West Hollywood has sued the city of Los Angeles to block construction of an 11-story Ma Maison hotel and restaurant just across the city line.
The suit filed in Superior Court on Monday alleges that if the proposed luxury hotel and French restaurant is built, it will increase traffic congestion, exacerbate parking problems, increase noise and cast a shadow over a neighborhood of single-family homes.
It came after months of talks among residents, the developer and officials of both cities failed to arrive at a compromise.
The suit focuses on a procedural point, arguing that the city of Los Angeles erred six years ago by failing to amend its general plan to reflect the annexation of a sliver of land making up about a third of the hotel property.
"It's very technical, but what we're saying is that the amendment to the general plan wasn't done properly at the time of the annexation," said West Hollywood City Councilman Alan Viterbi.
Asst. Los Angeles City Atty. Claudia McGee Henry said she will argue in court that the 1979 annexation was carried out "in full compliance with all applicable laws. We don't think their argument has any merit on that score."
But, Viterbi said, "We are looking at this as a means to require the city of Los Angeles to use the environmental review process to measure the impact of this project, or at a minimum to go back to the community and hold hearings on rezoning the property. You'd hear an overwhelming outcry."
The suit asks for an injunction barring the city of Los Angeles from issuing the permits necessary for the project to go ahead. It also asks that the developer be prevented from starting work on the project.
Although the Los Angeles city attorney's office had no immediate comment, lawyers for developer Sheldon Gordon said they hope to have the suit dismissed when it comes up for a hearing next month.
Current zoning, which does not require specific approval for such a project, would allow construction of an even bigger building on the site, Gordon's lawyers said.
As for West Hollywood's argument about failure to amend the general plan, "we say that was not required, because the plan is a general outline, and as long as you derive guidance from that document, that's sufficient," said attorney Ronald J. Silverman.
"Basically we believe that the legal theories amount to an attempt to obstruct this development," said attorney Jonathan L. Kirsch. "They do not address the merits of the project itself or the merits of the zoning. That's pretty dramatic evidence of how spurious their complaint really is."
Michael Jenkins, West Hollywood's city attorney, acknowledged that the suit was based on a procedural question. But he said it was important nonetheless.
"That technical problem may in some eyes be viewed as technical, but in other eyes it is seen as critical," he said. "They are going to build an 11-story hotel immediately next door to a longstanding single-family neighborhood, and they've never had to determine what kind of environmental impact it's going to have. They can do that, apparently, because of the way the L.A. ordinance is written. That seems to us to be objectionable, because it's a project of major magnitude."
The site occupies an uneven island of land at the northwest corner of La Cienega and Beverly boulevards. Most of it has always been in Los Angeles, but the area in question, which lies along Beverly Place, was part of unincorporated county territory until it was annexed in 1979.
Despite the five-year backlog in civil cases in the Los Angeles Superior Court, West Hollywood's suit is expected to come up for a hearing soon because the city is asking for an injunction to stop work that could begin at any time.