Planning Commission to Sixty Hotel: Party Like It’s 1999!

The Beverly Hills Planning Commission on June 23rd allowed Sixty Hotel to continue with rooftop events as late as 2 a.m. despite hundreds of multifamily households living within earshot of the hotel at 9360 Wilshire. That likely means continued aggravation for residents just across the alley and beyond. It also will mean audible chatter from up to 165 rooftop patrons who will party like it’s 1999 while neighbors try to get a good night’s rest!

Update City council has agreed to schedule a special council meeting on short notice, to be held on or before July 23rd, in order to discuss the conditions imposed on Sixty Hotel by the Planning Commission. Residents who contacted council persuaded at least two councilmembers that it is important to get the rooftop conditions right: Mayor Bob Wunderlich suggested the council hold the meeting and John Mirisch was a strong second on it. This is a win for the community. City council is generally reluctant to question Planning Commission decisions and doesn’t really like to schedule a special meeting. Stay tuned!

Sixty Hotel is located at the southwest corner of Wilshire and Crescent in what is called a ‘commercial-residential transition area.’ By definition a transitional area is commercial zone that lies within 170 feet of a residential zone. The transition zone is intended to limit commercial-use impacts on residents and, to that end, restricts certain commercial uses. For example rooftop activities at a hotel in the transition zone must end by 10 p.m. unless an Extended Hours Permit is obtained.

Sixty Hotel Crescent streetscape
Residents in the south of Wilshire area are in easy earshot of the Sixty Hotel rooftop. Restrictions on commercial activities in the transition area is supposed to cushion these neighbors from hotel impacts.

The importance of a transition zone is suggested by the proximity of nearby apartments. Sixty Hotel is only 15 feet from the apartment building across the alley. It is a stone’s throw from a dozen other buildings. In fact hundreds of multifamily households live within 500 feet of the hotel and all are within earshot of noise emanating from the rooftop.

Sixty Hotel alley
Only an alley separates Sixty Hotel from adjacent residents.

The impact of rooftop noise is reflected in the record of resident complaints. The question for the Planning Commission is, How to allow Sixty Hotel to continue rooftop activities after 10 p.m. with residents so near? The question comes before the Planning Commission because it is the reviewing authority for two relevant operating permits: an Extended Hours Permit which allows outdoor dining and recreation past 10 p.m; and a Conditional Use Permit which permits activities where such activities are not generally permitted.

In granting the permits the commission acts as an oversight body. It can impose conditions on hotel operations in order to limit noise, traffic and other impacts, for example, such as is necessary to ensure that operation of the hotel is conducted in a manner “sensitive to the quality of life and the character of adjacent residential zones.” Or it can deny a permit outright.

It helps to understand the context behind the hotel’s request to renew its permits. Both the Extended Hours Permit and the Conditional Use Permit expired ten months ago. These Extended Hours Permit allows the rooftop to operate until midnight on weeknights and until 2 a.m. on weekends and also an additional 12 weeknights (of the hotel’s choosing) when activity can continue until 2 a.m. The net effect is that rooftop gatherings with amplified music can go past midnight a total of nine days each month.

The hotel has requested that the permits be renewed for another three years with the same conditions. The Planning Commission’s job is to review hotel performance under the existing Conditional Use and Extended Hours permits and to consider whether: 1) to deny one or both permits; 2) grant one or both permits but amend conditions to protect the community; or 3) grant permits and give the hotel time to demonstrate compliance with existing conditions.

Planning Commission Hearing #1 on May 27, 2021

hearing notice was mailed to residents within 1000 feet of the hotel and a staff report was posted online. Nearby residents, some involved in earlier Sixty Hotel hearings, communicated their concerns to the Planning Commission in writing; two phoned-in observed violations that included:

  • Hotel guests parking on the street in the residential neighborhood
  • Nighttime hotel guests congregating near residences
  • Shared-ride pick-ups and drop-offs in the residential neighborhood and particularly the alley situated between residences and the hotel; and inevitably,
  • Noise from the rooftop that stretched late into the night.

Here is a sample of the public correspondence provided to commissioners prior to the hearing from three residents:

I live across the street on Crescent and I definitely oppose the hour extension. already the way they operate creates unnecessary noise especially during the weekend until midnight and more. I work long hours and when I come home I deserve to sleep without have to stay awake to listen to people shouting, laughing out loud, music at high volume. I do not have the luxury to party until the AM because I need to wake up to go to work and same goes for my husband….

