Shirley Calof doesn't remember how--or whether--she voted in the stormy fall of 1984, when Beverly Hills residents overwhelmingly rejected plans for a 12-story luxury hotel at Wilshire Boulevard and Rodeo Drive.
But now, as the cars stream past her modest Spanish-style home on Doheny Drive, the importance of that ballot referendum is clearly visible: The Four Seasons hotel, shunned by Beverly Hills, has opened just across the city line in Los Angeles, a short walk from Calof's front yard.
She said traffic, which has always been bad on her street, has never been worse.
"It's been horrible," Calof said. "I'm lucky I can get out of my garage through the alley. To back out of the driveway is murder."
The Four Seasons, a 16-story, 285-room showcase of marble and stone, has brought elegance and controversy to the busy corner of Doheny and Burton Way. Open since April 21, the $110-million project has won plaudits for its architecture and landscaping but criticism from Beverly Hills residents who say it is making a poor traffic situation impossible.
"All the time they were building it, the traffic's been gridlocked," Virginia Mc Intire, a longtime Doheny Drive resident, said. "The traffic is just tied up all the time. People think they're on the freeway when they get in here."
Beverly Hills officials still differ on the wisdom of rejecting the project. The heavily lobbied ballot issue centered on whether major new hotels, including the Four Seasons and two other luxury projects, should have been allowed in the exclusive business district that includes Rodeo Drive and the Beverly Wilshire hotel.
In a campaign funded, in part, by $60,000 from the Beverly Wilshire, opponents managed to block high-rise hotel construction. City Councilwoman Charlotte Spadaro said the vote has helped prevent excessive traffic in the business district and preserve the low-rise flavor of Beverly Hills.
"I think it's wonderful it was not built at Rodeo and Wilshire," Spadaro said of the project. "Basically, the residents of Beverly Hills want to maintain the residential quality of life in this city."
The project, she said, "will have some impact on our area, but not the same as if it had been built in the heart of our business district."
Councilwoman Donna Ellman disagreed, saying the city has inherited "all of the problems and none of the benefits." The hotel's current location, less than a mile from the original site, does not enable guests to walk to the famous Rodeo Drive shopping district, so they have to take cars or taxis instead, Ellman said.
While those vehicles are clogging Beverly Hills streets, the city is losing at least $2 million a year in hotel bed-tax revenues, she said.
"It adds to our traffic and . . . does very little to support our schools," the 11-year council veteran said in an interview. "If I sound sad, I am. I am deeply regretful. . . ."
Charles Ferraro, Four Seasons general manager, said it is unlikely there could have been any happy solution for Beverly Hills residents. When the Four Seasons was planning its hotel on Rodeo Drive, another company was building a second hotel at Doheny and Burton Way in Los Angeles, he said.
The rejection of the hotel measure merely prompted Four Seasons officials to become part of the Los Angeles project, he said.
Mc Intire, who voted against the Beverly Hills hotel measure, said the short stretch of Doheny Drive between Burton Way and Wilshire Boulevard has become almost unbearable because of traffic.
With high-density apartment buildings on many of the surrounding streets, the stretch would be better used as a pedestrian mall of boutiques and small businesses, she said.
"We've all had our homes up for sale at different times, and they've never sold because the street is not conducive to (single-family) homes," Mc Intire said. "They should just close Doheny and make it commercial. It makes more sense."
Ellen Goodman, who also lives on the street, supported the idea, saying some residents have long considered the street commercial because of nearby Wilshire Boulevard. The new hotel just makes it more so, she said.
"We're not looking to move," she said. Turning the street into a pedestrian mall "just seems logical. Doheny has always been a busy street."
Others, however, said they aren't sure what should be done.
Calof, who said she has lived on Doheny for 42 years, said some residents for years have opposed the idea of turning the street into a commercial mall because they want to protect homes that some have valued at $500,000 to $600,000.
"I like my house," she said. "The hotel is there. It's a beautiful building. The traffic is horrible. There's nothing I can do about it."