Basement Ordinance Referendum Race Heats Up
Updated: Friday, April 6, 2018 – 12:07 PM
Please Note: the email for rescinding a signature was printed incorrectly. Did you sign the petition by mistake? Don’t sign it until you read it! The correct email is email@example.com. Residents who feel they have signed the petition in error may rescind their signature by contacting Beverly Hills City Clerk Byron Pope with a letter to that effect and a signature that matches the one on the petition. However, signatures must be at City Hall by April 10, so regular mail is risky. Email Debbie Weiss at that email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone 310-974-3152 for more information. She will arrange to have your letter picked up and delivered to the City Clerk’s office.
The Basement Ordinance was passed unanimously, after months of public meetings, by both the Planning Commission and the City Council. The petition would rescind the ordinance until the next possible election in November, leaving the hillsides vulnerable.
Unfortunately, people who have been approached by signature-gatherers at Rite Aid report that they are telling potential signers that this ordinance would SAVE the Basement Ordinance. That is NOT SO: it would RESCIND the Basement Ordinance. There is no other petition being circulated that would save the Basement Ordinance.
Posted: Thursday, April 5, 2018 – 6:37 PM
By Victoria Talbot
Efforts continue to gather signatures on a petition that will stop the City’s new Basement Ordinance from going into effect, overturning the will of the residents and the vote of the entire City Council for the benefit of real estate agent Branden Williams and his client billionaire developer Francesco Aquilini, who wish to build the project on Loma Linda Drive.
Nine 140-foot long retaining walls would be visible for miles if 1193 Loma Linda Drive is allowed to move forward as planned with the 11,000 square-foot residence; more retaining walls would round the hillside next door at 1184 Loma Linda Drive, and together, the structures would dominate the hillside. If Williams succeeds in obtaining verifiable signatures of 10 percent of the registered voters in Beverly Hills, about 2,000 signatures prior to April 6, the Basement Ordinance, which goes into effect on April 6, will not go into effect; if they receive the signatures by April 10, the Basement Ordinance will be suspended until the City Council either rescinds it or agrees to place it on the ballot as a referendum.
The race is on, as resident Debbie Weiss and her neighbors fight to educate and inform residents not to sign the petition.
In addition to concealing who was behind the petition for two weeks, signature gatherers were also incentivized with cash rewards.
“I was in a restaurant on Beverly Drive,” wrote one resident, “and was basically harassed by two men to sign this petition (among others). I kept asking what it was for, then caved in and signed one because he said they would pay him and it would greatly help his family, etc. I’m so mad!”
As signature gatherers continue to fan out across the City such reports are common. But, said City Clerk Byron Pope, there is no obligation on the part of the signature gatherers to tell the truth. They are only obligated to offer the petition for voters to read, though some report encounters in which they were not allowed to read the petitions. Signature-gatherers are being paid $10-$25 per signature for Williams, according to reports, 10-25 times the going rate of $1/ per signature.
“I find it odd that Williams is supposedly using his own money in sponsoring efforts to repeal the Basement Ordinance,” wrote Vice Mayor John Mirisch. “I’d be very interested in following the actual trail of money. It wouldn’t at all surprise me if Williams is in reality a shill for someone else. This is just one more reason why we need more robust disclosure requirements. The public has a right to know who is trying to influence public policy for money.”
Other reports indicated that gatherers were approaching residents during pick up hours on school campuses, telling residents their families were starving and they needed the money, showing voters other petitions, but shoving the petition to Rescind the Basement Ordinance under the pen instead, and setting up on private property illegally. One report on Thursday was that gatherers were being given a quota of 43 signatures and incentives at $25 per signature.
Weiss has established a Facebook page called Stop the Basement Ordinance Referendum with information about the petitions. For people who wish to rescind their signature who cannot drive to City Hall, call 310-974-3152 or email email@example.com for delivery service.
Weiss is the author of a letter sent to Williams’ real estate brokerage and City Council members regarding the petition, signed by over 122 residents, including three former mayors (Nancy Krasne, Ed Brown and Robert K. Tanenbaum), Muni League members and board members of Beverly Hills North Homeowners.
“The current efforts of Mr. Williams and his cohorts are suspect not only on the merits, ostensibly to benefit their financial interests in unabated development, but also in their tactics,” reads the letter, “using secrecy to avoid associating their own names with their cause and employing misinformation to get citizens to sign the petition now being circulated.”
“I am hopeful that the petition drive to repeal the Basement Ordinance does not succeed,” said Councilmember Bob Wunderlich. “We on City Council worked hard to pass the ordinance, following extensive input from the public and deliberations by the Planning Commission. The Basement Ordinance fills an important need and is a clear benefit for our City. I hope that it becomes effective without any delay.”
“I fully support the residents request to know who is behind this initiative. I always believe full transparency is among the most important values that we as a city must protect,” wrote Councilmember Lili Bosse. “I vow to always do what it takes to ensure that our community is well informed with truth.”
Mayor Julian Gold and Councilmember Les Friedman did not respond to a request for comments.
Williams is not only Aquilini’s realtor. It appears he is a developer in secret partnership with Jason Somers, President of Crest Real Estate. Somers, it will be remembered, is the “expeditor” for Aquilini, a lobbyist whose website says “Crest Real Estate offers permitting and development services that maximize efficiencies and increase profits for a variety of real estate endeavors.”
Together in collaboration with Matt Lyons of Lyons Development and Jason Sommers of Crest Real Estate, Williams built a Hollywood Hills “spec mansion,” designed by Lenny Kravitz, and listed for $38 million, enclosed by retaining walls so obtrusive as to become the canvas for graffiti, as seen in a photo taken this past week. The group formed “Stealth Capital, LLC” for the 10,700-square-foot house at 1894 North Stanley Avenue in the hills above the Sunset Strip. The house sold Apr. 2 for $33 million.