I’m absolutely opposed to the rooftop extending their hours until 2:00 am on Friday though Saturday and 1:00 am from Sunday through Thursday, or having events that could last until 2:00 am on random days of the week….When the hotel has had loud music on the rooftop in the past, it’s so loud that I can’t even hear my own television. I’ve had to call them and ask them to turn the music down. It can just get louder and louder….Unless the hotel is willing to pay my rent I don’t think it’s fair to the residents in the area.

I oppose the extended hours permits for rooftop operations. Already as is, the noise created from the rooftop is impeding on important qualities of life – a good nights sleep….This hotel is too close to residences on Crescent Drive and because it’s rooftop operation, noise travels even further causing residences in this vicinity lack of peace and quiet we deserve during these hours as BH City residents.

Another resident provided the commission with a “music incident log” that includes dates and times when rooftop music was audible from the residential area. “The included music incident report lists well over 100 instances in which Hotel rooftop music was audible from my residence, which is approximately 85 yards from the Hotel rooftop,” the resident told the commissioners. “This is prima facie evidence that the Hotel has been in violation of its CUP numerous times.”

Sixty hotel Log
Resident John Hoffhines compiled a detailed log of violations!

The Planning Commission was also provided a letter from the city prosecutor letter sent to the hotel in 2019. “You are subject to immediate prosecution by this office in the Los Angeles Superior Court for misdemeanor offenses of the BHMC if you violate a condition in the future,” the prosecutor wrote. (The case was closed “without further action.”)

Sixty Hotel Frames the Issue

Sixty Hotel representatives presented their case to commissioners. District manager Michael Bridges said he had replaced hotel managers and the rooftop bar staff. And the hotel hired nighttime security to mitigate disturbances to neighbors and he even reached out to residents with his personal phone number. The hotel’s presentation was exactly what planning commissioners wanted to hear.

Bridges emphasized that he was working constructively with the community to address any problem and he didn’t want to appear to overreach in seeking permit renewals. “We’re not asking for anything different other than just to remain with the same conditions that we currently have and the extended hours that we currently have.”

At the hearing only two members of the public phoned-in a comment. One voiced opposition and recounted the experience of living adjacent to the hotel at 120 South Crescent — again voicing concern about impacts in the past. The second caller voiced support for renewing the permits. The hearing then proceeded to commissioner questions and deliberations.

Commissioner Discussion

Commissioners started with questions. Commissioner Demeter asked about music. Bridges answered: “Nothing is live — no DJs or instruments. It’s only playlists — not a pool party, not a nuisance.” Commissioner Licht was on the Planning Commission when the hotel’s permits were last renewed. “We gave you the [permit] and less than a month later came the first complaint.” Chair Ostroff also asked about complaints from the neighbors. “Getting six letters of the type that we got is a huge number…people basically wrote in and said that their lives are being adversely affected and we’ve got to get to the bottom of it.”

However Commissioner Hudnut noted that only four complaints from the neighbor’s detailed log concerned nighttime activities that were regulated by the Extended Hours Permit that was being discussed. “Noise before ten at night is something that those of us who live near hotels learn to live with.” Vice-Chair Gordon said, “I do think we have to be sensitive to both the needs of the businesses going forward, trying to claw their way out of Covid.”

Chair Ostroff staked out some ground on behalf of the residents:

We don’t make subjective judgments; we have rules that we have to follow. And the rules are that we can only do that if we can make certain findings. And one of those findings is that business does not have significant adverse impact on the neighborhood. And on this record it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for me to make that finding.

He then moved on to discussing conditions that could be imposed, such as eliminating amplified music or limiting the number of visitors allowed on the rooftop. Or the city could attenuate the hours of operation. “The only way you can Operate after 10 p.m. on the roof is if we see fit to give you an extended hours permit,” he noted.

Sixty Hotel owner Pomerantz replied:

What would dramatically hurt our ability to do business is a curb on hours or capacity. We need this in order to be successful. But we want not to put a burden on the community as a price for that success, and we’re willing to take the financial and logistical obligations on to make it work appropriately for everybody.

Pomerantz suggested hiring a professional sound monitor “to take readings of decibel levels — including at some of the complaining addresses — in order to measure acceptable legal and noise levels,” for example. The hotel concessions allowed commissioners Hudnut and Licht to give Sixty Hotel some latitude. Any hotel will impact neighbors, they said; both live within earshot of a hotel and nighttime noise “comes with the territory.”

Chair Ostroff disagreed. “I don’t think [noise] comes with the territory just by living near a hotel. Frankly, I don’t live near a hotel but whether I did, or not, I don’t think that’s what people signed-up for — to have their children not sleep or to turn their televisions up loud.”

