Sixty Hotel Permits Up for Council Review on Tuesday

On September 14th City Council will formally review a Planning Commission decision to allow Sixty Hotel to continue to keep its rooftop open until 2 AM on weekends and until midnight on weekdays. Despite neighbor complaints the Planning Commission declined to impose any additional restriction on hours or occupancy. So neighbors took their complaint to city hall in July and council agreed it warrants further discussion. Let’s look at the issues going into Tuesday’s evening meeting.

Overview

Sixty Hotel at 9360 Wilshire Boulevard has opened its rooftop to guests and members of the public for nearly twenty years. In that time it has expanded rooftop amenities to include a pool, bar, cabanas, dining and even a rooftop gym. It has also extended rooftop operating hours into the wee hours. For the past few years the rooftop has been open to as many as 165 visitors until 2 AM on weekends.

The hotel is immediately adjacent to a multifamily area and neighboring bedrooms are just across a narrow alley. Because Sixty Hotel is within 170 feet of an area zoned for residential use, it is subject to additional restrictions under a section of the Municipal Code pertaining to ‘Commercial Residential Transition Area’ regulations. LINK

The Commercial Residential Transition Area imposes restrictions on certain uses and hours of operation. For example the hotel must hold a Conditional Use Permit (CUP) to operate on the rooftop. This is a discretionary permit because that use is not allowed ‘by right’ in a Commercial Residential Transition Area. So the city can impose conditions on operations in order to protect public safety and to preserve the residential quality-of-life.

One such condition relates to occupancy: the maximum occupancy of all rooftop areas excluding hotel staff is limited to 165 people which can include hotel guests, invited guests or other “authorized” visitors from the public. Another condition of approval limits the area allowed for rooftop dining and bar activities (1,500 square feet) and requires a sound-attenuating glass wind screen around the perimeter of the rooftop.

Hours of operation are generally limited to 10 PM in the Commercial Residential Transition Area. The hotel needs an Extended Hours Permit (EHP) to operate later and the city can impose certain conditions here too. For example there is no live entertainment or live music allowed on the rooftop; only prerecorded music “which does not interfere with normal speech communication” is allowed.

The Planning Commission is the designated “reviewing authority” for those permits and can impose conditions at its discretion. The hotel has operated for nearly twenty years under varying conditions that were alternately tightened as rooftop noise and other impacts affected neighbors and then relaxed.

Key Issue: Resident Impact

Neighbors this summer protested to the Planning Commission that hotel operations had negatively affected them (pre-COVID) and argued against renewing the rooftop operating permits. However the city values hospitality uses, and tends to be accommodating to hotel needs, and so resident pleas to restrict hours of operation and maximum occupancy feel short with planning commissioners who agree unanimously to renew the permits.

The Planning Commission did impose three new conditions: new signage about noise, further study of rooftop noise-attenuation measures and short-term city monitoring for violations. But these conditions did not restrict operations and did not appease residents who had raised concerns. Read more in our post: Planning Commission to Sixty Hotel: Party Like It’s 1999!

Residents took their concern to City Council in June and council was split 3–2 on formally reviewing the Planning Commission decision. But it only takes three votes to schedule review so when the vote came all five councilmembers voted unanimously. Read our recap of that meeting: City Council Agrees to Discuss Sixty Hotel Permit Renewals.

The formal review of the Planning Commission decision is scheduled for Tuesday, September 14th in evening session starting at 7 PM. (See the notice mailed to neighbors.) It is item F1 on the agenda and could be heard as soon as 7:20 PM. Public comment is accepted by phone at (310) 288–2288 until council starts to discuss it or any time before by email: cityclerk@beverlyhills.org. (Put ‘Comment for agenda item F1 Sixty Hotel’ in the subject line.)

The September 14 staff report provides the background on the Planning Commission decision and the issues that City Council should discuss when balancing resident impacts against the city’s interest in the hospitality business and COVID–19 more generally.

