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    Montage Opponents Win Point With Judge, Then Suffer Knock Out

    By: Courier Staff Writer

          Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Yaffe on Friday denied a petition against The City and developers to block the Montage Hotel and Gardens project approved by Beverly Hills voters on March 8. The judge rejected The City’s argument that the election rendered moot the legal proceeding, but upheld The City’s actions under the California Environmental Quality Act finding “substantial evidence” to support The City in the administrative record.
          Opponents, represented by attorney Robert P. Silverstein of Hill, Farrer & Burrill, attacked the BH City Council’s findings about traffic, noise, congestion, air pollution and seismic safety. On traffic issues, the judge found The City had adequately considered existing and proposed projects in the area. Yaffe also rejected opponents’ contention The City used an improper comparison with the Regent Reverly Wilshire to deternmine traffic impact.
          On a broader front, the judge found that the Montage project itself is “consistent” with The City’s general plan despite exceeding certain height limitations. Applying legal precedent, Yaffe wrote in his opinion that a “development is ‘consistent’ with a General Plan if it is compatible with the objectives, policies, general land uses, and programs specified in the General Plan”.
          Some variation from the details of a General Plan is appropriate where it is demonstrated the deviation would serve the plan’s written goals and policies “just as well or better.” He found the city council “did not abuse its discretion” in concluding the project is consistent with The City’s General Plan.
          Yaffe then disposed of opponents’ other arguments, holding that their arguments were either without merit or were refuted by the facts in the record.
          In his ruling, the judge declined to weigh the merits of the arguments put forward by opponents. Instead, he reviewed the 32-volumes of records in the case to determine whether or not the city council considered the evidence in making its decision. In ruling that the city council had in fact taken the issues raised by opponents into consideration, he found for The City on the substance of its actions despite ruling against The City on the procedural point. Opponents believe that the procedural victory leaves open the opportunity to appeal Yaffe’s ruling.
          Finally, the court held The City had complied with California’s open meeting law, the Brown Act, and had given legally sufficient notice of its actions.
          Silverstein told The Courier, “The Alliance is gratified that Judge Yaffe ruled for us on a critical legal issue. Despite the city council and Montage’s arguments, the judge ruled that the Measure A election did not ‘moot’ or under irrelevant the Alliance’s legal challenges.”
          Beverly Hills Mayor Linda Briskman welcomed the decision, “The people have spoken in support of this project and now the courts have upheld the process as proper and appropriate. I hope that this finally puts to rest any lingering questions about the legitimacy of this project.”
          Opponents have made no decision regarding an appeal. They have 60 days from the date the judgment is formally entered into court records in which to appeal.

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