Council Hears Mixed Use Update, Approves Economic Sustainability Plan

After years of meetings, hours of at-times contentious debate, and countless public comments, Beverly Hills pushed its Mixed-Use Ordinance past the finish line on Nov. 10. The enactment created a new overlay zone within certain commercial areas that allows for both residential and commercial uses–a change some worried would, at its worst, lead to large-scale redevelopment and the loss of Beverly Hills’ low-density charm. Proponents, meanwhile, praised the measure for bringing the city into the future and for creating new housing opportunities at a time of heavy pressure from the state.

But six months after its passage, the City Council heard the first progress report on the ordinance at its May 13 Special Meeting. The overwhelming takeaway from the first periodic review: nothing to report.

“Since the adoption of the ordinance approximately six months ago, staff has not yet received any formal applications or concept review submittals,” said Director of Community Development Ryan Gohlich. “However, we have had a number of inquiries, everything from phone and email inquiries.”

Gohlich said that feedback had been mixed, with some saying that the move represents progress for the city. Some applicants, however, have said that the “the standards are not generous enough…either because of high land values in the city, or because there may already be a commercial building on the property that is generating a sufficient amount of revenue, that it doesn’t justify demolition of that building and replacement with mixed use.” Gohlich noted that “it’s always tough to tell how much truth is in those statements.”

“Quite honestly, I am shocked, myself, that you’re hearing that it’s not enough,” said Vice Mayor Lili Bosse. 

Bosse later elaborated, explaining to the Courier that the drafting process had incorporated input from all stakeholders–residents, businesses, and also developers.

“The Planning Commission and the City Council had many meetings regarding the Mixed-Use Ordinance and, in working with the business community and residential community, we all came up with an ordinance that we felt was fair to everyone involved,” Bosse told the Courier. 

She added, “From my perspective, we had a lot of input from all interested parties to develop the ordinance together. This wasn’t done in a random way. This took many years of conversations and input from so many people. That is the reason why I put in place the review of the ordinance so that we can know how it’s doing. We will keep reviewing it and if we find that we’re going in the wrong direction we can review it again,” she said.

Most council members chose to see the glass as half full–proof that the ordinance was moderate and would not fundamentally alter the character of the city as some had feared. “Perhaps some will find comfort in the fact that this is a deliberate and thoughtful process and we’re not going to have wholesale developments all at once,” said Councilmember Julian Gold.

Councilmember John Mirisch, who cast the lone dissenting vote and characterized the ordinance as “a developer giveaway,” held to his assessment. 

“One of my issues was that developers are getting these tremendous benefits, including density bonuses, and yet they are not doing anything to reflect the fact that by waving our magic wand, we made their properties worth in many cases substantially more money,” he said. “And from my perspective, it always was the case and it remains the case, that that benefit should be shared with the community that has made their success possible.”

Finally, the Council unanimously approved a revised draft of the updated Economic Stability Plan for years 2021 to 2025, which will serve as a blueprint for the city’s economic recovery from COVID-19.

The Council first reviewed the plan at its Feb. 16 Study Session. The plan, compiled by the urban planning and economics firm Lisa Wise Consulting, includes a report that found that the pandemic exacerbated existing downward trends in key sectors of the city’s economic base, such as retail and hospitality. For solutions, the document lays out an action plan to correct for the pre-pandemic problems and boost the recovery. 

“The approach to this Economic Sustainability Plan Update is not to overcorrect from the COVID-19 pandemic, but rather focus on economic strategies and actions that increase the City’s resiliency to market downturns and geopolitical risks and uncertainties,” the plan states. 

“The strategy developed by Lisa Wise Consulting really sought to identify potential opportunities based on market outlook in the retail, hotel and office sectors,” said Deputy City Manager Gabriella Yap. 

For retail, the plan points to potential in the new outdoor dining scene, the emergence of Canon Drive as a secondary retail corridor, and improved walkability and foot traffic due to the upcoming Metro D Line. For the hotel sector, the report sees potential in the city’s prestige hotel brands and recommends a shift away from international toward regional consumers and expanding to a younger, affluent market. For the city’s offices–much imperiled by the growing fleet of home workers–the report points to the resilience of medical offices to the work-from-home trend.

Altogether, the plan offers 26 action items either moderate or high with time frames ranging from three to five years, to immediate. At the Feb. 16 Study Session, the Council expressed a need to accelerate the timetable for many of the items and moved nine items into the immediate category. 

The action plan items fall into three “focus areas,” including brand, well-being, and budget. Under brand, the city will “identify opportunities to refresh the ‘living the dream’ brand,” including an evaluation of the brand from “a socially conscious and socially responsible lens, especially related to inequality.” Well-being focuses on the city’s transition out of the COVID-19 restrictions, including attention on crucial, pedestrian-friendly infrastructure. And for budget, among other things, the city will conduct a study on the fiscal impact of different forms of development, including low/medium/high density housing, mixed use, and commercial. 

Given the aggressive timeline of the action plan, Bosse suggested that the Council review their progress before the one-year mark currently set for review. 

“It really is a living document,” said Yap, agreeing to bring the topic back sooner than the annual review. “The best way we can operate is to continually look at it and readjust as we see things changing, as opportunities come in, and things happen.”

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