Hotel Arguments

Sixty Hotel has hired high-priced legal talent to present its case and we saw a preview of its arguments at City Council in July:

  • The hotel has operated under conditions of operation for many years without incident and minimal complaints from the community;
  • In the past three years there were only six documented rooftop-related noise complaints from neighbors;
  • Resident opposition today is but “a small sample” of the community and not representative of what the community feels;
  • New hotel management is in place to ensure that the hotel complies with all conditions; and,
  • The Planning Commission sufficiently heard the neighbors and imposed three new conditions in response (more signage, study of additional noise mitigations and additional city monitoring) and a shortened period before it comes back to the commission for review (in 2022).

The crux of the hotel’s case: “We are doing our best to brick to rebuild the business and we should be given the opportunity to operate under the new conditions.” Again, two councilmembers seemed to agree with that plea.

Resident Arguments

The strongest resident argument for more restrictive conditions of rooftop operations relates to location and track record.

Commercial Residential Transition Area Restrictions Should Protect Neighbors

Again the hotel is located in a Commercial Residential Transition Area and ordinarily a hotel operating in that area cannot have rooftop operations and in any case all such activities would cease at 10 pm. Allowing the hotel to operate requires a Conditional Use Permit and Extended Hours Permit — both of which are discretionary and conditions may be imposed to any degree necessary to protect the neighbor’s quality of life and quiet enjoyment of their homes.

Neighbors to L’Ermitage on Burton Way won very significant restrictions on that hotel’s rooftop and other outdoor dining operations by meticulously citing violations and pressing their case successfully at City Council. The hotel and neighbors collaborated to define operating conditions with the council’s blessing and the final conditions are much more restrictive than the similarly-situated Sixty Hotel.

In brief, the conditions imposed by the city with L’Ermitage agreement include:

  • All rooftop events Sunday through Thursday must conclude by 9 PM with all rooftop event attendees required to vacate the rooftop by 10 PM;
  • All rooftop events on Fridays, Saturdays, and national holidays must conclude by 10 PM with all rooftop attendees required to vacate by 11 PM;
  • Evening rooftop functions (after 6 PM) that involve more than 25 attendees (excluding those residing at the hotel) cannot occur more than twice during any week and not more than 52 times during a calendar year;
  • Any additional evening function must be approved by the city will count toward the maximum of 52 during the calendar year;
  • Prior to any evening function, the Applicant shall submit a traffic and parking plan and no event shall occur until the plan is approved;
  • Any evening function which includes more than 25 non-hotel guest attendees must be scheduled in advanced and filed with the city and the monthly schedule of evening functions shall be provided to neighbors upon request; and,
  • A traffic and parking plan is required to be submitted in connection with any rooftop function involving more than 25 non-hotel guest attendees.

If the hotel violates the conditions repeatedly there is a “clear and escalating penalty structure to encourage compliance,” according to the city resolution that granted L’Ermitage permits.

The takeaway from the conditions imposed on the L’Ermitage is that neighbors can win significant protection from the city if a case can be made for necessary mitigations (such as more restrictive conditions).

Compare the L’Ermitage conditions with a similarly-situated Sixty Hotel which enjoys relatively liberal restrictions on rooftop operations such that:

  • The rooftop amenities can operate until 2 AM on Friday and Saturday nights and until midnight from Sunday through Thursday;
  • Up to 12 additional weekdays can see rooftop events operate until 2 AM — even before workdays and school days;
  • There is a maximum rooftop occupancy of up to 165 persons excluding hotel staff.

Sixty Hotel under these conditions can operate as if it were not located in the more restrictive Commercial Residential Transition Area and only twenty feet from multifamily neighbors. Remember, the definition of noise impact on hotel neighbors is recognized by the city as sound that is not at all audible beyond the rooftop.

