One Beverly Hills Goes to City Council [updated]

Exactly a month after the city council of Beverly Hills adopted the complete streets plan, our leaders are now facing the first next test: will bicyclists find safe access to and through the proposed One Beverly Hills project? The project comprises 600 hotel rooms and 340 housing units (not a single one of them affordable!) in three towers plus a conference center and retail — 2 million square feet in total. This Thursday May 20th city council reviews the project. Will city council require bicycle lanes as a condition of approval?

Update:With the support of Beverly Hills Mayor Bob Wunderlich we have to important wins. First, the existing class II bicycle lane on the westbound segment of North Santa Monica Boulevard adjacent to One Beverly Hills is maintained and is likely to be upgraded to a protected lane. The project applicant had originally proposed to eliminate the lane entirely for a third traffic lane. We beat-back that retrograde proposal. And second, the city will find a a way to incorporate a class II bicycle lane on the reconfigured Merv Griffin Way. Recall that the project applicant fought tooth-and-nail to keep bike lanes off that important connector. Final details on the latter are yet to be finalized. Thank you to those who called and emailed your comments. Stay tuned!

One Beverly Hills it is the most significant development proposed in Beverly Hills for decades. The $1.2B project spans two large parcels straddling Merv Griffin Way (which connects Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards). Each parcel has been proposed for mixed residential and hospitality uses and each project has won approvals from the city. However neither project was constructed.

One Beverly Hills: Project Overview

One Beverly Hills as proposed comprises a 17-acre site accessed by two major corridors, North Santa Monica Boulevard and Wilshire Boulevard. The site represents the city’s primary western gateway. To the west is the Los Angeles Country club and condo canyon beyond. To the southwest is Century City and Santa Monica. On the northeast side lay the ‘flats’ of Beverly Hills and West Hollywood and Los Angeles beyond.

One Beverly Hills site planBicyclists may be familiar with the One Beverly Hills site because Merv Griffin Way bisects the 17-acre parcel.

One Beverly Hills Merv Griffin conceptual configuration option 3The road is privately owned but used by the public to access the Hilton today and also as a connection between Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards. The prosaic nature of the connector belies the fact that it is the spine of the proposed One Beverly Hills project. It will be the major point of access for the hotel, conference center, gardens and commercial spaces.

One of the more notable aspects of the proposed project that it would place a cap over Merv Griffin Way in order to build gardens above the underpass. The connector would remain open for public use use.

The cap has emerged as a flash point for multimodal mobility advocates. The cap would put Merv Griffin Way into relative darkness, like a tunnel, as the applicant rendering shows.

Yet the applicants offered no means to make Merv Griffin Way accessible to those who ride a bicycle to, or through, the project. “They can walk the bicycles,” a project representative told our planning commissioners. Merv Griffin Way is several hundreds yard long.

What’s Wrong With This Project?

The advice that bicyclists should walk their bicycles while accessing One Beverly Hills via a public-use roadway flies in the face of both the law and the applicants’ own admission that the proposed Merv Griffin Way tunnel would not be safe for riders owing to “contrast.”

Contrast refers to the difference between the brightness of broad daylight and the relatively low illumination of the tunnel. A driver turning off of Wilshire Boulevard, say, may not adjust to the relative darkness in time to avoid striking a bicyclist who may share one of Merv Griffin Way’s two travel lanes.

Indeed from a bicyclist’s perspective, the potential hazard of a Merv Griffin Way tunnel is suggested by the One Beverly Hills specific plan illustration. It doesn’t look much different from that dreaded Sepulveda tunnel near LAX.One Beverly Hills Merv Griffin and Sepulveda tunnel compared

Where’s the Bicycle Lane?

The One Beverly Hills applicants resisted our calls to incorporate a dedicated Class II bicycle lane on the reconstructed Merv Griffin Way. It shouldn’t even have been the advocate’s call really; the project never should have come this far without a dedicated bicycle lane — even better a protected lane — for in the tunnel.

The failure is on city planning staff who tend to help applicants muscle big projects through to approval rather than think too hard about multimodal. So it was up to multimodal advocates to press the case.

We had our opportunity to press applicants at the three planning commission meetings. The commission by law signs off on some aspects of the project. Specifically it must determine whether the project, as proposed, is consistent with the general plan.

