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Stars sue over who may use a gate

North Beverly Park group wants neighbors to pay security costs to access a shortcut.

November 20, 2008|Martha Groves | Groves is a Times staff writer.

A gated domain of sports stars, A-list actors, media billionaires and nouveau riche Angelenos -- where 11,000 square feet constitutes a "cozy" house and a developer once built a $20-million manse on spec -- is embroiled in a legal fracas that shows once and for all that money can't buy happiness.

The court battle began in May, when residents of South Beverly Park sued their confreres in North Beverly Park.

These aren't just any residents.

Among the South Beverly Park plaintiffs are Earvin "Magic" Johnson, Samuel L. Jackson and movie producer Richard Zanuck and his wife, Lili.

The North Beverly Park defendants include Denzel Washington, Eddie Murphy, Reba McEntire, Sylvester Stallone, Barry Bonds and media moguls Haim Saban and Sumner Redstone.

The dispute was touched off when the 64-home North Beverly Park Homeowners Assn. began restricting access to a road that residents of the 16-home South Beverly Park community had been freely using for two decades.

Under the new restrictions, the southern residents themselves could continue to enter through the northern gates at Mulholland Drive. But their contractors, nannies and gardeners, according to residents, had to take detours as long as seven miles on Benedict Canyon or Coldwater Canyon drives.

The communities, which carry a Beverly Hills post office address, are actually part of the city of Los Angeles. They are nestled between Mulholland Drive and Sunset Boulevard and Coldwater Canyon Drive and Beverly Glen Boulevard.

Within the gates are enormous mansions -- in Tuscan, French chateau, Spanish and modern styles -- set on large, flat lots of 1 to 3.5 acres. Of the handful of houses on the market, the most expensive is in the north, with an asking price of $50 million. The cheapest is $14 million.

Even the small and cheap mansions feature security gates and high stone walls, impeccably manicured lawns, tennis courts and pools.

"It's a super unique enclave that gives you complete security, living among your peers," said Mauricio Umansky, a real estate agent with Hilton & Hyland. "From every aspect, it's just fantastic."

Brian Adler, who helped develop the sister communities beginning in the mid-1980s, said the concept of having guards and gates was intended to make Beverly Park stand out from the other three top Westside neighborhoods, Beverly Hills, Holmby Hills and Bel-Air.

"It made sense that the highest-profile people would take interest," Adler said.

For more than 20 years after the north gates were installed, according to South Beverly Park's complaint, residents of the dual communities "enjoyed placid and neighborly relations." All residents of South Beverly Park and their relatives, guests and "business invitees" had undisturbed access to the homes from the north.

In March 2006, the North Beverly Park homeowners group sent the south's homeowners a letter demanding that they "pay their fair share of costs we [the north association] are incurring for maintenance of the roads, gates and security." The amount specified was $121,000 a year.

Southern residents rejected the demand, and a volley of legal correspondence ensued, culminating in the northern group's raising the amount it sought to $128,000, according to the complaint.

In May 2007, the northern residents informed their southern neighbors that their relatives, "staff, vendors and guests" would no longer be allowed to enter the northern neighborhood's gates at Summitridge and Mulholland drives.

Plaintiffs stated in the complaint that the prohibition could result in absurd situations, such as denied access to a fiancee, grandparent or domestic partner of a South Beverly Park resident. The complaint added that construction vehicles, which were required to enter via the north gate at Mulholland, would be locked out of South Beverly Park because they could not navigate the narrow, steep streets above Sunset Boulevard.

The complaint said the conditions, covenants and restrictions for both the south and north developments "made clear that all of the residents of both . . . were to have free and full access through the north gates." That provision, it added, "represented a valuable property right" for each South Beverly Park homeowner.

The restriction, the complaint said, thus diminished the value of properties in South Beverly Park, in addition to severely inconveniencing plaintiffs' relatives, friends and others.

Steven Goldberg, an attorney for the plaintiffs, declined to comment. Jeffrey Huron, an attorney for the defendants, could not be reached.

Attorneys are expected to make their closing arguments Friday in Santa Monica Superior Court before Judge Norman P. Tarle.

One northern resident defended the restriction, citing security. "We don't know these workers," said Irena Medavoy, wife of movie producer Mike Medavoy. "We don't know who's coming in." She added that requiring payment from southern residents was only fair, given that she and her neighbors in the north pay a few thousand dollars a month for security.

Medavoy, who considers her 11,000-square-foot East Coast traditional to be the small house on the block, sang the praises of Beverly Park, calling it a "wonderful place to live, with really terrific families."

"We're going to have to add extra security," she said. "You have to stop them, know who's coming through. We videotape them. Then you have the patrol cars." Referring to Israel's famed national intelligence service, she added: "It's like Mossad security here."

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martha.groves@latimes.com

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