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Tammany Hall, Beverly Hills Style

Posted: Monday, November 21, 2016 – 3:32 PM

By Victoria Talbot

Buried deep within the attachments of tonight’s (7 p.m. at City Hall) City Council agenda packet to approve the Wanda project, One Beverly Hills (9900 Wilshire Boulevard Specific Plan), is an item regarding former Mayor and City Councilman Barry Brucker, pertaining to his lobbying on behalf of the project, which he voted on when he was council member and mayor during the hearings on the original 9900 Wilshire Blvd. Specific Plan in 2007-8.

Deep in the seventh of seven attachments, the City of Beverly Hills City Council agenda has the following clause:

LEGISLATIVE ADVOCACY ALLEGATIONS AND DETERMINATION – During the processing of the applications for the Proposed Project, the City received several letters alleging that former Mayor Barry Brucker promoted the One Beverly Hills Project and urging the City Council to deny the Project on that basis. Beverly Hills Municipal Code Section 1-9-207 provides that any violation of the City’s legislative advocate ordinance “shall be grounds for the city to disapprove any contract, approval, permit, or transaction that was related to any such violation.”

The City Attorney’s office has investigated the allegations, and summarized the conclusions in the memorandum to the City Council dated November 3, 2016, which was included in the agenda materials prepared for the November 7th hearing on the Proposed Project. For the reasons set forth in the November 3rd memorandum, we recommend that the City Council find that the actions taken by Mr. Brucker with respect to the Proposed Project, to the extent that they constituted legislative advocacy, had little effect on influencing the City Council, and the City Council declines to deny the project on the basis.”

City transparency laws strictly forbid lobbying for a project that an elected official voted on. 

Beverly Hills Municipal Code 1-9-203B says:

“Representation By Former Elected Official: No former elected official shall represent, for compensation, any person or entity, by making any communication to the city, if the communication is related to a land use matter which was voted upon by the elected official during his or her term of office.”

Brucker insisted in his defense that the Wanda project is a NEW project. He wrote, “I believed that due to the at least three ownership changes of the site located at 9900 Wilshire, along with the change of use, that the project that was being undertaken was not the same as the project that I voted on when I was on the Council.” 

But the Wanda Supplemental Environmental Impact Report was a SUPPLEMENTAL EIR – not a NEW one – based on the insistence of the Community Development staff, Mayor John Mirisch, the Wanda project team, and City Attorney Larry Wiener – who insisted that despite the addition of 200,000 square feet of commercial space – this did not constitute a NEW project. 

Land Use attorney and longest-sitting Planning Commissioner Alan Robert Block did not agree. He felt it was a new project. 

The “Revolving Door Prohibition” was created for the express purpose of prohibiting former commissioners and council members from making book on their actions in office, to “avoid the appearance of undue influence on city officials and elected officials in making governmental actions and decisions,” according to the ordinance.

But, as they say, “the devil is in the details.” In this case, these “determinations” by Larry Wiener are included in the recommendation that the City Council move to adopt the resolution certifying the final Supplemental Environmental Impact Report, the restated Specific Plan, and the Development Agreement, and the attachment is signed by Director of Community Development Susan Healy Keene.

It is unclear how Healy Keene came to be the one making that recommendation. She has no legal training, and it is not a recommendation that can be made by her department.

It should be noted that this project is one of the largest commercial developments in the City. It is over 200,000 sq. ft. of commercial space. It represents probably the largest Development Agreement in history. Its big; really big.

WE KNOW THIS IS LONG – But it gets complicated when the City attorney and staff try to undo history. Bear with us.

Wiener makes a case that the land use plan that Brucker approved as mayor in 2008 did not include the portion that will be voted on Monday evening because that did not exist yet. But it is also not a new project.

This sounds like the same twisted legal wrangling that Wiener used to create the Hilton Initiative ballot statement that got thrown out in court. That is especially obvious when he starts his argument thus:

“Since then, the property has changed hands three times and the current developer proposes a project that differs substantially from the one that was presented to the Council in 2008. The new project, One Beverly Hills, includes a hotel with up to 134 rooms, a ballroom, three meeting rooms, a spa, two restaurants, a lounge, and a bar, and it would include 42 fewer condominiums. Because of these changes, the new project requires supplemental environmental impact report, an amendment to the specific plan, and other City approvals.” (Editors Note: This is precisely why so many thought the project should have had a new EIR.)

Wiener is making the case that this is a different project, but Wiener also made the case that the project did not need a new EIR – because he said, it was NOT a different project. 

Wiener said that, “Mr. Brucker did not engage in communications ‘related to a land use matter for which an application has been submitted to the city. . . [and] which was voted upon by Brucker] during [his] term of office,” though how he threaded that needle – will be something he may have to prove in court one day. 

The City of Beverly Hills is wrangling through a legal maze of double-speak under Wiener, who, as City attorney, has walked on a sliver-edge since the Wanda-Hilton battle began and Mirisch became Mayor. 

Wiener’s “investigation” is highly questionable. Calls went to council members to see if Brucker approached them. He did not, but he did make Wanda principal introductions to the Planning Commissioners. That does not constitute “influence,” according to Wiener. 

Those same Wanda principals funded the speaking tours of Mayor John Mirisch and Planning Commission Chair Joe Shooshani in their campaign for No on HH, the Hilton Initiative. 

But that is not influence – that is money. Lots of it.

The reason that this “Legislative Advocacy Allegations and Determinations” section is buried in the last paragraphs of the last attachment appears to be clear. By attempting to minimize this possible colossal issue – the City Council (except Nancy Krasne) and Wanda are attempting to minimize exposure so they can push this deal through to the tune of a quick $60 million.

It’s a lot of money – and the Wanda folks have projected $820 million will come to the City in the next 30 years.  That’s a lot of feathers in the caps of Mirisch, et. al.

Certainly, the City and City Council would not want to see the entire Wanda project denied on the basis of Brucker’s ill-fated lobbying efforts – but the door is wide open if someone wants to try.

And now, it appears that any former commissioner or council member can simply lobby current commissioners and councilmembers for a project if their lobbying is deemed to have “little effect on influencing City Council.” Forget about the Planning Commission.

So why bother with these laws at all, except to make politicians like Mirisch, who started the “Sunshine Task Force” to allegedly “out” the lobbyists, and who has had secret meetings with Wanda Chairman Wang Jianlin in Beijing – look like they are fighting for transparency? Instead, it is more evidence of the way City staff attempts to conceal things from the general public.

This reporter was also contacted by Brucker in an effort to be persuasive about the Wanda project, and it wasn’t just for introductions to the project principals. That is one genie that is not going back into the bottle. 

Next time, it could be the Townscape/Frank Gehry project on 5.5 acres near the dog park, or Parcels 12 & 13. Will Wiener’s twisted determinations through the complex Wanda dealings backfire on the City then?

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