The Hilton Chronicles: Seven Strikes And You're Out

Former Dodger great Steve Garvey had a lifetime batting average of .294 with 2599 hits. He also struck out 1003 times.

While his hits consisted of a blend of singles, doubles, triples and home runs, each one of his K's consisted of three strikes. For not one solitary strike out was he given seven strikes.

Yet Steve Garvey's namesake, Hilton PR flack Marie Garvey, evidently doesn't think even after seven strikes that you're out. Marie Garvey also happens to be the spokesperson for the absurdly named, "LA Angels of Anaheim," so that may well explain her disconnect from orderly baseball etiquette and rules.

To wit: in a recent Hilton ad and e-blast, the Hilton lists seven points as to why you (if you're a Beverly Hills voter) should vote for the Hilton Condominium Tower Initiative (aka the Hilton Skyscraper Initiative), Measure HH.

Yet each of the seven points made by the Hilton contains serious factual errors. Seven untruths. Seven whiffs. If it were Clayton Kershaw pitching, he'd be 7/9 of the way towards striking out the side.

But evidently the Hilton doesn't believe rules apply to them.

Let's look in more detail at the Hilton's seven strikes out of seven swings.

Strike one
"1. The Choice. Measure HH provides Beverly Hills voters the choice between two plans for the Beverly Hilton property: the 2008 approved plan with two tall residential buildings (8 and 18 stories) and no public open space that will otherwise be built or a better and greener plan with a large park and one 26-story building."

This statement itself contains multiple errors, effectively - like in the famous Bugs Bunny cartoon - swinging three times and missing at the same pitch.

The Hilton Condominium Tower Initiative (the official name on the ballot) isn't a "greener" plan. In fact it would be less environmentally friendly than the previously approved project (see Strike 7 below).

The statement that the 2008 plan does not contain public open space is patently false. Ludicrously false. Insultingly false. In an ad in the BH Weekly in 2008 (click here, then click on issue 467 and scroll to the last page), the same people saying the 2008 plan contains "no public open space" wrote: "The greatly improved nine-acres will include: 4.5 acres of new ground level open space, public gardens, fountains and art."

They then went on to write, "The Waldorf Wishire Residences - 26 luxury residences on the site of the old Palm Court building, setback 70 feet from Wilshire and 100 feet from Merv Griffin Way. A small six story building that steps away from Wilshire to eight stories, creating a lower profile and corresponding to the height of the Hilton with a 1.3 acre surrounding public garden."

So in 2008 the Wilshire building was a "small" building and now all of a sudden it's a "tall" building. From "small" to "tall" in 8 years. How about that?

Of course, the biggest howler here is the Hilton's contention that the 2008 plan contains "no public open space." Clearly the public garden was a major selling point in 2008 and they are trying to sell the same garden eight years later. So it's a "1.3-acre public garden" in 2008, but "no public open space" now under the 2008 plan.

One's natural inclination might be to ask oneself: "Were they lying then or are they lying now?"

Strike Two

"2. A Large New Park. Measure HH creates a beautiful new 1.7 acre park at Wilshire Blvd. and Merv Griffin Way. The space for the park is created by consolidating the two approved buildings that would otherwise be built - one with 18 stories and one with 8 stories - into a single, 26-story building at Santa Monica Blvd."

This point would have you believe that by stacking one building on top of another, space is being made for a 1.7 acre park. In fact, as can be seen from the first strike, a "1.3 acre surrounding public garden" was already planned, so stacking the buildings only adds .4 of an acre of additional space. This point is a misrepresentation at best and a very foul ball. Strike two...

Strike Three

"3. Open to the Public. An L.A. County Superior Court Judge has verified that the new park will be open to the public. The new park will be built with private funds and maintained with private funds all at no cost to taxpayers."

The park is "open to the public" in the same way that a hotel is "open to the public." That does not make this a public park, similar to Roxbury Park, Beverly Gardens or other city parks.

The park can still be closed for private events at the sole discretion of the property owner. In addition to the Golden Globes and Milken Conference, it could be closed for weddings, private parties, political gatherings and other events, and it is the property owner who calls the shots. The implied comparison is with the City's Beverly Canon Gardens (in other literature, the Hilton private garden size is compared with Beverly Canon Gardens). Yet there is no comparison: Beverly Canon Gardens is a public park; the Hilton private garden is, well... private.

At this stage, the Hilton has had its three strikes. But they refuse to leave the batter's box and instead take another swing...