Additional Conditions?

Vice-Chair Gordon noted that the L’Ermitage had a a similar history of resident complaints when it last came before the commission. She suggested some conditions to address the noise complaints:

  • Investigate whether additional sound ‘attenuation’ is feasible for the rooftop;
  • Monitor sound levels at the rooftop to ensure the rooftop operations remain below a predetermined decibel level;
  • Add signage to both the rooftop and to the alley to inform guests that the hotel is in a residential neighborhood “and to be mindful of the noise.”

Community Development Department Director Ryan Gohlich suggested there was no need for additional analysis, however. “The hotel in the past has engaged acoustical engineers, and they’ve done an assessment of the rooftop, and basically my recollection is that it’s about as good as it’s going to get — it’s really a matter of volume control and crowd control.”

Gohlich also was not in favor of more rigorous operating conditions. So he pivoted the discussion from the hotel’s past record to the hotel’s promise of future compliance with conditions. “Clearly the conditions were violated in the past, but you’ve heard hotel management say that they have made changes and have come into compliance with the conditions.” Gohlich continued:

And so really I think the question is, Are the assurances we’ve gotten from the hotel management sufficient? Are there other things that need to be put in place? If the assurances are sufficient, then we can look at this again and ensure that they’re living up to what they stated.

Clearly Gohlich’s goal was to get Sixty Hotel’s permits renewed. But he was nuanced in how he framed it. Let’s focus on the future, he was saying. Commissioner Hudnut said that more restrictive conditions offered neighbors “veto power in the hands of people” when Sixty Hotel eventually comes back to the Planning Commission for renewal. He called it “unwise.”

Commission: No Additional Conditions Needed

After much discussion commissioners left unchanged the key aspect of the operating conditions: the rooftop could continue to allow up to 165 guests until midnight on weeknights and 2 a.m. on weekends; plus allow an additional twelve weeknights where the rooftop could operate until 2 a.m. (By way of compromise commissioners did agree to add the three conditions that had been suggested by Vice-Chair Gordon but these do not affect capacity or hours.)

Why did the tenants not gain traction with their documented complaints? For one thing they were faced with a moving target.

Neighbors aired complaints that date to 2019; the hotel didn’t do much business during the pandemic. At the same time, the hotel trumpeted to the commission that a shake-up in the management ranks will make the hotel a better neighbor. That left commissioners to wonder, Are the problems in the past? The commissioners chose not to impose stricter conditions.

The next step was to draft a resolution formalizing the renewal and conditions and bring it back to the commission for approval. The second hearing is technically just a continuance of the May hearing. No additional notice to the community was required.

Planning Commission Hearing #2 on June 23, 2021

At the June meeting the Planing Commission was presented with a staff report and a draft resolution that would renew the permits under existing operating restrictions. It also included those three additional conditions (p. 6):

  1. Within six months of the adoption date of this resolution, the applicant shall hire an acoustical engineer to analyze the rooftop area and provide a study;
  2. Within the first three months from the adoption date of this resolution, nighttime rooftop activities shall be periodically monitored by City staff for compliance with conditions of approval and to ensure the noise levels from the nighttime rooftop activities are acceptable; and,
  3. Additional signage on the rooftop and at the alley shall be installed to inform hotel guests of the hotel’s location adjacent to a residential neighborhood.

Only two members of the public called-in to comment. A hotel neighbor called to propose limiting rooftop operating hours to 10 p.m. during the week and until midnight. “Going any later than that just starts to get unreasonable and for that reason I cannot at this time offer my support for this permit.” Well said!

I myself called-in to call the new conditions “phantom mitigations” because they would not actually address the substance of the neighbor complaints. Also I made three observations to the commission:

There are about 250–300 renting households within 500 feet of the hotel and they may be directly affected by rooftop noise;

If the commission allows rooftop activities until 2 a.m. on as many as twelve additional weeknights, then neighbors would have to tolerate very late night rooftop activities as many as nine nights every month; and,

More important the commission had imposed more restrictive conditions on the similarly-situated L’Ermitage hotel so why not on Sixty Hotel?

L’Ermitage is also located in a transition zone adjacent to a residential area. (Fun fact: it was built originally as apartments.) In that case the Planning Commission limited rooftop amplified music to 10 p.m. and required rooftop visitors to be gone by 11 pm. The conditions also require a sound monitor when more than 25 people are on the rooftop “to ensure that event noise remains at an allowable level.”

