The Ma Maison Sofitel Hotel, a promotional brochure boasts, "sits in the midst of the most exciting area of one of the world's great cities."
But to those who might want to enjoy a bottle of wine with dinner, it may not be one of the world's most exciting hotels when it opens on Los Angeles' Westside this summer.
Angry that the city has allowed construction of the $41-million hotel with a minimum number of parking spaces, nearby homeowners are trying to prevent the developers from selling liquor on the premises.
"The neighborhood is going to get nothing but more problems out of this hotel," said Harald Hahn, president of a homeowners' group near the hotel that is being built on Beverly Boulevard across from the Beverly Center mall. The 11-story luxury hotel's opening will mark the return of Patrick Terrail's trendy Ma Maison restaurant, which closed on Melrose Avenue in 1985.
"We would be perfectly happy to have this hotel open as the first dry hotel in Los Angeles," Hahn said.
The neighborhood fight has citywide significance because it is an example of how undeclared mayoral candidate Zev Yaroslavsky, though professing to be a leader of the slow-growth movement, is being criticized by vociferous and media-wise constituents for allowing too much development in his district.
"We have said to him that you cannot be neutral, that you have to support your community," Diana Plotkin of the Beverly-Wilshire Homes Assn. shouted to 175 hotel opponents at a meeting Monday night. "I ask you. Where is the Zev that we elected 12 years ago to represent our interests?"
Yaroslavsky, who sent several aides to the gathering but did not attend himself, agreed in an interview that the hotel does not have enough parking, but he said his office has been working hard to come up with a solution.
"We are taking a very active role on this," he said. "We have tried to press the system as far as it will go to yield the maximum amount of protection for the community. . . . I try to be an advocate for the neighborhood's interests. For some reason, Mrs. Plotkin feels that is not enough."
Plotkin and others complain that Yaroslavsky, whose office helped expedite approvals for the project in 1986, should have recognized that its 328-car parking garage would be too small for an area already suffering a severe parking shortage. They say the councilman should have used his considerable influence to insist on a larger garage.
But Yaroslavsky said that was not possible. The hotel's developers, he said, are building the hotel by the book, giving him little opportunity to intervene. The request to serve alcoholic beverages is the only so-called "discretionary" action--one that requires more than routine approval--that has come to the city, he said. City officials regularly use such occasions as leverage to get concessions from developers on other issues--which he said his office is doing with the hotel's developers.
"I don't have the luxury of taking the position of no liquor permit whatsoever when I know in my mind that it won't prevail with the City Council," he said. "I think the community is better served by getting results."
The hotel's developers--a partnership led by Sheldon Gordon, builder of the Beverly Center--say the 328-car garage provides more than enough parking for the 311 guest rooms, the 330-person banquet and conference rooms and the restaurants and bars. In discussions with Yaroslavsky's office, they have agreed, nonetheless, to lease several dozen spaces at a nearby bank for nighttime and weekend use and to squeeze 382 cars into the garage by allowing valet parking only.
James R. Keegan, president of Gordon's development firm, said the builders have "bent over backwards" to alleviate neighborhood concerns about parking, in part by reducing the capacity of its restaurants and meeting rooms. He said the hotel--through its request for a permit to serve alcoholic beverages--has become a convenient target for residents frustrated by an inability to stop large commercial developments in the changing neighborhood.
"We sympathize with what they want: to preserve their life style and the neighborhood," he said. "But at the same time we didn't throw $40 million into a hole in the ground to have a dry hotel."
The residents are challenging the way city officials calculated parking requirements for the Ma Maison Sofitel project, claiming that the city underestimated the demand by as many as 300 spaces. Unless the hotel agrees to provide hundreds of more parking spaces, they say they will try to reduce the posh hotel to little more than a glamorous bed and breakfast.
In discussions with city officials, the residents have proposed that the hotel do away with its banquet room and conference rooms unless it builds a second parking garage. If the hotel refuses, the residents insist, the city should deny the permit request since a dry hotel presumably would draw fewer customers--and fewer cars.
"No parking! No booze!" was the group's rallying cry at the Monday meeting.
The developers, for their part, have left little to chance. They have hired former Los Angeles City Atty. Burt Pines--a close associate of Mayor Tom Bradley and an influential voice at City Hall--to handle their request for the permit. Pines said the case is straightforward.
"It is fundamentally unfair after the hotel has been constructed and in excess of $40 million has been spent to now claim that the parking is insufficient," he said.
A hearing on the permit request will be held by the Board of Zoning Appeals on Tuesday. Barring a last-minute compromise, the two sides will slug it out then.