LOS ANGELES - A divided Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday to halt a much-debated hotel project in Benedict Canyon that has drawn the ire of some neighbors who expressed concerns about the impact the project would have on the environment and public safety.
The council voted 8-6 to support a motion introduced by Councilwoman Katy Yaroslavsky, who represents the area as part of her Fifth District.
The motion directs the city planning director to reconsider the initiation of a General Plan amendment -- which the Planning Department and Planning Commission previously approved -- that gave a specific zoning designation for the proposed Bulgari Hotel to be built in a residential area.
"This motion is about taking a stand together as a council and saying that we don't believe it's in the city's best interest for a planning department to spend hours of staff resources, hundreds of hours of staff resources, and millions of taxpayer dollars on a project that goes against everything we're doing from a land use perspective, a climate perspective and a public safety perspective," Yaroslavsky said, addressing her colleagues and urging a "yes" vote.
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"Especially when the project is located in such a special place. We all have them -- they're the gems that make Los Angeles unique, and I know everyone around this (City Council chamber) horseshoe would fight like hell to protect those places in our own districts were they threatened," she added.
The councilwoman had previously offered four reasons that her colleagues should support her motion, including a possible ethics violation by her predecessor's planning and land use deputy.
Ethics Commission records indicate that Stacey Brenner received more than $174,000 for lobbying efforts to obtain the General Plan amendment -- while her husband, Shawn Bayliss, was working as the planning and land use deputy for then-Councilman Paul Koretz.
"There is absolutely no evidence that the City Ethics Office or the City Attorney's Office were ever consulted about this clear conflict of interest that this presented and whether or how they could mitigate that conflict," Yaroslavsky previously said.
Brenner was the one who personally submitted and signed the General Plan amendment application, Yaroslavsky added.
In addition, Yaroslavsky contended the proposed project would pose significant environmental threats and increase potential hazards to the residents in the canyon. She also said many of her constituents "overwhelmingly" oppose the project, along with Mayor Karen Bass and environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.
The Bulgari project was introduced in 2018 and would be located at 9704-9712 W. Oak Road. It includes plans for a 59-room hotel and eight single- family homes on an approximately 32.67-acre property, according to city documents.
The hotel portion would include 18 buildings, a stand-alone parking structure, a funicular railway and a main hotel building, including outdoor amenities, commercial space and subterranean parking.
The residential portion of the site would contain eight single-family homes, ranging between 12,000 and 48,000 square feet with associated garage parking.
The developer, Gary Safady, told the Los Angeles Times he was working to contain events on site "as much as possible, making the hotel seem to blend in with the environment."
Safady also said events would be smaller in size than at two nearby hotels -- the Hotel Bel-Air and the Beverly Hills Hotel -- and that any trees displaced by construction would be replaced on a 4-to-1 basis.
The proposed project has stirred residents of Benedict Canyon, community and environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy to urge the council to deny the proposed project, citing concerns regarding public safety and environmental impacts.
Meanwhile, labor organizations such as the Los Angeles/Orange Counties Building and Construction Trades Council argued the project would bring hundreds of jobs and benefit the city as a whole.
Celebrities also lined up on both sides of the issue. The Times reported that Mark Wahlberg, Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis and Gerard Butler were among the neighbors who signed letters in support, while those opposed included Phil McGraw, better known as Dr. Phil, Doors guitarist Robby Krieger and actress Stefanie Powers.
Previously, the council remained deadlocked on the issue. The council's Planning and Land Use Management Committee voted 2-2 in March, and then the council voted 7-7 on the item in May prior to Imelda Padilla being elected to represent the Sixth District.
Padilla was absent during the vote Wednesday. But Councilwoman Traci Park, who previously opposed the motion saying she wanted environmental reviews to be completed before a decision was made to block the project, changed her mind Tuesday and provided the swing vote that allowed the motion to pass.
"Since May, I have had the opportunity to engage with constituents from across the hillsides, including many (of) my own constituents who care deeply about our natural resources and worry about the precedent that this project sets for the health of our Santa Monica Mountains and its ecosystem," Park said.
"Like everyone one of us, Councilwoman Yaroslavsky was elected to represent and lead her constituents in the Fifth District. I want her to deliver the best possible results that she can to her constituents," she added.
Council members Heather Hutt, John Lee, Monica Rodriguez, Paul Krekorian, Kevin de León and Curren Price maintained their opposition to the project during Wednesday's vote.
"I think it's really important that we have a clear and consistent process in the city of Los Angeles when it comes to land use decisions and enabling those that seek to do investments at least just continue to do their due diligence or environmental review ...," Rodriguez said.
Krekorian echoed Rodriguez's concerns, saying, "The simple truth is we do have an environmental impact review process. It's not complete. I just want it to be completed before I take a position on this project."