Park advocates battling Hadid find support from unlikely place

Beverly Hills passes resolution encouraging public access to Hastain Trail, where spec developer had planned luxury homes

Mohamed Hadid (Getty)
Mohamed Hadid (Getty)

UPDATED, Aug. 20, 9:40 a.m.: The City of Beverly Hills generally embraces luxury home construction of all kinds, allowing owners and developers to build massive mansions that occasionally include wildly eccentric amenities. But late Tuesday, the City Council sided with advocates of a popular hiking trail in Franklin Canyon Park who have been battling spec developer Mohamed Hadid over land parcels he intended for an ultra-luxury gated community.

The five-member Council unanimously passed a resolution encouraging the sale of the six disputed lots to a conservation-oriented buyer days before a planned auction. The measure voiced clear support for continued public access of that 1.5-mile loop known as Hastain Trail, and may have also served as a warning to future developers.

“I’d love for us to not only just take our resolution and be vocal about it,” Councilmember John Mirisch said during the Zoom meeting, “but be actively involved in doing whatever we can to try and save this trail.”

The measure followed Hadid’s own move last month, when he listed all the parcels for a combined $100 million, hoping to unload the land and legal headache. One buyer — who Hadid claims has connections to the Saudi royal family — had agreed to purchase two lots for $34 million, although a larger offer would override that deal.

Hadid did not respond to a request for comment.

A majority of the Hastain Trail snakes through Hadid’s properties and lies outside the 600-acre park. Hadid announced his plans to build the luxury development more than a decade ago, sparking the battle between private and public property interests.

He has controlled the six parcels through a pair of limited liability companies. Two parcels are registered to Coldwater Development LLC; one is a 930,000-square-foot lot assessed at $5.8 million and the other a 250,000-square-foot lot assessed at $1.5 million. Lydda Lud LLC controls the other four lots, with a combined 1.7 million square feet and assessed at $1.9 million total.

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Now, the long legal fight led by hiking and nature groups seeking to maintain public access along that famous hilltop may be decided in part by a bankruptcy judge.

In January, as Hadid faced mounting financial trouble, he defaulted on debt payments on the vacant lots; both Coldwater Development and Lydda Lud LLCs filed for bankruptcy protection. A court hearing related to the sale and potential auction of the properties is scheduled for Sept. 1. The judge could approve the sale of two Coldwater Development parcels or all six of the contested parcels.

Trail advocates strongly support the sale of all six, arguing it would help a sympathetic buyer preserve public access. Tuesday’s Council resolution included language declaring support for that option, as well as offering broad support for preservation of the trail and its surrounding area.

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Introduced by Beverly Hills Mayor and Councilmember Robert Wunderlich, the measure was more bad news for Hadid, who has faced other legal and financial troubles stretching back years. The brash developer is in the middle of a civil trial, brought by enraged neighbors over another controversial construction, this one a hulking, half-built Bel Air mansion; last month a buyer in contract for the doomed development walked away from the deal.

Rodeo Realty’s Josh Flagg, who is also a Beverly Hills cultural heritage commissioner, said Hadid’s Franklin Canyon plans will suffer a similar fate.

“There’s no way that this is going to get built,” he said. “I think Mohamed has not had the best of luck in the last few years, and I don’t think he’s going to pull this one through.”

What legal influence this week’s Council resolution may have on the judge remains unclear, but it did deliver a strong message of support for public access to natural space in a city not known for its preservation efforts.

“Let’s face it, the Hastain Trail, when you get to the top, that view is just so beautiful,” Councilmember Mirisch said. “You can literally, on a clear day, maybe not forever but you can see Catalina, and you can see downtown, and you can see the coast … what a shame it would be if this would be lost for profit, you know, for the sake of money.”

Royal advocate?

The trail’s many supporters also appear to include Prince Alexander von Furstenberg, the Malibu-born investor and son of fashion icon Diane von Furstenberg.

Last fall, when Hadid defaulted on the six properties, an LLC called Give Back bought more than $30 million of the developer’s debt, according to documents posted by Hillsides Against Hadid, a group fighting the project.

Von Furstenberg — who also manages his family’s philanthropic foundation — was later identified as likely backing the LLC. His connection was cited by Hadid in new court documents, which Hillsides Against Hadid published on its website. But Give Back’s manager, attorney Ronald Richards, said Von Furstenberg was not involved in the group or the debt purchase. Richards declined to provide any details about the funding.

Give Back’s debt purchase appeared to be an attempt to grab control of the vacant property in order to preserve it. In a filing, Richards said it had “no intention of constructing any houses or otherwise developing the properties.” He said it intended to donate the land “to be used in perpetuity by the public for nature walks, hiking trails, and other similar public uses.” Richards, who served as a legal analyst for the Michael Jackson trial in 2004, has publicly vowed that one of his last acts as a lawyer will be protecting the hillside. He also took a shot at Hadid, referring to him as “a reckless developer whose track record is one disastrous project after another.”

The story has been updated to include attorney Ronald Richard’s comments.