‘Consistent’ is a fuzzy standard, though, and planning staff has argued that consistency is not a specific threshold but rather is a general comportment with plan goals. We did not buy that line when it comes to One Beverly Hills. We believe the project is simply not consistent with the General Plan’s Circulation element.

Specifically we argued that the project is not consistent with specific goals in the city’s Circulation Element of the General Plan. Specifically:

  • Circulation goal #1 (Circulation System) “Provide a safe and efficient roadway circulation system within the City.” Goal 1.4: “Promote transit ridership, biking, and walking, thereby reducing auto travel, air pollution, and energy consumption.”
  • Circulation goal #2 (Transit) “Development of a safe, comprehensive, and integrated transit system that serves as an essential component of a multi-modal mobility system within the City.” Goal 2.10 says, “Create…an interconnected transportation system that allows a shift in travel from private passenger vehicles to alternative modes.”
  • Circulation goal #6 (Transportation Demand Management) “A reduction in single-occupant motor vehicle travel in the City.” Goal 6.7 says of multimodal Design, “Require proposed development projects to implement site designs and on-site amenities that support alternative modes of transportation….”
  • Circulation goal #8 (Bikeways) “An integrated, complete, and safe bicycle system to encourage bicycling within the City.” Goal 8.8 says, “Require new development projects on existing and potential bicycle routes to facilitate bicycle and pedestrian access to and through the project, through designated pathways.”

Then turning to the General Plan Implementation program, we can highlight implementation objectives that include “…offer more opportunities for multi-modal options…” and “require developments to mitigate traffic and provide multi-modal amenities….” One Beverly Hills, as proposed, did not meet any of these Circulation Element Goals.

The planning commission conducted three hearings to review the environmental documents and we kept up the pressure. With an assist from Streets for All we were able to generate community-side participation to underscore the fact that the project was not meeting the city’s broad goal of enhancing multimodal accessibility.

Complete streets map future Whittier bike lane
The adopted complete streets plan indicates a future dedicated Whitter bike lane, which would funnel crosstown bike travelers on Elevado through the Wilshire-Whitter intersection and into the future One Beverly Hills.

Finally, there is yet another reason to incorporate a Class II bicycle lane on Merv Griffin Way. The city’s adopted Complete Streets Plan identifies Whittier Drive (just north of the project site) for Class II bicycle lanes in the future. Why not prepare for that eventuality by including bike lanes south to Santa Monica Boulevard?

We took those arguments to the planning commission over three meetings and we actually got an assist from the applicant representatives because each time they refused to comment on our comments.

It was up to the Planning commissioners to take the bait and express concern about bicyclist safety on Merv Griffin Way and they did. But coming out of the third planning commission meeting the applicant was still noncommittal about bike lanes on the connector.

Then just recently there was a breakthrough. As described in the May 20th staff report:

Subsequent to the April 22, 2021 Planning Commission hearing, the Applicant has expressed a willingness to revise the design of Merv Griffin Way to include dedicated bicycle lanes and has submitted 3 potential options to incorporate bicycle lanes into the roadway (Attachment 17) for the City Council’s consideration and discussion.

Most likely that concession resulted from back-channel discussions between councilmembers and the planning division. After all, our city council is the next — and final — stop on this project’s trip through the city pipeline. City council can make or break it.

Whoa — Don’t Take Away My Buffered Bike Lane!

Lack of bicycle access on tomorrow’s Merv Griffin Way was not the only glaring problem with the One Beverly Hills project. As proposed, the Santa Monica Boulevard buffered bicycle lane that exist adjacent to the Waldorf would be removed in order to accommodate a third westbound vehicular travel lane.

Advocates will remember that the Santa Monica Boulevard lane was a hard-won victory. In fact this segment (near the Waldorf) is the only segment that has a buffer. Local advocates including Kory Klem, Michael Schneider of Streets for All and others are pressing for a protected lane stretching from Doheny to Century City. So why remove a segment of bike lane we’ve already got?

