Copter fight kicks up dust in W. Hollywood
Last fall, a peaceful West Hollywood neighborhood was disrupted repeatedly by helicopter noise, rattling windows, waking babies and startling dogs at all hours of the day.
After months of investigating, residents discovered that the ruckus came not from the usual emergency sources -- Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and the Los Angeles County sheriff’s station -- but from at least one private helicopter landing on the roof of the nearby Sofitel hotel. The pilot was Hollywood producer Ryan Kavanaugh, commuting from his Malibu home to his nearby studio and to appointments around town.
The Sofitel’s landing pad was supposed to be used for emergencies only, according to state records.
Since the 1970s, all Los Angeles buildings over 75 feet tall have been required to have emergency helicopter landing pads. So such problems could pop up elsewhere.
In the increasingly button-down entertainment industry, Kavanaugh, 36, is an outsize personality who brags about celebrity friends and is frequently spotted at parties. Flying helicopters is his latest passion, he has said. In September, he told the Hollywood Reporter that in the sky he found refuge from the stresses of the movie business.
“I think about work 24 hours a day,” he said. “But when you fly a helicopter, for that hour or two you can’t think about anything else.”
With no place for his chopper at the Beverly Boulevard headquarters of his studio, Relativity Media, he arranged to land the craft on the roof of the 10-story Sofitel a few blocks away.
By November, neighbors were enraged by the whir of helicopter landings and takeoffs.
The noise and vibrations kept waking up the newborn baby of Ali Behzad, a designer who lives in a sleek concrete dwelling a few hundred feet from the hotel. So Behzad and his wife started researching the Sofitel’s permits. When they found out that the hotel’s rooftop was designated for emergency landings only, they promptly complained to state and local officials.
In December, an aviation safety officer from the California Department of Transportation, which issues permits for helipads, sent a terse letter to hotel management ordering that any illegal helicopter activity cease immediately.
Adam Keen, a spokesman for Relativity Media and Kavanaugh said, “The minute Mr. Kavanaugh found out there was a permitting issue with the Sofitel, he stopped landing there immediately and he would not land anywhere in the city that does not have the correct and needed permits.”
After the flights stopped, residents breathed a sigh of relief.
But their sense of calm was temporary.
They soon got wind of hotel plans to apply for a temporary helistop permit that would allow for non-emergency landings and takeoffs. A consultant for the hotel told residents that hours and flights would be limited and that flight paths would skirt their neighborhood.
Sofitel General Manager Gunther Zweimuller said the temporary permit would “simply allow Sofitel to explore the possibility of providing an additional exclusive luxury amenity for our guests.”
No official application has been submitted yet, but the hotel, which is in Los Angeles, has already won influential backing. Last week, L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz sent a letter to Caltrans in support of the temporary permit.
It’s not the first time a local leader has weighed in. Sheriff’s Chief Cecil Rambo wrote to the Sofitel in September to say the department did not oppose Kavanaugh’s use of the hotel’s helipad.
Sheriff Lee Baca has a close relationship with Kavanaugh, who has raised more than $156,000 for the Sheriff’s Youth Fund, said Sheriff’s Department spokesman Steve Whitmore. In 2008, the department gave him an award for his work on behalf of the charity.
Baca, however, has no say in the matter, as Rambo clarified in a letter to the hotel last week stating the department’s lack of jurisdiction. West Hollywood residents who were bothered by the noise last fall said they oppose the Sofitel’s expanded permit, no matter who might land there.
“We didn’t move next to an airport,” Behzad said. “We moved next to a hotel.”
Lauren Meister, president of the West Hollywood West Residents Assn., said she’s concerned that the flights could pose environmental and safety risks.
Her association represents about 1,000 households in an area bounded by Melrose Avenue to the north, Beverly to the south, La Cienega Boulevard to the east and San Vicente Boulevard to the west.
She said she moved to the neighborhood, like many residents, for both its proximity to city life and respite from it.
The streets are lined with pretty one-story homes, shaded by palm trees and jacarandas. Many of the streets are blocked to through traffic. “You hear the crickets at night and the birds in the morning,” Meister said.
Kavanaugh got his pilot’s license last year. He has a collection of luxury cars and has been convicted of reckless driving and driving under the influence, court records show. Keen said Kavanaugh has full driving privileges.
Kavanaugh’s company is growing. After starting off co-financing movies at Universal and Sony Pictures, Relativity has recently begun producing and releasing its own slate of movies -- including this month’s Bradley Cooper thriller, “Limitless.”
A six-story supergraphic for Kavanaugh’s film hangs on the side of the Sofitel. It reads, “What if a pill could make you rich and powerful?”