Helping David Fight Goliath.
How you can write a check to help save all of us from a bad mistake.
As stated in previous columns, there are lots of good reasons to oppose the threatened Montage Hotel project.
First, this massive project is guaranteed to make traffic a lot worse. My fellow columnist Rudy Cole continues to argue that hotels “generate the least traffic of any other possible use.” The fallacy in Rudy’s position is that the City is allowing the Montage to build a seven-story (113 foot tall at its highest point) behemoth on land that has always been zoned for no more than three stories (45 feet). Under Rudy’s reasoning, even a 100-story hotel would create less traffic than the three story (or less) commercial buildings that would be allowed if the Montage was not receiving special treatment.
Absent special favors, the eight lots that are being held by the Montage conglomerate would support a decent sized Rite-Aid, a restaurant or two and a few small retail stores. Instead, the City wants to allow 228 hotel rooms, banquet facilities for at least 571 people, 33 luxury condominiums, two restaurants, a huge luxury spa facility and a retail building.
The emperor’s gross nakedness is most apparent when you consider the plan to build 1,000 to 1,500 underground parking spaces. If the additional traffic is going to be negligible, then why is there a need for so many spaces? The average Wal-Mart probably has less than 1,000 spaces, and it would not block out the sky as compared with the proposed hotel complex.
A second reason for opposing the Montage is that the City is planning to contribute $36,750,000 of taxpayer money and land conservatively valued at $12.75 million to this project. Interestingly, no one has challenged my analysis in a prior column that “over a period of eight years, all that is guaranteed to the City from its investment is $1,092,000, which will cover only part of the interest on the $36,750,000 that the City will borrow to fund the project.”
This project is financially risky for the City, but our leaders are too blinded by the prospect of increased tax revenues to recognize this risk.
A third reason for opposing this project is that it is unfair to those who have followed the rules, such as the developers of the Peninsula Hotel. Why should one property owner be allowed exceed the height limit by 69 feet when many others have been able to live and prosper without any height concessions? Also, this project will set a bad precedent. What’s the City going to say when other property owners (rightfully) demand similar concessions?
A fourth reason for opposing the Montage is that the plan was conceived in secrecy and stinks of special interests and corruption.
The Montage has hired a company known as FTA Events and Marketing (“FTA”) to lobby for the project. Who is FTA? According to FTA’s website (at http://www.ftaevents.com/staff.htm), the President of FTA is Judie Fenton, who is also married to our City Treasurer, Frank Fenton. The website also touts FTA’s role in engineering the elections of two of the current members of the City Council, Linda Briskman and Steve Webb, as well as a who’s who list of other local officials, past and present.
Although this may not be technically illegal, the direct or indirect purchasing of political connections for cash always concerns me. In this case, it seems clearly wrong.
In an ideal world, our City Treasurer would be watching out for our interests and making sure that the City is getting a good deal for its $36,750,000 of taxpayer money and $12.75 million of land. In light of the fact that the City Treasurer’s wife is getting paid to promote the project, it appears unlikely that he will be proactive or that he can be objective.
Furthermore, in light of the fact that Council members Briskman and Webb previously paid FTA to help run their election campaigns, and may hire FTA when they run for re-election, I believe that they should follow Tom Levyn’s example and recuse themselves from being involved in any way in approving this project. If Tom Levyn should be recused because he represents another hotel owner, then it seems to me that these other three should definitely be recused due to their ultra-close relationship with FTA and Judie Fenton.
According to an article authored by Norma Zager in the Beverly Hills Courier in 2001, on the night that he took office, Councilmember Steve Webb “thanked his wife Bonnie and children for their support and encouragement. He also thanked campaign manager Judie Fenton for a flawless campaign.” I think that it’s natural to thank your campaign manager right after you thank your wife and kids. I have no problem with that. The relationship between campaign manager and candidate is by necessity a very close one involving trust. However, I think that this is also grounds for recusal.
As a result of the power and connections of the people involved in the Montage project, this is a David versus Goliath situation, and experience teaches that Goliath rarely does the right thing. If Goliath had been a good guy, he would have praised David for his courage and negotiated a peaceful resolution. Perhaps Goliath could have offered to build a four story hotel. However, it appears that this is not going to happen here.
The developer of the hotel stands to make millions from getting the city to approve this project and can afford to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on public relations. The homeowners collectively stand to lose hundreds of millions of dollars, but will need to stand together to provide enough money to force a referendum to take this decision away from a City Council that has already made up its mind.
You can help by writing a check to the Beverly Hills Residential-Business Alliance for a Livable Community. The Alliance is a joint effort of concerned homeowners, business owners and property owners in Beverly Hills who are mobilizing to take on the task of stopping the Montage project.
The Beverly Hills North Homeowners Association, the Beverly Hills South Homeowners Association, and the Beverly Hills Municipal League all oppose the Montage project and all are part of the Alliance to stop it.
You can visit the website of the Alliance at www.protectbh.com. You can also call them at 310-859-5555 or write to them at PO Box 5147, Beverly Hills CA 90209.
I want to note for my readers that I have been told that at least one local hotel has been making substantial contributions to the Alliance. I see nothing wrong with this. The Alliance expressly identifies itself as including business support, and I am not aware of any attempts by the Alliance to directly or indirectly purchase the favor of local officials. Also, the developer of the Montage has virtually unlimited funds to hire FTA, to pay for ads and mailers and to otherwise try to promote the project. Thus, if one or more of the existing hotels wants to contribute money to the Alliance to fight this for purely selfish reasons (to avoid additional competition) or because it’s grossly unfair to allow the Montage to receive huge concessions that have been denied to previous hotel developers, I am glad that SOMEONE is willing to pony up some cash to make this battle a little more even.
The Montage project is a classic effort to pull a fast one before the public realizes what’s at stake. If the Alliance can force a referendum, this will lead to a debate and the project will either be defeated or scaled back to something that is more reasonable. Or, perhaps, the voters will approve the project lock, stock and barrel, but at least the decision will not reek of questionable conflicts of interest.
If you care about traffic or giveaways of City assets or abuse of the political process by special interests, you can get involved or you can hope that others will save you. It’s not that hard to get involved – call the Alliance, visit their website and/or send them a check. Give David enough rocks to have a chance to defeat Goliath.
Remember that if David had not slain Goliath, the good guys would have suffered from Goliath’s domination for many years to come. Do we really want to become Montageville?