It’s not everyday that a developer commissions a rendering of a competitor’s project. But that’s exactly what happened in the latest round of a development battle riling the quiet, tree-lined streets of Beverly Hills.
The tension between Chinese billionaire Wang Jianlin and millionaire Beny Alagem’s development interests, reported by TRD in our print issue, heated up this week.
The “No on HH” campaign — funded by the Beverly Hills subsidiary of Jianlin’s Wanda Group and its development partner, Athens Group — amped up its efforts to sway voters against approving Alagem’s ballot initiative, now known as Measure HH. If approved, the measure would allow Alagem’s Oasis West Realty to merge two previously-approved condo towers on the site of his Beverly Hilton hotel into one 26-story tower, replacing the other one with a garden.
First, the No on HH campaign issued its own rendering of the Robert A.M. Stern-designed skyscraper, based on the specifications laid out in the initiative text. The Hilton initiative’s campaign has used mostly renderings of the garden, and has not ever shown an image that shows the building at full scale with the surrounding area.
Then, it sent out brochures en masse, titled “The Truth about Measure HH in its Own Words: An Annotated Guide.” The mailers, in an eight-page magazine-style format, clinically break down certain sections of the text of the initiative document, which amends the previous approvals for the two condo towers.
Critics of Alagem’s measure, which the developer has dubbed the Beverly Hills Garden and Open Space Initiative but known locally as the “Hilton initiative,” — and will hit the ballot as “the Hilton Condominium Tower Initiative” — have said the campaign’s focus on the garden, rather than the condo tower, could be construed as deceptive. Beverly Hills Mayor John Mirisch called it a “skyscraper initiative masquerading as an open-space initiative” in an interview with TRD. The No on HH brochures, accordingly, highlight the building’s height — and feature a sketch of the building that was part of the initiative document but hasn’t been used in any of the Hilton initiative’s promotional materials.
The annotations to the initiative text stress that the height of the building would be 375 feet. “If built, it will be the tallest building in Beverly Hills by more than double the next highest building,” the pamphlet reads.
“We have a policy not to talk about tactics or strategies,” said Adam Englander, a consultant to No on HH, when asked about the brochures.
Marie Garvey, a spokesperson for the Hilton initiative, said the brochures contained misinformation on items in the initiative related to greywater use and the housing quarters for staff, which do not add additional square footage to the project. In response to a fact sheet on the “No for HH” website, the Hilton initiative sent out its own fact sheet in an email blast.
“This is a matter that should be left for the voters to decide and not a developer that is brand new to this community and out only for personal and economic gain,” Garvey said in an emailed statement. “We have faith that Beverly Hills residents will see through the developer Wanda’s lies and deceptions just as a California Judge did when she threw out a frivolous lawsuit funded by Wanda that attempted to block Measure HH’s ability to educate residents about the benefits of our proposal.”
The lawsuit in question was a writ of mandate filed by Beverly Hills resident Alma Ordaz and funded by Wanda and Athens. It called for the authors of the ballot to remove allegedly false and misleading language in favor of the initiative prior to the printing of the ballot pamphlet. The petition was denied by Judge Strobel on September 8.
However, Englander said it was dismissed because of changes the Hilton initiative rushed to make after the writ was filed — seeking a covenant to keep the garden open to the public and a full vote from the homeowner’s association that endorsed the initiative on the ballot.
“While we are disappointed that the court has allowed proponents of Measure HH to hide their false and misleading statements by attempting to fix them after the fact, we are pleased that this action forced the proponents of Measure HH to finally file their promised, but flawed, covenant now, rather than after the election, so the community understands their real intent, such as no free parking after 6:00 p.m.,” Englander said in an emailed statement. “We are also happy that our suit forced the Beverly Hills North Homeowners Association to comply with state law and finally become a legal organization again.”