The Planning Commission took little heed of public comment, however, and instead focused this hearing on how long Sixty Hotel could continue to operate before coming back up for review by the commission. The key question: If the conditions of operation are unchanged, how long is too long for the hotel to continue with rooftop activities that may negatively impact the neighbors?

Sixty Hotel 500 feet radius map
Within 500 feet of Sixty Hotel are hundreds of renting households that like their nighttime quiet.

Commissioners Establish a 15-Month Review Period

Most commissioners leaned toward a shorter review period. That would allow the commissioners to hold the hotel to account for its promise to be a better neighbor. Due to a quirk in timing, if permits are valid for two years the hotel would actually come back for review in as soon as ten months. That was agreeable to some commissioners but too soon for others who wanted a substantially longer period before commission review of hotel operations.

For his part, the Chair was concerned that the city not let the permits expire again so he wanted a commitment that the hotel would come back for renewals with plenty of advance time for the commission to hear the request. The commissioners settled on a compromise: Sixty Hotel gets the 10 months that were the shorter period plus an additional six months before it must come back for permit renewal however it must apply for renewal no fewer than 90 days in advance.

Hearing #2 Take-Away

Sixty Hotel can operate under substantially the same conditions of operation (the rooftop remains open as late as 2 a.m. on weekends) until sometime in the fall of 2022 at which time the hotel must come back to renew the permits that expire on October 27, 2022. The hotel will take some additional measures to attenuate sound coming from rooftop activities (which may or may not be effective) but until next fall it is business as usual. A win for the hotel.

In the end the issue really came down to the question offered up by Community Development Department Director Ryan Gohlich: “Are the assurances we’ve gotten from the hotel management sufficient?” The Planning Commission thinks so. Time will tell!

Community Options: Appeal or Get City Council to Call It Up

At this point the community has two options if they want to revisit the Planning Commission’s decision: appeal it to City Council or persuade a councilmember to ‘call it up’ for council review. Either way it is an uphill climb because city council is usually disinclined to second-guess the quasi-judicial decisions of the Planning Commission. Let’s look at the options.

Right of Appeal

Though the notice doesn’t say it, any decision of the Planning Commission may be appealed. The ‘right of appeal’ pursuant to Article 1 of Chapter 4 of Title 1 of the Municipal Code allows anyone to compel City Council to take a fresh look at the decision. The appeal sets forth a statement of the facts, explains the nature of the controversy, provides a basis for the appeal and describes the relief requested.

In this instance, the appellant could argue that the Planning Commission wrongly allowed Sixty Hotel to continue operating under substantially similar conditions due to the hotel’s demontrates inability to comply with past operating conditions as imposed by the Planning Commission. The city prosecutor’s letter, for example, could be presented as prima facie evidence of violations.

However an appeal must be filed in timely fashion — within fourteen days of the Planning Commission decision (or July 7th in this case) — and an appeal costs money. The appellant must pay $5,716 with a deposit of $1,000 payable immediately and the balance due within 35 days.

Once an appeal is filed the city council then decides whether to refer the matter back to the commission or to grant a de novo hearing. De novo means a reexamination of the facts independent of the Planning Commission’s deliberations. The council could then decide whether to renew one or both permits and revise operating conditions as necessary.

Appeals are not uncommon when it comes to high-stakes development approvals but not often seen with regard to operating permits.

Council Call-Up

The other option open to the community is a council-ordered review of a decisions pursuant to Article 2 of Chapter 4 of Title 1 of the Municipal Code. This is initiated by a councilmember and entails no cost to the community because there is no appeal filed. If a councilmember can be persuaded to call-up a decision it also relieves the community of building a case for the appeal.

When a councilmember tables a motion to review a decision there is enjoined a discussion on the dais about whether to proceed to a de novo hearing or instead to recognize the administrative decision as final. Most call-up efforts fail at this stage.

Where appeals tend to turn on a legal fine-point, a council-ordered review is generally more about city council arriving at consensus on some issue.

For example a councilmember could be concerned about the impact of hotels in transition areas on residents. The councilmember could call-up the Planning Commission’s decision on Sixty Hotel to air his concerns about hotels that do not comply with conditions of operation. The discussion could provide some clarity about how the council thinks about regulating hotel impacts and it could even result in an overturned commission decision. The odds are long however.

For now the Planning Commission’s decision to renew the Sixty Hotel permits stands notwithstanding the opposition expressed by neighbors. Do you have concerns about how the Planning Commission reached its decision on Sixty Hotel permits? Please get in touch with Renters Alliance!