Beverly Hills Voters Reject Plan for Enclave's Tallest Building

  • Developer, Chinese company battled at cost of $350 per voter
  • Fight pit hotel owner Beny Alagem against Dalian Wanda Group

A costly battle over development in Beverly Hills, California, ended with voters rejecting a hotel owner’s proposal to combine two planned condominium towers into a single building that would have loomed over the wealthy Southern California enclave.

With 44 percent in support and 56 percent against, Beverly Hills voters turned down plans by Beny Alagem, who owns the Beverly Hilton and is building an adjacent 170-room Waldorf Astoria, to develop a single 26-story tower next to the hotels, instead of eight- and 18-story buildings that were approved by the city council and a voter referendum in 2008. Alagem’s plan sets aside the remaining 1.7 acres (0.7 hectares) for a public park and gardens.

The campaign over the towers was the most expensive in the history of the city of 35,000. Alagem and his businesses spent $6.8 million as of Oct. 22, while opponents led by Dalian Wanda Group Co. spent $900,000, according to filings with the city clerk. In all, the spending on the measure came to more than $350 per registered voter in Beverly Hills, which is midway between downtown Los Angeles and the Pacific Ocean and has a median home value of more than $3 million.

Wanda -- a Chinese development and entertainment company headed by Wang Jianlin, the world’s 19th-richest person, with a net worth of $32.1 billion -- is proposing two towers across the street from Alagem’s project. Wanda has said its opposition to Alagem’s ballot measure is part of a “broader community-wide effort” to make Alagem submit to the same review process as other builders in Beverly Hills.

On Oct. 28, Beverly Hills said it had reached a tentative development agreement with Wanda that would increase the company’s environmental-mitigation fees and tack on a hotel-room surcharge for its project. The new agreement, the city said in a statement, would increase municipal revenue from the Wanda development by $560 million over 30 years.

Beverly Hills Mayor John Mirisch, who opposed Alagem’s ballot measure, said the agreement with Wanda shows the benefit to the public of developers negotiating with elected officials instead of going directly to voters.

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