Yaroslavsky in the May 16 meeting. “Nowhere in Los Angeles are we allowing new commercial uses in low-density hillside communities, specifically because of the wildfire and landslide risks.”
The developer for the project, Gary Safady, said he seeks to build the hotel in a manner that respects the surrounding environment.
“I want to do something where the homes can blend in seamlessly with the environment and put the environment first,” he said. “Our ethos is sustainability, our ethos is wildlife, our ethos is fire prevention.”
Yaroslavsky also alleges that there was an ethics violation in the lobbying process for the General Plan amendment.
Specifically, she takes issue with the fact that one of Bulgari’s lobbyists, Stacey Brenner, is married to the former planning and land use deputy of Paul Koretz. Koretz previously represented the area where the hotel would be located and was a supporter of the project.
The deputy in question, Shawn Bayliss, left his position in May 2017, while the General Plan amendment was passed by the city’s Planning Commission in October 2017.
“There are hundreds of land use lobbyists listed in Los Angeles, it is not a coincidence that this developer just so happened to hire the wife of my predecessor’s planning deputy,” said Yaroslavsky. “He knew exactly what he was doing.”
Yaroslavsky also scoffed at the $3 million Safady has invested in lobbying for the project and said that failure to pass her motion would send a message “that if you have enough money and can hire enough lobbyists in Los Angeles, even ones that are married to your planning deputies, you can build whatever you want, wherever you want.”
Seven councilmembers voted in favor of Yaroslavsky’s motion and several noted concerns about the ethics allegations.
“What has been most compelling to me… is the allegation of the outstanding question on ethics,” said Councilmember Tim McOsker, who represents the Harbor region. “If the initiation of this process was tainted, in my view the entire process is tainted.”
However, Yaroslavsky was ultimately one vote shy of the majority needed to pass the motion.
Councilmember Monica Rodriguez, who represents the San Fernando Valley, said she was troubled by how councilmembers were taking the allegations into consideration in a vote about land use.
“There is nothing proven and so the allegation is an allegation unproven,” she said. “I have some concerns about how we are using that as a means of weighing the decisions that we’re making.”
Councilmember Traci Park, who represents the Westside of Los Angeles, said that she shared Yaroslavsky’s concerns about potential environmental impacts. However, she wants to withhold judgment on the project until the council has a chance to review and discuss the upcoming environmental impact report.