The Battle of Beverly Hills

Residents fight against massive project at Beverly Hilton site

Sounding a lot like disgruntled community activists from San Pedro or Sunland-Tujunga, Beverly Hills residents have gone to war against their city government and challenged plans for Beny Alagem's massive project at the Beverly Hilton site at one of the region's busiest intersections.

Measure H on the Nov. 4 in Beverly Hills asks voters to decide whether to go along with the City Council's 3-2 vote approving three building hotel-condominium project next to the Hilton -- one towering 18 stories which would make it the city's tallest building by seven stories.

Residents mounted a petition drive to get the measure on the ballot and are urging a "No" vote to overturn the decision by the council which had rejected the city Planning Commission's unanimous opposition to granting entitlements to Alagem, who parlayed his wealth from founding the knockoff computer business Packard Bell 20 years ago into a real estate fortune.

For many like Terre Thomas, daughter of the late entertainer Danny Thomas and sister of actress Marlo Thomas, community activism had meant her involvement in St. Jude Children's Research Hospital which had been her father's favorite charity.

"We know this isn't the '50s anymore," she says. "But some things have got to stay the same. Many people are very upset at Beverly Hills becoming a high-rise city and that this Will unleash a whole lot of other high-rise projects. We don't want to see Beverly Hills ruined."

"It's too big" is the theme of the campaign by opponents. They say property where the Hilton and the closed Robinson's-May department store would be doubled in square footage with the 18-story condominium, plus a 12-story Waldorf Astoria and an 8-story condo tower.

They argue the already heavily-congested Wilshire-Santa Monica intersection will become impassable and that parking is adequate so it would spill into their neighborhoods.

What they see as the heavy-handed tactics used by Alagem and his lobbyists and consultants hasn't helped matters, creating a Los Angeles-style political atmosphere in one of the nation's wealthiest communities used to more genteel ways of doing business.

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