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Mansion Fighters Bring in the Big Political Guns

July 11, 1993

Raising the ante: There was a time when wealthy Beverly Hills residents who got embroiled in neighborhood disputes would just go out and hire an expensive lawyer-mouthpiece.

That's not enough for actor Jack Lemmon and some of his neighbors who oppose plans for a huge mansion near their homes in the lush northwest corner of the city. To prepare for their Aug. 3 appeal before the City Council, the residents, led by Lemmon and developer Stuart Ketchum, have hired a political consulting firm to help rally sentiment against the project.

Cerrell Associates, a Los Angeles firm with offices in Sacramento and Washington, recently sent out a slick campaign-style circular to 12,000 registered voters in the city. In true campaign-mailer tradition, it screams "Stop the Land Rape of Beverly Hills" and urges residents to appeal to the council to stop the development of the "Manoukian Entertainment Compound." It also features a Perot-style graphic that compares the size of the estate to those of typical neighborhood houses. (Also in true campaign-mailer tradition, the graphic exaggerates the proportions of the project.)

The nearly four-acre property on Tower Road is owned by London resident Robert Manoukian. The development was originally planned at 59,000 square feet, but has been pared back to about 36,000 square feet, plus a 10,000-square-foot basement. The proposal received Planning Commission approval in April after Manoukian agreed to 81 conditions, regulating everything from construction procedures to the number of parties that can be held each year.

Manoukian attorney Murray D. Fischer said opponents are trying to wage a political campaign when the merits of the project will be decided in accordance with city laws.

If the council is going to review the project using criteria other than city regulations, Fischer said, "I feel sorry for any other person that desires to build something . . . in accordance with applicable codes. What it really means is the codes mean nothing and your next-door neighbor can tell you what can and cannot be built."


Whatever happened to 'No, thank you'? State Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica), not exactly a fixture on the Legislature's reception and fund-raiser circuit, was recently the surprise recipient of an invitation from the state's biggest utility companies "for a superb evening of cruising and dining" later this month at the National Conference of State Legislatures in San Diego.

"We will board the luxury yacht The Entertainer beginning at 5:45 p.m. for our gourmet dinner and entertainment cruise of San Diego Harbor," reads the letter on Southern California Edison Co. stationery.

Hayden turned down the invitation with a scolding letter. The interests of Edison's customers, he said, are not "served by this kind of extravagant wining and dining of susceptible politicians."

A better form of lobbying, suggested Hayden, would be for Edison to provide politicians with a ride in an electric vehicle and ask them to pass laws that advance the cause of non-polluting cars. "Then, I would have something to toast you about--on dry land, of course," he said.

Jim Cassie, spokesman for cruise co-sponsor San Diego Gas & Electric, replied that his company does, in fact, plan to have some vehicles fueled by compressed natural gas available for demonstration rides at the convention. And he said the utility works hard "to make sure ratepayer dollars are not used for lobbying-type activities such as the dinner cruise."

Hayden refused to let up. "The whole affair still casts an appearance of extravagant collusions between politicians and those they regulate," he said.

Lew Phelps, Edison vice president of corporate communications, said Hayden "is trying to turn a small desert lizard into Tyrannosaurus rex."


Street-fightin' man: Street Cats may be gone, but its feud with West Hollywood continues. Few departures have made the city's officials happier than that of the street patrol group, whose aggressive sidewalk fund raising near gay bars irked merchants and often put leader Don Fass at odds with City Hall.

Fass--a former radio journalist whose resume also boasts stints in the human-potential and humanistic psychology movements of the 1970s--packed up the group's familiar donation table on Santa Monica Boulevard in March and trooped off to San Francisco, saying he was targeted by an official harassment campaign.

Doubts about the group's nonprofit status and whether it really patrolled the streets had led West Hollywood officials to investigate. Merchants contended that the fund raising was little more than panhandling.

Fass, 49, maintains that the group used the money to prowl the streets--stopping about 40 crimes in progress in more than two years--by buying cellular phones and an old Postal Service Jeep. But critics said patrols were rare.

Now the group faces a similar storm in its new home.

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