Beverly Hills voters packed City Council chambers on Feb. 3 for a lively candidate forum hosted by the Municipal League of Beverly Hills at City Hall. The debate, which included a round of questions where each candidate was allowed to ask a fellow contender a question, took place on the very same date that Los Angeles County sent out the Vote by Mail ballots.
From the surprise inclusion of attorney Aimee Zeltzer as the sixth contender, who just that morning qualified for the ballot as a write-in candidate for one of two open seats in the March 3 election, to the marijuana/ cannabis-advocating Rabbi Sidney Green, to technologist Robin Rowe’s emphasis on creating a people mover (gondola) in the sky to solve traffic woes and his suggestion of building two 70-story residential towers to solve the City’s housing problem, the evening was certainly never dull.
Incumbent Councilmembers Lili Bosse and Dr. Julian Gold, as well as Planning Commissioner Lori Greene Gordon, all referenced their voting records during the forum.
Following candidate opening statements, Municipal League moderators asked a series of seven questions, ultimately finishing the forum with audience questions. Below are excerpts from the questions and candidate responses.
Municipal League: What plans do you have to enhance the City’s revenue in light of the continuing loss of retail business to the internet and as further evidenced by the departure of Barneys, Nike and all the vacancies on South Beverly Drive as well as elsewhere throughout the City?
Zeltzer: Well I’ve given this quite some thought and actually I’ve noticed that a lot of the businesses that are in Beverly Hills are catered to a lot of people that have a lot of money. And that’s a beautiful thing, but not every single person in Beverly Hills wants to spend $200 for a dinner. So, I would love to encourage local businesses and for people to keep those businesses.
There has to be tax credits. There has to be the people saying what they want, which is not necessarily going to the most expensive places every single night. I noticed that there’s not a laundromat here. I noticed that there’s not a store, like a bodega, to get things. I’m just saying, you don’t always want to spend $200, plus you have to go somewhere. And like another candidate said, I don’t mind having places where there could be a cannabis shop. There has to be education and it should be limited, definitely nobody under 25. But that’s again, another type of a local business. I’m very supportive of local businesses, local pharmacies and other small businesses and supporting them.
Gold: Clearly retail is under pressure, but I think retail will survive. It just has to reinvent itself and it has to become more experiential. People want more than just shopping. They want things to do. They want a reason to be there beyond just buying something. So I think we have to work with our landowners and our merchants to help create experiential places here.
I think our efforts to make it easier for our restaurants to be in business (via the recent emergency ordinance amending the in-lieu parking fees) … I think that was a big step forward. We see that fitness and health are big things people are interested in today, I think we have to find ways to allow for those uses within some buildings. And we have to find ways within the context of our ordinances to allow big buildings to be subdivided.
Gordon: The most important thing to me in terms of increasing revenue here is really a new paradigm for how we have businesses here in Beverly Hills. We in the Planning Commission are working on a mixed-use ordinance for the City of Beverly Hills that will enable us to accomplish two goals: continue to have businesses as well as continue to develop new housing units.
The importance of mixed-use is, what I call, creating the villages within our village, because this accomplishes a lot of goals. It solves some of those transportation problems. It does not decrease our business stock and still increases our residential stock. I would like to reform the Planning Department so that we can be sure we welcome new businesses.
Green: If we would have medical marijuana stores, the City would get thousands of tax dollars as well. We have eight kosher restaurants here in Beverly Hills, what we need in addition is a kosher deli and a kosher ice cream store.
Bosse: The general managers of all hotels called an emergency meeting with me when I was mayor saying that they needed help, that they were sending everybody out of our City because there was nothing to do in the evening. Stores were closed (and) restaurants were closed. In partnership with the Rodeo Drive Committee, the Chamber, the CVB (Beverly Hills Conference & Visitors Bureau), a unanimous City Council, we got ahead of that. And it wasn’t just Rodeo Drive. We now have promoted the Southeast. We have promoted all the streets of our City. It’s an evolving vision. Because our world is changing. Shopping is changing. And I feel that we have been visionary. That is what we have been built on as a City and that is what we’re continuing to do. I agree mixed-use is a definite part of our future. I also believe that in terms of the planning process, we need to have a specific timeline. That when somebody opens in the City, they need to know within a certain amount of weeks they can open up, have a permit, and get going. We are on the cusp of a new beginning in business in our community.
Rowe: We had a City Council meeting in December where an urgent law was passed to revise our zoning so that we could have more restaurants. As a result of that, more restaurants are coming into Beverly Hills. (Note: Rowe is referring to an Urgency Ordinance passed by the City Council on Dec. 10, 2019 to lower parking requirements by amending the City’s in-lieu parking program.) But the question that I asked was, ‘Why did it take until the eve of the election to revise a law from  in an emergency?’ When I joined the technology committee, I was taken aside and told, ‘Just understand Robin, don’t get excited, everything takes 10 years to do in Beverly Hills.’ I would change that.
Municipal League: Traffic in the City is a nightmare. How do you propose to mitigate the congestion, control illegal double-parking on Canon, Beverly Drive and Rodeo, as well as sports car enthusiasts from speeding on the residential streets.
Rowe: For traffic we need to do something about housing. Ninety-four percent of people who work here do not live here. So that creates a tremendous traffic burden that we have to address with affordable housing. (Note: Rowe was specifically told by the Municipal League to speak to the question “other than the gondola.”)
Bosse: The reality is, we are always going to have traffic. I do think we are working to find some solutions to that. We definitely have beefed up our enforcement. We have put cameras throughout our City. We have been working with the Police Department and the residents to try and make it loud and clear that people have to be safe when they are driving. I also think that we’re trying to enforce a more walkable City. I think we have to work with different parts of our City to do traffic calming measures to make sure that cars don’t impact the residential streets.
Green: The question implies that for the last 10 years, the City Council has not solved this problem. I don’t know that I’m going to solve it either.
Gordon: I’m on the Board of Advisors for the Luskin School of Public Policy at UCLA, which has some of the most brilliant minds relating to traffic. I have had a lot of discussions with them regarding this particular issue and I would love to partner with the Luskin Center. I would also like to explore the option of turning certain streets into one- way streets to get the traffic moved through our City more quickly. I also do think the idea of walkability is essential … and I think that anything we can do to make this more walkable is something that I advocate.