Dealing with a city bureaucracy is rarely easy for any business, but the ordeal of the owners of the Viceroy L’Ermitage Hotel in Beverly Hills in recent weeks really stands out.

The hotel owners were planning to open a new restaurant, Avec Nous, to replace Livello, which closed last year. As befitting a five-star hotel that competes with equally upscale neighbors the Four Seasons Hotel at Beverly Hills and the Peninsula Hotel, they hired a chef out of New York and spent between $5 million and $10 million to renovate the restaurant/lounge area. Beverly Hills planning officials had assured them that all they would need was a renewal of Livello’s conditional use permit (CUP) and an extended hours permit and the restaurant would be ready to open.

Then, just minutes before the city Planning Commission was to take up the conditional use permit on April 14, came a bombshell: instead of a simple and largely ministerial renewal of the conditional use permit, the Viceroy L’Ermitage owners would have to obtain a whole new CUP, which would take weeks and require a public hearing.

The reason? One of the planning commissioners reviewing the case noticed that the original CUP granted to Livello was only for three years and had expired in 2011. And while city planning staff had told Viceroy L’Ermitage’s representatives last year that only a renewal was needed, this commissioner, Lori Greene Gordon, wasn’t so sure and sought the opinion of City Attorney Laurence Wiener. It was Wiener’s opinion that because the CUP had expired, an entirely new one was needed.

And that wasn’t all. Because there was no valid CUP, the restaurant, which was slated to open the following day, could only serve hotel guests and the outdoor dining area was closed completely until a new CUP was approved by the commission. They had to wait until May 2 for that to happen. Hardly an auspicious opening for the much-heralded restaurant.

Viceroy L’Ermitage’s representative, Mitchell Dawson of the Beverly Hills law firm Dawson Tilem & Gole, declined to comment.

The new CUP that was hastily negotiated contained a few more operating restrictions than the old one. Most significant was earlier closure hours (no later than 10 p.m.) for the restaurant’s outdoor dining area – an attempt to accommodate concerns from neighboring residents.

But the saga may not be over.

After receiving a couple of complaints from neighbors, Beverly Hills City Councilwoman Nancy Krasne requested the CUP be taken up at the council’s May 17 meeting. At that time, additional operating restrictions could be placed on Avec Nous.

Water Worries

As Southern California enters its fifth year of drought, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti last month signed a raft of ordinances aimed at saving water. Among these was something that had long been sought by apartment landlords: individual water meters for apartment tenants to encourage them to use water more responsibly.

But this only applies to new multi-family dwellings and commercial buildings over 50,000 square feet, not existing ones.

“It’s a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t go far enough,” said Jim Clarke, government affairs consultant to the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles.

Clarke said what’s really needed is for tenants in existing buildings to be billed for their water use, either through installation of individual water submeters or through divvying up a building-wide water bill with a formula based on square footage and number of bedrooms (known as ratio utility billing).

Negotiations with the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power over the cost to retrofit apartments with individual water meters have proven lengthy and difficult, Clarke said, meaning that option won’t be available soon.

As for ratio utility billing, it’s being tried on a pilot basis at the massive Park LaBrea Towers complex in the Miracle Mile district.

Tree Fee?

Developers in Los Angeles could soon be paying another fee – for tree replacement.

Up until last year, if a developer took down a tree to build something, all that developer needed was a tree removal permit. But there was no replacement requirement. That changed when the city adopted a policy of requiring two trees be planted for every tree taken out.

But a problem soon cropped up: it was not always feasible for a developer to plant two trees onsite for every tree removed.

The Public Works Board is contemplating allowing developers whose projects involve tree removals to pay an “in-lieu” fee to the city of approximately $2,500. The fee would generate roughly $600,000 a year for the city that would go specifically towards the planting of new trees.

Staff reporter Howard Fine can be reached at hfine@labusinessjournal.com or (323) 549-5225, ext. 227.

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