Strike Four

"4. Open Space Forever. A second L.A. County Superior Court Judge has verified the enforceability of the legally binding covenant we filed with the County affirming that the 1.7-acre park will remain open space forever, without development. The covenant runs with the land permanently for the benefit of Beverly Hills."

No judge has affirmed the enforceability of the covenant the Hilton filed with LA County. The judge simply noted that in reference to the ballot statement by Measure HH's proponents, a covenant had been filed after the ballot statement had already been submitted, while ascertaining the following: "The parties have not provided sufficient legal briefing for the court to make a conclusive determination as to whether or not the Covenant is enforceable against Oasis West Realty LLC and its successors under section 1468 or pursuant to other law or legal theory" (p. 12/13, Dept. 82 of decision).

In a letter dated June 9, 2016 and published as an ad in the June 24, 2016 issue of a local paper, the Hilton minority owner wrote "a covenant will be filed with the City of Beverly Hills."

No such covenant was ever filed with the City nor was the City ever approached about a covenant. A covenant is a form of a contract and contracts are negotiated between two parties. Filing a covenant, as the Hilton did with the county, is not the same as agreeing upon a covenant with the City. It could be construed in the same way as making a contract with oneself.

Is a contract with oneself enforceable? Who knows? But the real way to create a legally binding contract is for both parties to agree to the terms. The Hilton's "covenant," for example, doesn't limit the number of times the private garden can be shut down, among other matters which could have been negotiated under a real contract. Nor does it limit the possibility for the original, iconic Hilton hotel to be torn down to make way for more future skyscrapers.

Strike Five
"5. Free Parking. Two hours of free parking for Beverly Hills residents visiting the park is included in the covenant signed by the Hilton's owner for the benefit of the City. The free parking will be available from 6a.m. to 6p.m. each day - identical to many of the City's public parking lots."

The same letter in which the Hilton's minority owner promises to file a covenant with the City of Beverly Hills seeks to assure our residents "Two hours of free parking will be provided to Beverly Hills residents while enjoying the garden." There are no time limitations suggested here, nor does the letter say that an exclusion will be made "if residents enjoy the garden in the evening."

It is also incorrect to state that free parking in the City's public lots are only from 6a.m. to 6p.m. First of all, in most of the City's lots, anyone entering the parking structure before 6p.m. gets two hours of free parking. So if you enter at 5:59p.m., you can park for free until 7:59p.m. Also, near most of our parks, there is free street parking in the evenings.

This whole notion of a "covenant" to amend an initiative which is already on the ballot has serious flaws from the perspective of what an initiative is expected to accomplish democratically. In short, if the Hilton had intended to provide free parking or to limit development on the site, they could have and should have included these points in the initiative itself. They are attempting to use the covenant to amend the initiative which was signed by the registered voters in an effort to gain political support after the initiative had been placed on the ballot. While the covenant may be an attempt to correct a deficient initiative, it is not the appropriate remedy because it unilaterally aims to change what the signatories have asked to be placed on the ballot after the fact. The appropriate remedy would be to recirculate a new initiative with the corresponding provisions.

Strike Six
"6. More City Revenue. The City's independent report examining Measure HH concluded it will generate significant additional tax revenue for Beverly Hills - a total of $33 million more than the approved 2008 plan that will be built if Measure HH is not approved."

This is a question of how one defines the word "significant." Additional revenue would result from the humongous increase in value to the developer; such revenue would trickle down to the City, which would only get pennies on the dollar. However, the initiative does not guarantee any additional revenue for the City.

In fact, by bypassing the City's standard process, the initiative precludes the City's renegotiating the development agreement with the Hilton and precludes the City from getting a fair share of the tremendous increase in value the project itself would create for the developer. Should Measure HH pass via initiative, in the knowledge of what the City would be able to negotiate, I can say with great confidence that the City would at a minimum lose tens of millions of dollars of additional revenue which could be negotiated with the developer had he adhered to the same process everyone else in the City - including other developers - has to go through.

Strike Seven
"7. Recycled Water. The use of recycled graywater at the property is consistent with the 2008 approved plan. To be clear, the 26-story residential building under Measure HH will use a dedicated water reclamation system that ensures the 1.7-acre garden will be irrigated using only recycled graywater. No potable water (drinking water) will be used for irrigation."

This statement is simply untrue. While graywater from the 2008 plan was already meant to be used to irrigate landscaping, the graywater use was also intended to be used within the building itself (for example, for cooling purposes, toilet flushing, etc.). Measure HH eliminates the internal uses of graywater, thereby increasing water usage within the building at a time during which all the rest of us are being asked to conserve water. Increased water usage means the project is less environmentally friendly and less green than the 2008 plan.

