After the City of Beverly Hills issued a press release announcing a tentative development agreement between the City and the Wanda Group for its One Beverly Hills project which would provide revenue to the City of $820 million over 30 years, the Beverly Hills Courier hastily sent out an e-blast. The City’s press release is solely about One Beverly Hills, but the Courier somehow decided it would bring the Hilton into the mix.
Now, the Courier’s coverage of the Hilton Condominium Tower Initiative, Measure HH, has been anything but objective. In fact, it seems like the “HH,” at least in reference to the Courier’s coverage, stands for “Hysterically Hysterical,” with the fact-challenged e-blast article serving as a perfect example. As if wanting to one-up the City’s tentative agreement with One Beverly Hills, Courier reporter Victoria Talbot wrote: “By comparison, the Hilton will bring in $1 billion over 30 years.” One would have to speculate whether the origin of this incorrect statement comes from a TED talk or, perhaps, Austin Powers, because not even the Hilton press wags are making such inflated and outrageous claims.
In a recent piece from its never-ending stream of propaganda, the Hilton’s paid legion of spinmeisters do, however, brag, “Measure HH Generates $125 Million for Vital City Services – Without Costing Taxpayers One Cent.” The glossy ad then goes on to proclaim that the amount is “$33 million more than the amount generated by the existing plan that will otherwise be built according to an independent report done by the city.”
It should be noted that the time frame for these purported benefits is over 30 years (whereas the Hilton is likely to burn through $8 million to $10 million on campaign propaganda in a matter of mere months) and the additional funds for the City result from a trickle-down effect from the greatly enhanced value of the condos, not from any additional benefits the Hilton is offering.
But $125 million, even over 30 years, sounds like a pretty good deal, doesn’t it?
Here’s the thing: it’s not a good deal for the City. It’s a ridiculously bad deal for the City, but an amazing deal for the developer who can avoid paying the City a fair share of the upside which would be created by the 375-foot skyscraper, which is absolutely unprecedented in our City (it is more than double the height of the current tallest building in town).
And since the Hilton’s white-label version of Pravda decided to try to compare the revenue generated by Measure HH with the One Beverly Hills project, we can follow suit. All we need to do is to look at actual terms of the recently announced tentative development agreement the City negotiated for the adjacent One Beverly Hills project (full disclosure: the agreement was negotiated by a City ad hoc consisting of myself and Councilmember and former Mayor Lili Bosse, aided by the law firm of Greenberg Glusker). The project, including the development agreement, is now going to the full Council, where we will still have to make a set of findings.
As yesterday’s article in the LA Times suggests, the terms of the deal with One Beverly Hills are “unprecedented.” In a good way. For the City. The 30 year public benefit of the deal we negotiated is estimated at $820 million, up from $260 million, which is what the current project on the location is projected to generate.
The figures pretty much speak for themselves and the math is pretty simple: it’s more than additional half-billion dollars for the City to be able to provide services and, hopefully, to improve the residential quality of life.
Compare the additional $560 million the re-negotiated One Beverly Hills development agreement provides with the additional $33 million the Hilton is blustering about.
Compare the $10.2 million upfront payment the Hilton is paying the City for its project with the $60 million (up from $30 million) we negotiated for the City with the One Beverly Hills project.
Also compare the methods by which the two developers are attempting to get their projects passed. The One Beverly Hills project has done things by the book. They provided a Supplemental Environmental Impact Report (SEIR), examining the implications of their project, which is over 2000 pages — more voluminous than the original full EIR. The process involved with their project includes numerous public hearings with the opportunity for the public to comment and give input (something, in a seeming attempt to suppress potential competition, the Hilton is hypocritically taking advantage of with its cadre of paid lawyers and paid consultants raising objections to various aspects of the One Beverly Hills project).
There is no EIR or SEIR for the Hilton’s skyscraper. There aren’t and won’t be any public hearings or opportunities for public input for the Hilton’s skyscraper. There won’t be the ability for city planners or the Planning Commission to improve the project. And there won’t be a chance for the City Council to negotiate a deal which allows the City to get a fair share of the developer’s upside. The Hilton consciously short-circuited and circumvented our process. To sum it up, while One Beverly Hills is doing things in a kosher fashion, what the Hilton is doing is distinctly treyf.
If the Hilton hadn’t circumvented our standard development process by using what the California Supreme Court calls “a loophole,” we would be in a position to re-negotiate the Hilton’s development agreement. We were able to increase the City’s public benefit for the One Beverly Hills project by over half a billion dollars. Who knows just how much public money we would be leaving on the table by allowing the Hilton to build its 375-foot skyscraper without playing by our rules?
Of course, beyond the ability to stiff the City, the initiative loophole allows the Hilton developer to avoid the full review process and the public scrutiny which exists to protect our residents and to protect the Community as a whole. The loophole allows the Hilton to reduce its graywater use, meaning they would be increasing the use of potable water and making the project less environmentally friendly. Yes, they would be using more water at a time when the rest of us are being asked to cut back. The loophole also allows the Hilton to avoid discretionary architectural review
These are just a few reasons we should never support a developer’s attempt to circumvent our development process, the same process we all have to go through when we want to build or remodel in Beverly Hills.
It may feel like we are powerless to do anything against the millions and millions of dollars the Hilton has been spending in their machine-like efforts to mislead the residents. It may feel like we are powerless to resist the continual barrage of glossy propaganda which has been clogging our post boxes for months. It may feel like we are powerless to stop the xenophobia and dog-whistle racism which has surfaced in some of the pro-skyscraper materials. It may feel like we are powerless to stop the unbridled greed which is driving all of this.
But if you live in Beverly Hills and are a registered voter, you can do something. You can protect the integrity of our system. You can force developers to play by our rules. You can make the false, slanderous and self-interested statements of local rags and millions upon millions of dollars of misleading propaganda irrelevant. And you can stop developers from stiffing the City out of perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars.
You can send a message. You can refuse to allow your intelligence to be insulted. You can say no to letting moneyed interests turn you into a sucker. You do have a choice.
It’s simple: next Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, you can vote No on Measure HH; you can say No to the Hilton Condominium Tower Initiative.