Posted: Tuesday, June 13, 2017 – 9:52 AM
By Victoria Talbot
The Beverly Hills City Council is set to tour Lots 12 & 13 today in preparation for a review of the next steps in the maintenance of the property. The public is invited to join the tour, which will leave the Crescent side of City Hall at 1:30 p.m. To reserve a seat on the van, please call 310-285-1012.
The agenda item contains a controversial report from Lindmark Engineering that recommends the removal of all of the stumps left behind when over 196 trees were illegally cut down by Lyn Konheim, of the Beverly Hills Land Company (BHLC). The site is heavily contaminated with arsenic, and the trees were cut during a Santa Ana wind without proper oversight of the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC).
The report recommends that all of the stumps should be removed in preparation for the new curbs and gutters for the Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction, despite direction from the City Council May 16 to remove only 13 stumps in response to the community protest of their removal.
An item on the Closed Session agenda is further cause for concern. Item #4, Property Parcels 12 & 13, states that “The City Council is considering whether to purchase this property.” The item appeared on a closed session agenda in the spring, as well.
Sources say that Konheim was considering the sale of the property, but has rescinded his offer with renewed confidence that he will eventually receive the three votes necessary to change the zoning so that he can develop the property. Sources tell the Courier that he has invested over $1 million and received proposals from five architects for a retail-residential-office development on the properties.
On May 16, the council demonstrated a 3-2 split on recommending the removal of the stumps. Vice Mayor Julian Gold was joined by newly-seated Council Members Robert Wunderlich and Les Friedman in their support for removal, despite strong opposition from residents.
The next day, however, Wunderlich formally withdrew his support for removal of the stumps, creating a 2-3 split in support of the removal of only 13 stumps.
City staff has persistently shown that they cannot separate the residents’ concerns from their reconstruction efforts, which may have factored into the City’s complacency in allowing the trees to be removed in the first place.
To date, no one has been held accountable for the debacle. Residents repeatedly express their wishes that City staff and the BHLC are held accountable, the land is mitigated and the trees replaced. Plans call only for the removal of the stumps to be replaced by bushes.
Not only were the trees a welcome green zone, they also provided protection from the toxic soil and privacy and noise reduction for the homeowners nearby. The parcels remain an eyesore entering Beverly Hills from the east.
While the report is allegedly to be on the clean up and maintenance of the property, instead it is a referendum on the removal of the stumps for the reconstruction of Santa Monica Boulevard.
Resident Lionel Ephram, who represents the homeowners in the area, sent the following letter to the City Council Monday:
“I was angry, actually outraged, when I read the Report which the Staff is planning to present to the City Council at the study session on 6/13/17. This report ignores that at the May 16, 2017 City Council meeting Residents made clear to Council that they wanted the stumps on Lots 12 and 13 left in place and only removed as part of the replanting process when there is an agreed upon and approved plan for replacing the trees that were destroyed improperly and illegally. The report also ignores the fact that the Council, while at first showing a preference for removing the stumps, later, after receiving additional information, reconsidered its position and agreed with the Residents and then gave Direction to Staff that all stumps should remain in place with the exception of the stumps of the 13 trees which the Gruen report said needed to be removed to make way for the renovation of the curb.
“Staff not only ignored the wishes of the residents and the Direction of the Council, they also ignored the Gruen Report and then they failed to communicate to Lindmark Engineering , a company which was not involved with the planning of the Santa Monica Blvd. project, and not brought in until long after the trees were destroyed, the Direction given by the Council. Lindmark, looking only at the remaining stumps and with no knowledge of prior actions or decisions, concluded, in a letter dated June 6, 2017, that 88 stumps should be removed to make easier the contractor’s work in renovating the curbing. That would translate to 88 trees to be cut down if the trees were still there.
“The key thing to remember is that when the plans for SM Blvd. were being finalized all of the trees were there and there was NO intention to remove more than the 13 trees necessary to do the planned curb renovation. The Psomas Engineering report dated August 23, 2015 recommended, for the planned renovation of the curb, “removal of some trees pursuant to the Gruen estimate”. That Gruen estimate was for only 13 trees to be removed. While it might be more convenient for the contractor to not have to work around the rest of the 88 trees, that was not the way it was planned to be done and, since the needs and wishes of the Residents are certainly of higher priority than the convenience of the contractor, the way it was originally planned is the way it must be done.
“This lack of respect by the Staff for the wishes of the Residents and the Directions of the Council makes clear the importance of allowing for citizen input in the preparation of staff reports upon which the Council relies when making decisions which affect the citizens and, also, of the need for the Staff to receive better instruction as to what the Staff’s responsibilities are. Staff needs to understand that the city belongs to the Residents and that the Staff’s first and foremost priority is to listen to and work for the benefit of the Residents. It is NOT making developers and/or contractors happy. The old way of doing business in Beverly Hills is no longer acceptable.”