Posted: Friday, April 13, 2018 – 1:14 PM
By Victoria Talbot
Realtor Branden Williams is still the man behind the signature-gathering effort for a referendum to repeal the Basement Ordinance, despite a purported apology and resignation letter sent to the Courier by Hilton & Hyland only minutes before this paper went to press last week.
In his supposed resignation letter, Williams claimed he resigned from his position on the committee for the “Beverly Hills Residents for Preserving Property Values.” The sole purpose of that organization is to rescind the Basement Ordinance. The ordinance would preserve the value of homes, property and neighborhoods, as well as preserve the hillsides as a valuable and precious resource.
On Wednesday, Bradley Hertz, an attorney, registered lobbyist and Woodland Hills resident, brought City Clerk Byron Pope 2,966 signatures, according to the count made at City Hall Wednesday afternoon. The required number of signatures is 10 percent of the registered voters in Beverly Hills, about 2,049 signatures.
Despite Williams’ resignation letter, an undated letter accompanying the signatures authorized Hertz to submit the signatures to Pope for a “Referendum Against an Ordinance Passed by the City Council…,” and directed all correspondence to be addressed to Bradley Hertz.
The letter was signed by Williams.
The Election Code requires the signature be submitted by an elector. An elector is a voter in the City. Absent Williams’ authorization letter for Hertz to submit the signatures on his behalf, there would have not have been a valid referendum petition.
Hertz is the only known remaining officer of the committee, as an assistant treasurer, since Williams resigned his position as principal and treasurer. Hertz is not an elector and could not submit the signatures alone.
Williams said to the community in his statement: “When I became aware that my efforts were a concern to some homeowners, I decided that resigning from the committee was in the best interests of everyone. I am resigning, effective today… A recent article in the Beverly Hills Courier detailed some incidents… I learned from my mistakes… Today I am a respected and reputable member of the Los Angeles real estate community… I regret any misunderstanding related to my opposition to the Basement Ordinance and look forward to continuing to work with, and for, members of the Beverly Hills community in the future,” wrote Williams.
Williams’ letter came after Hilton & Hyland learned of his actions in a letter from resident Debbie Weiss, signed by over 100 residents from every section of the City, that demanded to know Hilton & Hyland’s position on the matter.
According to the Department of Real Estate records, Williams is a salesperson whose supervising broker is Hilton & Hyland. He is on a contract basis for the firm, but he is working with a restricted real estate license.
According to public records, Williams has a criminal record for unlawful use of a tear gas weapon and threatening phone calls; but it is not because of his criminal actions that he was sanctioned and disciplined. It was because he failed to disclose to the Department of Real Estate the criminal convictions on his real estate application and attempted to obtain a license by making a material misrepresentation.
After submitting his resignation letter to the Courier, the signature bounty increased from $10 to $25 or more, according to the organization hired to obtain signatures. The company blanketed Beverly Hills with as many as 30 workers being paid at least 25 times the going rate of $1 per signature, according to reports from signature gatherers.
Several residents appeared at Tuesday’s City Council meeting during the public comment period to report allegations of fraud and deceit on the part of the signature gatherers, with one even saying that the signatures were to protect the hillsides. However, City Councilmembers cannot respond to an item that is not on the agenda, except to direct Staff to place it on the agenda for a future meeting.
Besides walking door-to-door, they were gathering on private property located at Bristol Farms, Whole Foods Market, Rite Aid and Ralphs. There were several reports from residents who said they witnessed signature-gatherers refusing to leave when asked by employees.
One resident said the signature-gatherer told her of entering the Public Library and gathering signatures, knowing that it was not authorized, until being asked to leave. Residents also reported they were interrupted while dining in restaurants.
On Sunday, the gatherers set up a table at the Farmers’ Market, in violation of City law. City staff report that they asked them to leave twice and were rebuffed, finally calling the police to forcibly remove them.
Williams has publicly stated he is realtor to Canadian billionaire Francesco Aquilini, owner of the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks. He sold Aquilini the property at 1184 and 1193 Loma Linda Dr. where Aquilini plans to build a home with nine 140-foot long retaining walls, prohibited by the Basement Ordinance.
Weiss, who has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to protect her home on Loma Linda from the development by Aquilini, and thousands of hours pouring through documents, legal papers, Public Records Requests, planning documents and attending meetings, was out with a volunteer posse to try to educate voters on what the petition actually is going to do.
Now, sources have revealed that Aquilini has hired public relations firm Foley Freisleben LLC, led by Gerald S. Freisleben to represent him. Freisleben has confirmed that all communications on this matter in the future will be through he and his associate, Alex Auerbach.
Through Freisleben, Hertz issued the following statement:
“As Branden Williams stated last week, he resigned as the referendum committee’s treasurer and principal officer on April 5. The committee accepted Mr. Williams’ resignation on April 6th and will soon file paperwork with the clerk regarding the committee’s new treasurer and principal officer. In connection with Mr. Williams’ earlier involvement in the referendum, however, he had authorized me to submit the petition on his behalf, which I did. Once the petition signatures are validated by the city clerk, the City Council will have an opportunity to repeal and revisit the basement ordinance, or to present it to the voters to decide whether the extreme restrictions imposed on property owners by the ordinance are fair and reasonable.”
Freisleben would provide no further comments in response to questions. He offered no explanation as to who the new officers will be nor any explanation for Williams’ behavior.
The petitions will be turned in to the County Registrar-Recorder to validate the signatures on Thursday.
It is unclear what the City’s response will be, but if they succeed, the Basement Ordinance, effective April 6, 2018, could be suspended.
After Williams’ public resignation from the committee, Attorney Ronald Richards, on behalf of himself and a number of Hillside residents who have supported the Basement Ordinance, has raised many legal questions, though it is unclear if the City is going to pursue any legal remedies.
The Basement Ordinance, which took years to create, could be undone, at least for now.
It could also face another flood of election material filled with misinformation in the upcoming November election.