For Mohamed Hadid, the hikers who traverse his Franklin Canyon property aren’t necessarily a problem, per se. But amid a very public campaign against the millionaire developer—called Hillsides Against Hadid—Hadid says he can’t help but view them as just a little bit ungrateful.
“I’m happy to see them enjoying my property, but don’t say I can’t develop it. I have my rights like any other rights in the U.S.” Hadid says. “It’s never been a public easement.”
Sitting in a conference room in his lawyer’s Century City high-rise, the international development tycoon and father of famous models Gigi and Bella Hadid describes his dismay over the continuous outcry against him. He waxes nostalgic about a time when people appreciated his contributions and made sure to thank him, like when he donated land to the Aspen Institute in the late 1980s and the research think tank honored him with a plaque that remains on the site today.
Here in L.A., Hadid is a long way from Aspen and the kind of public sentiment that brings accolades instead of acrimony. His lead lawyer, Jeff Reeves, describes the situation in terms that seem to neatly capture how his ultrarich client feels: “He should be thanked profusely,” Reeves says. Instead, “almost perversely, he’s being vilified.”
Reeves continues, “You could see a situation very much like this where people put up a billboard afterward, ‘Thank you Mohamed Hadid for 20 years of allowing us to roam and enjoy your beautiful private property.'”
For years, Hadid has been trying to develop a series of megamansions on a plot of land on the eastern ridge of Franklin Canyon atop part of the Hastain Hiking Trail, a pursuit that’s attracted a barrage of unflattering coverage. For Hadid and Reeves, the issue is about private property rights coupled with a public misperception they believe is intentionally fueled by people who may have secret plans for the land.
Hadid doesn’t get why neighbors are focusing on his development of local hillsides. He points to a map of the area and identifies 40 to 50 homes on 30 acres, then 72 homes in Beverly Park north. Hillsides all over los Angeles are developed, and celebrities like Magic Johnson “all live on hillsides.”
“It’s not OK for me to own hillsides? But it’s OK for other people to build on hillsides?” Hadid wonders. “This is my mountain. Their views are toward my mountain, so they don’t want anything built there.”
He focuses on one house in particular: “Alex’s house is right there,” Hadid says.
Alex is Prince Alexander von Fürstenberg, an entrepreneurial investor and the son of famous fashion designers.
His alleged role in Hadid’s Franklin Canyon saga has come into public view in recent months as Hadid tries to stop his stake in the 72-acre property from being auctioned over a multimillion-dollar debt that’s morphed into a complex legal battle.
Reeves sued von Fürstenberg on Hadid’s behalf last month, outlining in court filings a broken friendship between two elite Angelenos whose plans for a legacy-setting partnership imploded into a litigious fight with seemingly high stakes for the hikers who enjoy Franklin Canyon.
The lawsuit also names as a defendant Give Back LLC, whose manager, Beverly Hills lawyer Ronald Richards, has become a self-styled white knight there to rescue the embattled Franklin Canyon hiking oasis from predatory development.
Hadid owns the property through two debt-saddled LLCs that are in bankruptcy. But Richards bought the debt through the Give Back LLC, and he’s been trying for weeks to foreclose on the property. Hadid believes von Fürstenberg is behind Richards’s efforts, and he’s alleged in the lawsuit a scheme that involves von Fürstenberg leveraging his knowledge of Hadid’s debt issues to try to take complete ownership.
“The last thing that Give Back wants is a commercially reasonable sale,” the lawsuit claims. “It instead wants a quiet sale where it will be the sole bidder so it can obtain the Property on the cheap through a credit bid.” Neither Von Fürstenberg nor his attorney responded to a request to comment.
So far, the court rulings have been in Hadid’s favor. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Elaine Mandel threatened to halt a previous auction scheduled for last month, but Richards instead canceled the sale on his own accord. Hadid then agreed to a $26.3 million judgment that formally recognizes the money he owes Richards’s LLC, so Richards rescheduled the sale.
But Hadid sees that judgment as irrelevant to the issue before Judge Mandel. He simply doesn’t trust that Give Back will return the land to him even if he pays it because the LLC hasn’t committed to a clear appraisal price.
Mandel sided with him last Wednesday, June 9, stopping an auction Give Back had scheduled for Thursday after Reeves argued it was still too hastily arranged and poorly advertised to attract serious buyers and would instead be a sham sale to Give Back. The sale is now scheduled for July 26, with attorneys due back before Mandel on July 23.
In the meantime, the judge ordered Reeves and Richards to negotiate a marketing plan for the auction, which she specified can’t occur until after a bankruptcy judge considers a separate legal bid to sell the rights to the debt currently owned by Hadid’s two bankrupt LLCs. That would essentially give the buyer ownership of the land and thwart Richards’s ability to conduct his own sale.
In court last Wednesday, Richards said he doesn’t expect the sale to attract much attention
“If there were some buyers out there, then they’d already bought it. It’s not like there’s a line of competing buyers. These are all delay tactics to just hold on,” Richards told Mandel.
Reeves told the judge Hadid has heard from potential buyers for the property, but he claims one was already scared away after Beverly Hills locals threatened to ostracize him from the community.
“We’re very worried about any buyer who might come to the rescue of Mr. Hadid being scared away,” Reeves said in court Wednesday. “Mr. Richards has a platform on Twitter that he’s not afraid to use to disparage my client. He uses it all the time for that purpose.”
For what it’s worth, Hadid has more followers—77,200 compared to Richards’s 14,500—but Hadid uses the platform sparingly, supporting Palestine and retweeting his daughters.
In a phone conversation Monday with Los Angeles, Richards said he was filing “two huge motions,” including one in Hadid’s bankruptcy case that seeks an emergency hearing to identify Hadid’s purported would-be buyer.
He says the property has no value except to a philanthropist who wants to preserve it “and not try to ram [through] some abusive development that aggravates all of the neighbors.”
In response to Richards’s request, a bankruptcy judge on Tuesday ordered Hadid to disclose additional information about the potential buyer.
Meanwhile, the fire road that doubles as an extension of the Hastain Trail remains open. Hadid tried to close it a couple weeks ago, but people have repeatedly torn down the signs, and Reeves said in court that “people are hiking on the property to this day.”
Just in time for summer.
Meghann M. Cuniff is a freelance journalist focused on legal affairs. She’s on Twitter @meghanncuniff.