Editorial: Wildlife habitat or a luxury resort on an L.A. hillside? It shouldn’t even be a question

Shrubs, trees and a couple of structures on a hillside against a blue sky, framed by tree branches in the foreground
A developer wants to build a luxury hotel on this Benedict Canyon property, the site of a mansion previously owned by billionaire businessman Kirk Kerkorian.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Nestled in the Santa Monica Mountains, Benedict Canyon is dotted with hillside homes on streets winding through some of the last remaining areas of chaparral, oak and walnut woodland in the city of Los Angeles. Homeowners — including celebrities, Hollywood writers and producers, wealthy professionals and others fortunate enough to have bought there decades ago — share the land with mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, deer and all manner of smaller creatures.

It is an uneasy coexistence, at best, between people who live there and the wildlife that need habitat to survive. Further development is kept in check by the steep hillsides and city regulations that mandate large lots and low-density residential use (no apartment buildings here).

Nothing could be further from that land use and zoning than a hotel. But that’s what developer Gary Safady wants to build on nearly 33 acres a mile south of Mulholland and east of Benedict Canyon Drive, along with eight enormous houses. The luxury 59-room Bulgari Resort Los Angeles would be part of a small collection of hotels connected to the rarified jewelry brand.


Safady describes the project as “environmentally friendly,” with plans for structures terraced into the hillsides and 60% of the land to be preserved as open space and landscaping. He says that the 260 protected native trees to be cut down for the construction will be replaced by protected trees at slightly more than a 4-1 ratio. He says the roads to the resort will be wide enough to accommodate firetrucks and that a “first-responder vehicle” will be stationed permanently on the property. He says the “world-class boutique hotel” would create jobs and increase tourism revenue.

Gary Safady’s plan for a luxury hotel has lined up A-list names as backers. It also has plenty of high-profile celebrities among its critics.

Sept. 19, 2022

A room with an incredible view sounds fabulous, but there is no reason to have it in a hotel that shouldn’t even be in that canyon. There is no dearth of luxury boutique hotels in Los Angeles, and we certainly don’t need a new one perched in a canyon that city officials have identified as having a high risk of wildfire. Fortunately, there are a number of powerful opponents of this ill-conceived idea — including Katy Yaroslavsky, the councilwoman of the district where the project sits, Mayor Karen Bass and a number of environmental organizations.

The Center for Biological Diversity, which is “strongly opposed” to the plan, stated that it would “result in loss of native biodiversity and increased wildfire risk while providing no benefits to city residents.” Paul Edelman, the deputy director of Natural Resources and Planning for the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, said the project would have “unavoidable significant adverse impacts both to the eastern Santa Monica Mountains habitat linkage system and to the overall ecosystem between the 405 Freeway and Griffith Park.” The southern end of the project goes right over an east-west corridor for wildlife. Even if Safady can address some of these issues, as he says he can, it’s in service of a project that shouldn’t even exist there.

Yet, the process of analyzing whether the hotel should get an amendment to the land-use plan and zoning for the area — allowing it to be built — grinds on, wasting valuable planning time. The City Council will have an opportunity to urge the planning department director to shut down the process on Tuesday before it goes any further.

Before the project can start construction, it needs the city to change the land-use and zoning designation for this property through a General Plan amendment. City Planning Director Vincent Bertoni approved Safady’s request to start the time-consuming process in October 2017 based on “many factors.” At least one of those factors was Paul Koretz, the city councilman for the district at the time, who “expressed his strong support” for allowing the process to go forward, according to planning department officials.

A proposed wildlife ordinance for L.A. is just what animal — and humans — need.

Nov. 7, 2022

Did politics trump good judgment here? Maybe. The planning department said in several emailed statements that “unique” projects are often allowed to start the process of a general plan amendment.


Koretz said that at the time he was “somewhere between encouragement and being OK with it,” and wanted to see whether the neighborhood might like the proposed hotel project. (He would later become an opponent of the project.) But one of the lobbyists for the project is married to Shawn Bayliss, who was Koretz’s planning and land-use deputy for several months when his wife was the lobbyist. Bayliss and Koretz both say that Bayliss was not involved in overseeing the area where this project would be located and wasn’t in any meetings about it.

Regardless of how this project got started, it’s time to end it. The City Council should do the right thing Tuesday by voting on Yaroslavsy’s motion asking the planning director to stop the work on the General Plan amendment.

This is the wrong project for this canyon and it should not suck up any more city planning department resources.