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Beverly Hills News – City’s ‘The Big Short’ – Hillside Ordinance Opponents’ Self-Interest Compels Misinformation Campaign

Aquilini's Loma Linda project was rejected last August but is coming back

Posted: Wednesday, June 29, 2016 – 1:35 PM

By Victoria Talbot

The proposed Beverly Hills Hillside Ordinance will be the subject of a special meeting of the Planning Commission on Thursday at 7 p.m. at City Hall and opponents have been gearing up feverishly. 

The Courier urges residents to attend the meeting because there have been several campaigns spreading opposition by misinforming people with a financial stake in development. 

Resident Debbie Weiss, who attended the June 9 Planning Commission meeting on the ordinance, said these efforts are a deliberate misinformation campaign to inspire fear among those in the building and real estate trades, Weiss says the truth is that it is about the importance of money and self-interest over resident’s rights to enjoy their own homes and the peace and tranquility of their neighborhoods.

Local attorney Murray Fischer, who represents projects that do not conform to the new hillside ordinance, has taken his opposition to the offices of local realtors. Fischer and facilitator Jason Sommers of Crest Real Estate oppose the ordinance, both representing projects that do not conform to the ordinance standards. 

Fischer and Sommers have projects that will include multiple cantilevers, extensive excavations and floor area that extend off the existing level pad in the hillside area, on streets between 20-24 feet wide. Residents contend that these projects would dwarf the existing homes and ruin the neighborhood character and the natural landforms of the hillside, both inconsistent with the City’s land use policy.

Such excavation results in hundreds, if not thousands, of dirt hauling vehicles blocking streets. In Bel Air, residents struggle with drivers removing ‘No Parking’ signs to block streets and driveways to prevent residents from trash pick-ups, receiving mail and other deliveries.

 “One could not build a basement,” said Fischer’s letter, which is not true. The ordinance would require a basement over 1,500 cubic yards to obtain an R-1 permit.

Coldwell Banker realtors Joyce Rey and Tom Dunlap (who represent properties and developers in the hillsides) are circulating a letter about the proposed ordinance. Their letter includes a form letter that is to be sent to the Planning Commission in advance of Thursday’s meeting opposing the ordinance.

The form letter sent out by Dunlap/Rey to all Coldwell Banker realtors to be submitted to the Planning Commission says, “… Our understanding is that the Planning Commission is suggesting that the proposed code changes to the Hillside Zone not only change after very little community discussion and only several weeks of notice, but also is being suggested as being implemented retroactively…” 

Dunlap later clarified to The Courier that he is not supporting or opposing the proposed ordinance. He is in fact encouraging his office to attend the meeting.

The ordinance was first noticed on June 1, which is the standard 30-days’ notice for a Planning Commission ordinance. If it is approved by the Planning Commission it will then be sent to the City Council for their approval, giving supporters and opponents plenty of time to voice their opinions.

Many people also received a letter from Crest Real Estate on Wednesday, stating that the “Beverly Crest Team” first heard about the ordinance over the weekend of June 25-26. However, Jason Sommers of Crest Realty was present at the Planning Commission meeting on June 9 to oppose the ordinance.

The same letter continues to misinform saying that the “Draft ordinance is extreme for properties on [the following streets] and has to the potential to derail several Hillside projects that are still in the planning stages…”

Projects Sommers represents, as revealed at the June 9 Planning Commission meeting, were  submitted after June 1  for Planning approval, including a resubmission of the Aquilini project on Loma Linda that was rejected by the Planning Commission and that residents continue to vigorously oppose.

That project entails a multiple-tiered residence that would cantilever down the hillside hanging over Coldwater Canyon Park and the preschool.

The purpose of this ordinance is to set the planning of such projects on a different course that will not undermine the hillsides and the neighborhoods by creating such a huge footprint on the existing residents.

Streets that qualify as less than 24 feet include Cabrillo Drive, Calle Vista Drive, El Retiro Way, Garden Lane, Glen Way, La Altura Road, Lago Vista Drive, Lago Vista Place, Loma Linda Drive, Monte Cielo Drive, Pickfair Way, Summitridge Place and Tower Road. 

Streets this narrow and winding can barely accommodate the heavy haul vehicles, which will enter and exit, each carrying only 10 cubic yards of soil. Currently there is a 3,000 cubic yard ceiling, or 600 truck trips. The ordinance would limit that to 1,500 cubic yards, which still constitutes 300 truck trips.

A letter was also sent by Murray Fischer two weeks ago to clients, realtors, architects and other developers who want to take advantage of the lack of restrictions on Beverly Hills’ hillsides before loopholes in the original hillside ordinance are addressed. That letter warned that, “… One could not build a basement or terrace their lots”, and that property values would drop “drastically.” 

Actually, the proposed ordinance will protect residents from further disruptions to the natural contours of the hillsides, damage to wildlife corridors, overdevelopment and mansionization, impacts of overdevelopment on substandard streets and hillside integrity.

The ordinance:

-Reduces by-right export/import of soil to 1,500 cubic yards of soil on properties adjacent to a street less than 24-feet wide in a 5-year period. 

-Prevents level pad that is less than 20 feet in any direction to count towards the total level pad for calculating maximum floor area to discourage construction of retaining walls for that purpose. This strategy is currently employed with cantilevers (1201 Laurel Way) as close as three feet apart, designed to inflate floor area.

-Limits maximum cumulative floor area off the existing level pad to 1,000 square feet. Additional floor area off the level pad would require a Hillside R-1 Permit.

The ordinance would require Planning Commission review before a developer could build a palace-sized monument on a pea-sized property. 

At the meeting, residents will be able to sign a  petition in favor of the ordinance, also available online.

“There was never a prohibition against development, only a tightening of regulations by which a project would require a discretionary hearing before the Planning Commission. It would be prudent for all concerned parties to realize that, as a community, we must work together to create standards that are acceptable to the vast majority of current and future residents,” said Commissioner Lori Greene Gordon.

The meeting will give residents, developers and other interested parties an opportunity to debate the merits of the ordinance. To send a comment, email and 


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