One Beverly Hills applicants have subsequently committed to keeping the existing Class II bike lane on Santa Monica — but not necessarily the buffer. From the final Supplemental Environmental Impact Report section concerning impacts to transportation and traffic:

In recent years, North Santa Monica Boulevard was reconstructed and Class II bicycle lanes that are enhanced through green paint for visibility were striped from the western City limit to the eastern City limit at Doheny Drive. In addition, North Santa Monica Boulevard was widened by relocating the edge of curb along the frontage of the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills hotel which maintained two southbound travel lanes and provided additional right-of-way for a buffered on-street bicycle lane. With the curb relocation on North Santa Monica Boulevard along the remaining frontage of the project site proposed by the Overlay Specific Plan, the bicycle lanes would be maintained through either 1) the implementation of a buffered bicycle lane along the frontage of the Overlay Specific Plan site while maintaining two travel lanes in each direction on North Santa Monica Boulevard, consistent with the current configuration along the frontage of the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills hotel, or 2) the provision of three travel lanes and a five-foot wide bike lane, consistent with the roadway configuration proposed by the applicant. Given that bicycle lanes on North Santa Monica Boulevard would be maintained under either scenario with the additional right-of-way provided by the Overlay Specific Plan, no disruptions would occur to existing bicycle facilities. — SEIR 4.9–23

We secured the concession through an assist from our Public Works department. A memo on the project recommended keeping the existing bike lane complete with buffer.

One Beverly Hills Recomended SM Blvd lane configuration via Public WorksThat provided the planning commissioners with a talking point — and it ultimately proved persuasive with the One Beverly Hills applicants too.

This is an opportune time to acknowledge that Public Works took over transportation planning responsibilities from the Community Development department at the beginning of this year. After years of opposition from then-Deputy Director for Transportation, Aaron Kunz (who has since left city employment), we now have some clear thinking in city hall about multimodal mobility!

The objective now is to keep that Santa Monica Boulevard bicycle lane buffered! That is our message to city council when it reviews the One Beverly Hills specific plan.

Whither Bike Parking?

Yet another problem with the One Beverly Hills project from a multimodal mobility perspective is bicycle parking: it is woefully insufficient. Three areas are indicated on the project plans for bike parking: one is “long-term,” which appears to be a reference to bike parking for employees; the other two are labeled “short-term” bicycle parking areas. These appear to provide capacity for about a dozen bicycles.

One Beverly Hills Bike parking facilities planLet’s put that in perspective. This project proposes to add 600 hotel rooms, a conference center, retail and public gardens to an existing double-hotel complex. The project will provide nearly 2,200 vehicular spaces. Is twelve bike racks sufficient? Not by any measure.

One measure is the city’s existing bike-parking requirement which is part of the city’s transportation demand management (TDM) trip reduction policy. It mandates that bike parking should be provided in the ratio of 4 bicycles for the first 50,000 square feet of nonresidential development and then another 1 bicycle capacity for each additional 50,000 square feet of nonresidential development (B.H.M.C. 10–7–301(A)(3)(D)).

TDM dates to 1993. It is a lax standard: one bicycle for each 50,000 square feet? On its face is insufficient for accomplishing the city’s goal of shifting travel from autos to bicycles.

But One Beverly Hills falls far short of even that lax requirement. One Beverly Hills proposes 880,000 square feet of commercial development. Even under the old TDM requirement the applicant would be required to park at least 20 bicycles. But as proposed the capacity appears to be a dozen bicycles.

The project documents go into great detail about car parking. But One Beverly Hills documents (and the city staff report) is silent on bike parking specifics.

The city staff report does take pains to explain how the city justifies a 45% reduction in the costly parking spaces (which the zoning code would otherwise require). The rationale is changing mobility patterns like micro-mobility and bicycles. But the city doesn’t say how many people arriving by alternative modes should be accommodated.

Nor has the city directed One Beverly Hills to consider bike parking in any detail. The Supplemental Environmental Impact Report makes numerous generic references to bicycle parking “throughout the site,” but there is no specific on bicycle parking capacity.

Next Step

On Thursday May 20th at 7 pm Beverly Hills city council will review the environmental impact report and the project’s specific plan overlay. The overlay, if approved, would grant all the approvals this applicant needs for three towers rising as high as 32 stories. Now there is no strict city multimodal mobility requirement, though. That’s why we are looking to city council to ensure that One Beverly Hills incorporates multimodal mobility facilities as a condition of approval.

Will city council require the applicant to provide the dedicated Merv Griffin Way lanes at 5-feet and retain the Santa Monica buffered bike lane? Inquiring minds want to know!

Stream the meeting live at 7pm. If you can’t watch live catch it on demand once the link is posted to the council archives page. Comment by dialing in at the start of the meeting to (310) 288–2288. Choose option #1, give your name, and tell the receptionist, “I want to comment on One Beverly Hills.” Callers will be taken in order as the meeting plays over the phone.