The people of Beverly Hills have spoken, and they appear to have scuttled the world’s richest man’s plan to build an ultra-luxury hotel on Rodeo Drive.
In Tuesday’s special election, voters were deciding whether to rescind the City Council’s approval of a billion-dollar hotel project helmed by French multibillionaire Bernard Arnault and his luxury conglomerate, LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton. The referendum was initiated by hospitality union Unite Here Local 11, which gathered the signatures necessary to force the matter to a special election and criticized the city for not prioritizing affordable housing.
Vote totals released Friday afternoon by the Los Angeles County registrar show the campaign against the hotel leading by a little more than 120 votes, or about 1.8%. The registrar’s office said that 135 outstanding ballots have yet to be processed, pending signature verification, and any additional vote-by-mail ballots postmarked by Election Day that arrive by Tuesday will also be processed.
Beverly Hills voters appear to have issued a stunning rebuke of a high-profile project backed by four-fifths of the City Council, the city’s business establishment and the extremely deep coffers of Arnault and his luxury conglomerate.
In a city with just 22,160 registered voters, LVMH spent at least $2.9 million on its election campaign, a sum that far overshadowed the opponents’ spending.
“It is a sad day for our city. While I respect the democratic process, I believe our community lost an incredible addition to Rodeo Drive that would have provided additional funding for vital city services,” Beverly Hills Mayor Julian Gold said, adding that it was “beyond unfortunate” that the change “should be driven by this labor union or any labor union.”
John Mirisch, the only council member to oppose the project, said he was “a bit shocked and speechless” Friday afternoon, adding that it was “as if the Houston Astros, trash cans and all … lost to the Beverly Hills high school JV baseball team.”
He characterized the apparent results as a “a major victory for Beverly Hills — that is Beverly Hills, the community, not the ‘brand.’”
Proponents argued that the Cheval Blanc hotel would have brought in hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue over the next three decades. Detractors largely criticized the scale of the project in comparison to the surrounding business district, as well the lack of dedicated revenue for affordable housing.
Along with Unite Here Local 11, the project was opposed by Residents Against Overdevelopment — a grassroots group led by former City Council candidate Darian Bojeaux, who also helped gather signatures for the referendum. Bojeaux and others in her group contended that the hotel development was too large for community and would negatively affect quality of life.
Representatives of the union, which represents hospitality workers across the region, said they opposed the hotel because the project’s development agreement did not earmark any money for affordable housing. They argued that cities like Beverly Hills often change development rules to make it easier to build commercial luxury projects, but don’t always do this for housing.
“We objected to the apparent priorities of Mayor Gold and former Mayor [Lili] Bosse, and a no vote would show that the voters of Beverly Hills agree that these council leaders made a mistake. We believe the city’s priorities should be building affordable housing and addressing the climate crisis, not changing development rules to make it easier to build luxury commercial projects,” Local 11 co-president Kurt Petersen said Friday.
The proposed hotel would have ranged from four stories to a partial ninth-story penthouse, taller than current zoning rules allow, and also included a members-only club, restaurants, retail and a spa. It would have reshaped the northern commercial edge of Rodeo Drive along Little Santa Monica Boulevard and replaced several buildings on Rodeo and North Beverly drives, including the Richard Meier-designed site formerly occupied by the Paley Center for Media.
The city’s development agreement with LVMH dictated that the company contribute $26 million to the city’s general fund, in addition to $2 million for art and cultural programs. The city would also have received an additional 5% surcharge over its regular 14% transient occupancy tax.
According to the city’s analysis, the hotel was expected to funnel about $725 million into city coffers over the next 30 years, with the bulk of that coming from the combined 19% bed tax.
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Voters were asked two questions: whether they approved of a zoning amendment, which would allow the developer to build a substantially larger hotel than current zoning rules would otherwise permit, and whether they approved of the city’s development agreement with LVMH. Both the zoning amendment and the development agreement had already been approved by the City Council.
The results were nearly identical for both questions, with the “no” campaign leading by about 120 votes on both queries as of Friday afternoon.
Turnout for the off-cycle special election was nearly 32%.
Looking at early ballot returns, consulting firm Political Data Intelligence found that older voters overperformed, with people over 65 representing nearly half of early votes cast despite making up less than a third of the Beverly Hills electorate. The racial demographics of special election voters closely mirrored that of the broader electorate, with non-white voters accounting for just 10% of registered voters in Beverly Hills and 9% of the early ballots returned, according to PDI.
PDI Vice President Paul Mitchell said he thought the Election Day demographic data would be similar to what was seen with the early returns.
Anish Melwani, chairman and chief executive of LVMH’s North American subsidiary, previously told The Times that the company would not try and bring the project back before the council if voters reversed the project’s approvals, saying they had already been through a “a very well run and rigorous process with the City Planning Commission and the City Council.”