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Yaroslavsky’s bid to block Benedict Canyon project fails


A developer’s proposal for a luxury hotel in the Santa Monica Mountains can continue to make its way through the review process after the Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday deadlocked on a council member’s attempt to block the project.

The City Council voted 7 to 7 on a motion by Councilmember Katy Yaroslavsky asking the city’s planning director to rescind a general plan amendment initiation for the proposed Bulgari Resort Los Angeles in Benedict Canyon.

Yaroslavsky, who represents the Westside neighborhood, wants to halt any further planning of the 58-room hotel.

The council member argues that the resort is inappropriate for the Santa Monica Mountains. She also alleges an ethical conflict involving a former city staffer who oversaw planning issues in the council district she now represents. The former staffer denies wrongdoing.

“I’m deeply disappointed,” Yaroslavsky said after Tuesday’s vote.

“This is a bad project,” she added. “The process was deeply flawed. It’s exhibit A for the idea that if you pay enough money to enough lobbyists and you pay for a [labor project agreement], you can build whatever you want, wherever you want.”

Union workers speak in support of the Bulgari hotel development at Tuesday’s Los Angeles City Council meeting on proposed development in Benedict Canyon.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Tuesday’s vote means that Yaroslavsky’s motion will return to the City Council on Wednesday for another vote.

Yaroslavsky said she hasn’t decided yet on her next steps.

The vote was preceded by several tense hours at City Hall as dozens of Benedict Canyon residents, lobbyists and workers from several labor groups crowded into council chambers to watch the proceedings.

Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who chairs the city’s land use committee, said that he’s seen few projects with such “intense lobbying.”

Among those who turned out at Tuesday’s meeting was “Hart to Hart” actress Stefanie Powers, who said she’s lived in Benedict Canyon since the 1960s. An opponent of the hotel, she told the council member that the “future of this planet” is “not good” — remarks that drew loud applause.

Council members also spent more than an hour behind closed doors in private conversations with legal counsel about Yaroslavsky’s motion.

Westside Councilmember Traci Park, who voted against Yaroslavsky’s motion, was among those who expressed concern about the wildlife and fire risks caused by development in Benedict Canyon. But she didn’t want to pull the plug on the project without more information, she suggested.

“The [environmental impact review] that I expect will address these issues isn’t even before us yet because the process has not been completed,” Park said.

Supporters of the proposed Bulgari hotel project display a banner outside L.A. City Hall.

Supporters of the proposed Bulgari hotel project display a banner outside L.A. City Hall on Tuesday.

(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Developer Gary Safady cleared an initial hurdle at the Planning Department in October 2017 when the city’s Planning Director Vince Bertoni allowed him to pursue a general plan amendment change for a hotel resort in Benedict Canyon. The hillside area isn’t zoned for hotel use.

The council office’s previous representative — Paul Koretz — had initially backed the project.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Yaroslavsky questioned Koretz’s office’s handling of the hotel project, arguing there was an ethics conflict because one of the land use consultants hired for the hotel is married to Koretz’s former planning deputy.

In January 2017, consultant Stacey Brenner registered as a lobbyist for the project, according to city documents. Shawn Bayliss, Koretz’s planning deputy, left Koretz’s office in May 2017. He also was on leave around March 2017 when the couple’s daughter was born, he said.

“Dragging me in when I had no involvement with this project puzzles me,” Bayliss said. Brenner declined to comment.

Brenner is one of several consultants who have worked on the project.

Safady told The Times that he had “minimal” contact with Bayliss. He said that contact happened in 2015, when he was beginning to plan the project.

Yaroslavsky also introduced a motion on Tuesday, seconded by Councilmember Tim McOsker, that seeks to toughen the city’s lobbying rules.

The motion would prohibit a close relative of a council member from lobbying that council office on any proposed or pending development projects located in the council member’s district.

San Fernando Valley Councilmember Monica Rodriguez, who voted against Yaroslavsky’s motion, said that she was troubled by “unproven” allegations lodged against Bayliss and Brenner by Yaroslavsky.

“I just have some concerns about using that as a means of weighing the decisions that we’re making around this horseshoe with respect to land use,” she said.



This story originally appeared on LA Times

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