Past Sixty Hotel Impacts Should Disallow the Benefit of the Doubt

Sixty Hotel claims that new management has earned it the benefit of the doubt with regard to operations and that a newfound respect for impacts will make it a better neighbor going forward. Residents can make two arguments to undermine that claim: the official complaint record and the history of alternately tightened and relaxed conditions imposed on rooftop operations.

The complaint record is reviewed in the staff report and there are two classes of official complaint: police calls and code enforcement (aka community preservation) calls. On police calls:

“Based on the narrative reports provided by the BHPD, it would appear that of the 39 calls for service, a total of 18 calls were related to hotel rooftop operations. Of the 18 calls that appear to be related to the hotel’s rooftop operations, a total of 12 calls were received during extended hours and were directly related to music or noise coming from the hotel’s rooftop. Of these 12 calls, nine were substantiated by the BHPD during their response….” – Staff report (p. 7)

On code enforcement calls:

“Staff reviewed the City’s Community Preservation records associated with the hotel from April 2017 through May 2021. A total of six noise complaints were received by the Community Preservation Division and are summarized below. Of the noise complaints received, five of the six were directly related to the hotel’s rooftop operation and were regarding amplified noise from the rooftop…” — Staff report (p. 7)

Neighbors tell a different story which is detailed in the first Planning Commission meeting staff report from May 27th. In any case there is some disagreement between the perspective of Sixty Hotel (and city planning staff) and the neighbors in terms of what constitutes a complaint and how such complaints pertain to rooftop impacts.

In the space of that disagreement the hotel asks for the benefit of the doubt. City Council reviewed the complaint record in the July 22nd meeting when council agreed to formally review it. Most likely the council’s discussion this week will reflect more on the reasonableness of the current rooftop operating restrictions rather than counting complaints.

Residents can point to a letter to the hotel from the City Prosecutor in August 2019 to argue that conditions as approved by the Planning Commission — which are substantially similar to conditions in 2019 — are not sufficient precisely because it took the threat of prosecution to bring the hotel in line with regard to spillover noise from the rooftop. (The hotel claims that new management is sufficient to support their claim to be a better neighbor from now on.)

Additionally, residents can plausibly argue that the city’s record of alternately tightening and relaxing conditions imposed on Sixty Hotel rooftop operations is proof enough that it has been incapable of operating pursuant to the conditions of approval imposed in the past by the Planning Commission.

Because COVID

Sixty Hotel points to the COVID–19 pandemic to argue that it should have the benefit of the doubt going forward. It makes two points: 1) that the interruption of business due to COVID–19 makes this no time to impose additional restrictions just as the hotel is trying to get back to business-as-usual; and 2) that the intervening time during pandemic interruption puts means resident complaints are effectively in the past.

The first argument held sway with the Planning Commission and will likely gain purchase at City Council, too, in its formal review of the commission’s decision to allow operations with no additional restrictions. It’s an understandable even sympathetic argument and it aligns with the city’s interest to support businesses and generate transient occupancy tax revenue (levied on hotel stays) and sales tax revenue.

It is difficult to argue the point that business has suffered and the city wants to jump-start tourism. Residents can argue, though, that past complaints are every bit as relevant today precisely because of the involuntary interruption in hotel business. Through the 18 months of the pandemic the hotel was not operating at normal capacity (and perhaps the rooftop was closed much of that time). We should expect no complaints during that period anyway so we can be expected to focus on the earlier complaints as the current record of alleged hotel violations.

The Silent Majority

Hotel Sixty claimed in July that only a few residents have complained about hotel rooftop operations and that those residents (cranks!) are not representative of the broader community. That would seem to be a plausible argument. We can’t know if they are representative of community concerns, for one thing, and numerically speaking we’ve only heard from a handful of the hundreds of households living near the hotel

City Council typically discounts that argument because participation rates in Beverly Hills are very low overall. When a half-dozen community members speak up, councilmembers tend to impose their own multiplier to count that as twenty, fifty or more households. It varies by councilmember and by issue but residents get the benefit of the doubt.

