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Hilton Project in Warner Center Gets Council OK

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles City Council members, following a tradition of deferring to colleagues on issues that affect only their district, on Friday overwhelmingly approved construction of a controversial 14-story, 340-room Hilton Hotel in Warner Center.

“It’s in Councilwoman Joy Picus’ district,” Councilman Gilbert Lindsay said. “It’s her bailiwick.”

The project, strongly supported by Picus, now goes to Mayor Tom Bradley. In the past, Bradley has opposed the project, which was fought by one of his biggest campaign contributors from the San Fernando Valley, but was noncommittal on the issue Friday.

The 12-1 vote gave the hotel’s supporters the minimum votes required for the council to override a Bradley veto. However, Bradley has a number of close allies on the council who could change their votes should the mayor oppose the project.

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Ordinance Ordered

The council Friday also ordered the drafting of an ordinance that would prohibit any more large-scale development in Warner Center unless developers reduce the impact of their projects upon traffic. The measure, which must go before the council for another vote, was tied to the hotel’s approval.

As a condition for approval of the hotel, the council required the developer to take such traffic-easing measures as hiring a “ride-sharing coordinator,” establishing shuttle buses and paying for other transportation improvements, such as widened streets.

Howard Finn, chairman of the council’s Planning Committee, recommended similar traffic-easing requirements for other new projects in Warner Center “to assure that all developers . . . are treated in an equitable manner.”

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Picus earlier took no stand on the so-called moratorium, saying there is no new development in the offing that would make it necessary. But she could not help but support it Friday because it was tied to the hotel vote. She said that, as a condition of getting Finn’s support for the hotel, she had agreed to support it when it comes back separately to the council for another vote.

Lobbying Battle

The lopsided vote in support of the hotel surprised City Hall observers, who had witnessed an unusual lobbying battle between Norman Kravetz, the hotel’s developer, and Robert Voit, on whose nearby property Marriott Corp. is building a hotel. The lobbying continued right up until the roll call.

As teams of lobbyists for each developer buttonholed council members near the council chamber, Picus went around to each of her colleagues to make her case in support of the project.

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The lone dissenting vote was cast by Council President Pat Russell, who was urged to oppose the project by her former chief deputy, Curtis Rossiter, who was hired as a lobbyist by Voit.

“Ordinarily, we like to acquiesce to our colleagues on projects in their districts,” Russell told her colleagues. “However, when those occasions arise where we see there are aspects to a decision which pose a threat to the city as a whole, then we are obligated to rise to speak.”

Planning Process Cited

Russell, repeating an argument cited by Voit, contended that the project violates the integrity of the city’s planning process, specifically the master plan for Warner Center, which calls for a concentration of high-rise buildings in the core of the 1,100-acre area west of Canoga Avenue. The proposed hotel would be east of Canoga just south of Victory Boulevard.

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She also disputed the value of the proposed traffic-easing measures, saying it is premature for the city to require the developer to pay for yet-to-be-identified, and possibly impractical, transportation improvements. Picus responded that the hotel would generate less traffic during the critical rush-hour than a high-rise office building, which the developer could build without special city approval. City traffic officials have agreed, pointing out that hotel guests arrive throughout the day, unlike office workers who arrive and leave at the same times.

The property’s zoning allows construction of an office building on the site, but requires a conditional use permit from the city for construction of a hotel.

Picus also noted that the hotel’s developer has agreed to implement traffic-easing measures not only for the proposed hotel, but for his entire Trillium project, which will include the hotel and two already approved 17-story office buildings on eight acres.

“The hotel is a much needed and a high-quality facility,” Picus said.

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After the council action, Picus said she was not surprised by the lopsided vote because it was hard to see any argument against the hotel’s construction “as anything but the self interests of the Voit Corp.”

But Norman Emerson, a Voit aide, said, “We didn’t suffer a defeat. . . . It was a rejection of six years’ development of a plan” for Warner Center.

Emerson attributed the vote to an “extension of council courtesy.” Emerson, a former Bradley aide, said he will call the mayor to urge him to veto the project’s permit.

Warner Center Donations

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A Times analysis of campaign contributions conducted last May found that Warner Center Properties, of which Voit is managing partner, was Bradley’s largest campaign contributor in the San Fernando Valley in 1983 and 1984, with $12,100 in donations.

Picus said she also plans to call Bradley to urge him to approve the hotel’s construction.

Bradley originally opposed the project, as have his appointees to the city Planning Commission. On Friday, however, he said he wanted to see any changes in the original proposal, including the traffic-easing requirements added by the council, before making up his mind.

If Bradley does not act on the proposal within 30 days, it will be approved automatically.

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