City Council Denies Linden Drive Appeal

Beverly Hills faces legal action after the City Council on June 27 blocked a builder’s remedy project at 125-129 S. Linden Drive from going forward. In a meeting that stretched until midnight, the council discussed an appeal of an earlier determination that the project’s application was incomplete.

While the applicant’s attorney claimed the incomplete determination violated state housing laws, the council held otherwise and unanimously decided to deny the appeal. The following day, nonprofit housing group Californians for Homeownership filed suit against the city, alleging the council’s decision violated the Housing Affordability Act (HAA) and stymied efforts to ease California’s housing crisis. The lawsuit asks the court to direct the city to approve the project or void the decision and reconsider.

“Californians for Homeownership continues to lead the way in enforcing state housing laws in the courts,” Melanie Barker, California Association of Realtors President said in a press release. “It is critical that cities like Beverly Hills do their part in addressing the state’s housing crisis, and this new case will help ensure that they do.”

Dave Rand, the attorney for the applicant, 9300 Wilshire LLC, a company managed by developer Leonid Pustilnikov, said his client was undeterred by the council’s decision. Rand told the Courier that he is considering all available options under the builder’s remedy law, a provision of the HAA that allows developers to bypass local zoning requirements in cities that have noncompliant housing elements.

Rand argues that because Beverly Hills was noncompliant when he applied for the project in October 2022—the city’s housing element was approved this May—it qualifies under the provision.

He added that while he hopes to avoid filing a lawsuit of his own, it is not off the table.

The California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), which sent a June 26 letter to the city supporting the project, stated in an email it is “evaluating next steps” but declined to provide details. The June 26 letter urged city officials to approve the appeal and process the project without delay or requiring additional entitlements.

“Suffice it to say, this project is not going away,” Rand said.   

If the project does go forward, it is likely to be a lightning rod for residents even beyond Beverly Hills. Over more than an hour of public comment, neighbors criticized the project for its potential impacts on their quality of life, while unionized laborers and housing advocates spoke in favor, highlighting the jobs it is likely to provide and the new units of housing.

A representative for Unite Here Local 11, the hospitality workers union that helped defeat the Cheval Blanc Beverly Hills hotel development last year, said that while the union typically supports housing projects—especially those with affordable units—it opposed this project because the number of housing units had been reduced to accommodate a hotel and restaurant.

According to a staff report, the proposed 19-story, 200-foot-tall project includes 165 residential units—20% of which are reserved for lower-income households—as well as a 73-room hotel and restaurant on the first through fifth floors. The residential units range from studios to two bedrooms, and a four-level underground parking structure has 126 spaces.

“This project is deeply flawed and will materially, adversely affect the quality of residential life for the hundreds of residents living on the 100, 200 or 300 block of Linden [Drive],” said Southwest Beverly Hills Homeowners Association President Ken Goldman. “All of us urge that you remain firm in the position that this developer’s application is incomplete. We are counting on you.”

In a statement, City Attorney Laurence Wiener said the city’s position had not changed, and added, “The plaintiff is asking that this conclusion be reviewed in court, and so it will.”

A trial setting conference for Californians for Homeownership’s lawsuit is scheduled for Oct. 3, almost two years after Rand submitted the preliminary application.

That application, submitted on Oct. 24, 2022, described a 16-story, 200-unit solely residential development. The Development Plan Review application (DPR), submitted in April 2023, proposed the current mixed-use development, which staff called a “substantially different project.”

Citing the deviations between the preliminary and DPR applications and missing applications for General Plan Amendment and Zone Change entitlements, among other materials, staff on May 12, 2023, deemed the application incomplete.

Rand then sent the city two letters contesting and addressing staff’s concerns before formally appealing the incomplete decision on Jan. 11, 2024. He sent a third “resubmittal letter” on May 9, though staff determined the application was still incomplete.
During the June 27 meeting, Rand argued that the city’s determination violated both the HAA and the Permit Streamlining Act, using the HCD letter to support his point. He also said that, under state housing laws, the addition of the hotel in the Development Plan Review application does not disqualify the preliminary application, nor do the missing General Plan Amendment and Zone Change applications.

He said that the discussion, ultimately, was about the planning process, not the merits of the project, and he urged councilmembers to approve the appeal and let the project proceed, if only so that they can revise or deny it completely further down the line.

“All of the myriad of legal objections that your excellent city attorneys have put on the record for you, you can still use later down the road should you choose,” Rand said. “Why not allow this project to at least go forward? Maybe [we end up] in the same place and it’s a project you ultimately decide is most appropriate to disapprove. But maybe we can get to an outcome that works for both sides.”

But after hours of technical legal wrangling with city attorneys, staff and councilmembers, Rand was unable to sway the council. Councilman John Mirisch urged Rand to complete the application and work with staff to build a revised project, and Friedman said council’s decision does not negate its commitment to build more housing.

“As a community, we committed to working to accomplish the goals that we committed to in our housing element,” Friedman said. “I don’t think that anything that is said here today is contrary to that. We are, as a council, as a community, committed to work with HCD to accomplish those goals, and look forward to seeing projects that are compliant.”

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