The challenge for residents is to turn out neighbors who feel the way they do. Numbers matter but passionately-expressed feelings matter even more. Councilmembers may resonate with local stories regardless of the complaint record. Well-document impacts as presented by neighbors, and accounts of impacts in a reasonable tone, go far in making the residents’ case.

Key points

Based on the complaint record, hotel arguments and neighbor testimony, we take away some key points that we will make to City Council.

The complaint record does NOT sufficiently represent the extent of Sixty Hotel impacts on the community. Our experience is that a call to police and code enforcement can fall through the cracks if it is not recorded as a formal call for service or a formal code complaint. What about multiple calls to the police on the same evening. Are those recorded as one rooftop-related call? Code Enforcement operates on regular working hours. Does a call the next day about rooftop noise get recorded as a formal complaint even though it can’t be investigated?

The Planning Commission imposed three new conditions but none actually mitigates rooftop impacts. It seemed like a cynical gesture because the new conditions which require additional signage, a study of noise attenuation and short-term city monitoring don’t actually mitigate noise impacts. What would help are additional restrictions on hours and occupancy but the hotel said explicitly it can’t abide those conditions…so the commission didn’t impose them.

Restrictions on hotel rooftop operations immediately adjacent to multifamily housing must be reasonable. The conditions themselves make the argument: 2 AM is too late for rooftop operations in a Commercial Residential Transition Area, even on weekends as residents have said, and it is especially too late on school nights (current conditions allow up to 12 weekday rooftop events each year).

L’Ermitage Hotel provides a template for restrictions because it is similarly-situated. We don’t need to wait and see if Sixty Hotel can abide by conditions that allow late-night operation because there is a model to emulate: the agreement reached by L’Ermitage and its neighbors after a problematic record of operations. Nor do we need a process unique to Sixty Hotel to determine reasonable conditions that are satisfactory to neighbors. Those conditions already exist. City Council need only write them into the permit approvals for Sixty Hotel.

Reasonableness is key. Recall that residents only had three councilmember votes to call-up a formal review of the Planning Commission decision to allow Sixty Hotel to continue to operate with relaxed restrictions. (Councilmembers Gold and Friedman only later joined to unanimously call it up for review.) Residents can’t afford to alienate a third councilmember so making a reasonable argument is essential. Now is not the time to air passions.

What’s Next?

On Tuesday September 14th on or after 7 PM Beverly Hills City Council will formally review the Planning Commission’s decision to allow Sixty Hotel to continue to operate largely according to conditions imposed today. As the staff report says, councilmembers have two key choices:

  1. Approve, deny, or modify the permit renewals; or,
  2. Remand the project back to the Planning Commission for further discussion.

There is no need to remand this issue back to the Planning Commission. There is no reason to expect the commission to come to a new conclusion regarding resident rooftop noise impacts on neighbors. Commissioners were aware of L’Ermitage conditions and they decided not to impose anything of the kind.

Indeed City Council should be the final arbiter for one important reason: it is a directly-elected body and three councilmembers — Bob Wunderlich, John Mirisch, and Les Friedman — are up for reelection next June. It’s as good a time as any to ask the council to have the back of residents who live next to a hotel in a Commercial Residential Transition Area.

In contrast, the Planning Commission is appointed. While they acknowledge resident concerns, commissioners don’t always stand up for residents in the way that we’d like…and that goes double for multifamily residents who continue to get short-shrift in Beverly Hills.

Finally, what is our goal in this formal review? A half loaf: a reasonable restriction on nighttime rooftop activities. For example 1 AM on weekends and 10 PM on weeknights; or alternately midnight on weekends and 11 PM on weeknights. This is about making a reasonable case for protecting neighbors. We’re not trying to squelch the hotel’s rooftop business.

Why a half-loaf? City Council is sympathetic to business concerns and city planning staff tend to put their thumb on the scale in favor of relaxed conditions of operation. And we will hear Sixty Hotel ply councilmembers’ sympathy. The reasonable argument we hope will carry the day.