In affirming most of the City's ballot language, LA Superior Court Judge James Chalfant acknowledges that the project will reduce the use of recycled (gray) water. It couldn't be clearer: the language on the ballot question itself describes the Hilton Skyscraper as "reducing graywater use requirements," which is clearly not consistent with the 2008 plan.

While Marie Garvey and the Hilton PR flacks at least did not deny the fact that a yes on HH would eliminate any discretionary municipal architectural review of the project, misrepresenting the use of recycled graywater is strike seven.

It's time for the residents of Beverly Hills to say: Whiff. Sit down. You're out.

And yet even after this seven-strike K, Marie Garvey can't seem to stop swinging and missing.

In attacking a "No on HH" fact sheet, Garvey - Marie, that is, not Steve - said, "This is a matter that should be left for the voters to decide and not a developer that is brand new to this community and out only for personal and economic gain."

Ah, yes, the "carpetbagger" argument... Never mind the fact that one of the developers she attacks built the Montage. Never mind the fact that her statements about the Wanda group smack of Sinophobia, if not xenophobia. Never mind the fact that Beverly Hills is a welcoming community, which encourages investment from new companies. Never mind the fact that the developers she is criticizing - in stark contrast to her own employer - have decided to follow our City's process rather than circumvent it by exploiting a land-use loophole.

As if the Hilton is not "out only for personal and economic gain." As if the fact that the Hilton predates Wanda in Beverly Hills gives it a right to circumvent our rules. As if that fact makes them better than everyone else. As if Marie Garvey is not herself "out only for personal and economic gain" and as if she wouldn't say the Hilton skyscraper is an abomination if you paid her enough. (And as if there aren't a few choice English words for what that makes her...).

Déjà vu all over again

Marie Garvey seems to tag team quite a bit with the Hilton's land-use lawyer, George Mihlsten, from Latham and Watkins. Not only are they working together on the "LA Angels of Anaheim" account, where, ironically, they are also opposing a project from a Chinese developer because they are afraid the competition would hurt Arte Moreno, the Angels owner. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

It would be hardly surprising if Mihlsten and Garvey were hatching a plan to circumvent the Anaheim Planning Commission and City Council should they feel they can't control the Anaheim Council as well as, say, Disney. To my friend, Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait, who is unafraid to stand up for his residents and do the right thing (and who is just a nice guy, but what else would you expect from the founder of the "City of Kindness" initiative?) I say: be prepared for a land-use initiative to circumvent your own city's process. Under such a scenario, I imagine Garvey's prepared statement in opposition to the Chinese project in Anaheim would be: "This is a matter that should be left for the voters to decide and not a developer that is brand new to this community and out only for personal and economic gain."

Garvey vs. BHUSD

But opposition to Chinese projects is not the only thing which unites Garvey and Mihlsten. Garvey and Mihlsten also worked for JMB as that Chicago developer spread money around LA like it was going out of style, attempting to influence decision-makers, politicians and homeowners' groups. JMB, if you'll recall, is the developer who wanted a vanity subway station in front of their planned Century City skyscraper on Constellation. JMB, if you'll recall, is the reason the MTA moved the subway alignment from the original route on Santa Monica Blvd. to Constellation. JMB, if you'll recall, is the reason the MTA is tunneling under our high school.

Perhaps if Marie Garvey really cared so much about Beverly Hills, she would explain why it's better for the MTA to tunnel under our high school than to take the original route down Santa Monica Blvd. (which would also save county taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars).

Carpetbaggers "R" Us

And while she is quick to try to play the carpetbagger card for her paymasters at the Hilton, would you really be surprised to find out that Marie Garvey doesn't live in Beverly Hills herself?

No, Marie Garvey lives in Manhattan Beach, just a few blocks away from the ocean. With a lot of low rise buildings, a human-scale feel and a gentle sea breeze wafting through the community. She can walk down to Uncle Bill's, sit with the locals, eat pancakes, sip coffee and smell the beach. And she probably likes it that way, which is why she has herself served on local committees dealing with land-use issues in a city which itself has developed a general plan to preserve its unique character.

And yet if Marie Garvey really loves skyscrapers so much, perhaps she would consider asking her Hilton paymasters to relocate their skyscraper to her hometown. After all, while Beverly Hills must not become Century City, Hong Kong or Dubai, Marie Garvey could be just the right person to put the "Manhattan" back into Manhattan Beach.