Beverly Hills City Council candidates engaged in the first of five planned debates on Jan. 21, offering voters insight into how they might behave if seated on the dais at City Hall.
Five candidates are running for two open seats, including incumbent Councilmembers Lili Bosse and Julian Gold. Other candidates include Planning Commissioner Lori Greene Gordon, technologist Robin Rowe, and Rabbi Sidney Green, who was unable to participate in the debate following the tragic death of his daughter just days before the scheduled forum.
Organized by the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce’s Government Affairs Committee and moderated by longtime Chamber Board Member Mark Egerman, the candidates were provided with the eight questions in advance of the debate, which primarily centered on the business community.
Between the forthcoming subway stations, the changing retail landscape and the City’s impending need to likely add 3,000 new housing units in the next decade, the decisions made by the City Council will be critical to ensuring a prosperous future for Beverly Hills residents and businesses.
“The next four years is really going to affect the generations to come,” stated two-time former Mayor Bosse, who in 2018 received the Chamber’s Fred Hayman Visionary Award.
For the first time in Beverly Hills’ history, voters can vote in the upcoming March 3 at any L.A. County polling place. That in tandem with having the presidential primary on the ballot is expected to bring an increase in voter turnout. Vote by Mail ballots will be mailed out by L.A. County on Monday, Feb. 3.
The new voting procedure, which allows in-person electronic voting to begin 10 days before the election, is not without controversy. Egerman did not shy away from highlighting two-time former Mayor Gold’s apparent disadvantage in the upcoming election, which allows just four candidate names to appear on the first screen for the City Council race.
“By the bad luck of the draw, Dr. Gold’s name is on the second screen,” he said.
Starting with a brief opening statement, the four participating candidates quickly shared who they were with the roughly 60 people in attendance. All participants appeared to be very pro-business.
Bosse emphasized her committed push to make Beverly Hills a “Healthy City.” Gold highlighted his experience in helping businesses as a Councilman, such as being on the City’s inaugural Small Business Task Force. Commissioner Gordon characterized herself as the only person with business experience currently running for City Council, noting her 40 years of experience in running a business. And Rowe styled himself as a visionary innovator.
Much has changed over the course of the nine years that Gold and Bosse have been on the Council and a lot of those changes have been a result of various City meetings. When Bosse and Gold were first elected to City Council in 2011, neither City Council meetings nor City Commission meetings were televised, which meant that anyone wanting to know what was going on would have to attend the meeting in person. Today, all those meetings are televised, with video recordings available online on the City’s archive.
However, Bosse noted that the City had not yet gone far enough in its efforts to make City governance more transparent
“What I’m proposing is all meetings at City Hall will be televised,” she said. “Nothing should be hidden from public view.”
With the City facing the prospect of needing to build 3,000 new housing units in the next decade, Gordon, Gold and Bosse all touted mixed-use as being an essential part of the solution. The City currently does not have a provision in its General Plan for mixed-use developments, which would allow the combination of various types of real estate uses (residential, commercial or cultural) within one project. Mixed-use projects (of which there are three in the City) must now get a General Plan amendment from City Council in order to proceed.
Last year the Planning Commission created a draft mixed-use ordinance which has since languished in abeyance having yet been slated for discussion at a City Council study session or liaison meeting.
“From my perspective, I think mixed-use should be in all parts of our City,” Bosse said. With commercial vacancies throughout the City, all four candidates were particularly critical of the current permitting process that challenges new businesses to open. “We know that we can streamline permits,” Gold said, underscoring that the layers of impediments to having new businesses open expeditiously has contributed to the vacancies across the City.
On a deeper level, Gold noted how the empty buildings spoke to a disconnect between landlords challenged to fill the vacancies and tenants challenged by prohibitive rent prices.
“We have to find some way to work with our landlord community and our merchant community to come together and find an understanding,” he said.
The permitting challenges and the changing retail landscape that has more consumers going online to shop are not the only impediments to helping the City maintain a robust business community to fill vacant properties throughout Beverly Hills.
Bosse, whose BOLD (Beverly Hills Open Later Days) initiative has helped enliven the City during evenings, emphasized the need to create innovative experiences to draw people to the City beyond 6 p.m.
“We need to let people know that they’re welcome and that they’re wanted,” she said. “We want to provide experiences during the day and the night.”
Rowe said he’d like to create something “better than BOLD.” He suggested creating “world class events,” such as car shows where local dealers can showcase their new automobiles and various pop-up experiences.
Following the Chamber’s pre-planned questions, attendees spent nearly an hour asking the candidates questions.
In response to a question posited by local real estate titan Dar Mahboubi about the City’s willingness to change the General Plan so that new projects wouldn’t need to get an amendment in order to exceed that City’s current three-story height limit, candidates were quick to agree that the General Plan is currently flawed.
“The height limit and density limits are definitely outdated,” said Gordon, who underscored that revising the plan would make it more fair for new projects coming before the City Council.
“There are elements of our existing code that are outdated,” Bosse said. “If I were the mayor, I would put it on the agenda tomorrow.”
“I think everybody needs to know what the rules are,” Gold said.
In response to House of Bijan owner Nicholas Bijan’s question about the forthcoming Beverly Hilton renovation project and the creation of the LVMH Hotel on Rodeo Drive, candidates were unabashedly enthusiastic about the two concepts, despite having yet seen the plans for the projects.
“It’s an opportunity we’ll never see again,” Gold said of Beny Alagem’s 17-acre luxury property at the western gateway of the City. “Done correctly, I think it will redefine Beverly Hills.”
Voters will next have an opportunity to hear candidates speak on, Feb. 3, when the Municipal League of Beverly Hills holds its City Council Candidate Forum at City Hall. Just over a week later, the Southwest Beverly Hills Homeowners Association will hold its forum at City Hall on Feb. 11.
Beverly Hills High School will hold a forum for students on Feb. 12. And on Feb. 24, the Beverly Hills Active Adult Club will host the final planned candidate forum at Roxbury Park starting at 1 p.m.