Beverly Hills Voters Reject 26-Story Condo Initiative, Handing Victory to Wanda Group

Gene Maddaus
Variety

Beverly Hills voters on Tuesday soundly rejected a ballot initiative that would have allowed the Beverly Hilton to construct a 26-story condo tower.

The result was a victory for Wanda Properties, the U.S.-based subsidiary of the Dalian Wanda Group, which poured $1.2 million into a campaign to defeat the rival Hilton project. The Hilton’s owner, Beny Alagem, placed Measure HH on the ballot in an effort to circumvent the typical City Hall approval process. Opponents, including Mayor John Mirisch, argued that the 375-foot tower would be too tall for Beverly Hills.

“For some people it’s about height, but for a lot it’s about process,” said Adam Englander, a spokesman for No on Measure HH. “A lot of people didn’t like the idea of going to an initiative — they rejected ballot box planning.”

With 100 percent of precincts counted, the “no” side led with 55.75 percent of the vote — a margin of about 1,100 votes. Alagem has reported spending $7 million on the effort, or about $1,600 per vote. Provisional ballots remain to be counted, but are unlikely to flip the outcome.

Marie Garvey, the Hilton’s spokeswoman, said that if the result holds up, the Hilton will revert to its previous plans for the site, which were narrowly approved in a 2008 ballot referendum. That plan calls for two towers, one 18 stories and the other eight stories.

“We stated from the beginning that we wanted to let the residents decide what would be built in the future,” Garvey said. “Right now, it looks like they want the 2008 plan built. If that result holds, that is exactly what we will do.”

Wanda has its own plans to build a $1.2 billion condo and hotel project across the street from the Beverly Hilton. The two developers have been in a bitter fight over each other’s projects for the last several months. The City Council has spent the last several days considering whether to approve the Wanda project, while the Hilton has been pushing for changes.

During the campaign, the union that represents Hilton workers accused Wanda of using Chinese money to influence the election. The Wanda committee has been at pains to state that the funds for the “no” campaign came from a domestic subsidiary and were controlled by U.S. citizens and green card holders. The California Fair Political Practices Commission declined to investigate the union’s claims.

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