Several programs aimed at bringing vitality to Beverly Hills were reviewed by City Council during its Sept. 14 Study Session. Among the proposed programs were an initiative to promote local businesses called First Thursdays. Council also reviewed a proposed bicycle lane on Roxbury Drive and a proposed music festival celebrating the work of composer Sergei Rachmaninoff called “Rachfest.”
First Thursdays has been proposed as a pilot project that would showcase food trucks, restaurants and shops from 7- 9 p.m. on the first Thursday of every month in Beverly Hills. Local businesses would be invited to participate by offering outdoor activities, special menu items, giveaways and discounts in hopes of creating excitement about local nightlife among residents and visitors.
First Thursdays would not close down streets or be organized as a formal event and it would depend on business participation. The Next Beverly Hills Committee and the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce which created the concept, assured the Council that the business community has shown enthusiasm for the program.
“This is an opportunity for our businesses to be introduced potentially to people who don’t know them,” said Councilmember Julian Gold, M.D., who offered strong support of the program. “We’re not closing the streets. We’re not going through any of those sorts of costs.”
The Next Beverly Hills Committee hopes to use the city’s trolley to promote the program and improve mobility during First Thursdays. They have asked City Council for a sponsorship of about $2,000 monthly to operate the trolley.
City Council unanimously offered enthusiastic support of the program. First Thursdays is expected to begin in October and will run for nine months. After the initial nine months it will be reviewed for the possibility of expansion.
“I think it’s fantastic. It’s exactly what we want,” said Vice Mayor Lili Bosse. “I’m hoping that we will grow from just first Thursdays to every Thursday.”
Roxbury Drive Bike Lane
A proposed bike lane on Roxbury Drive is closer to being realized. If approved it would be a pilot program to help determine how future bike lanes identified in the city’s Complete Streets plan would be rolled out. The proposal received conditional support from City Council with stipulations from several council members.
“I think if we’re really going to test this, then we should be rigorous in our approach and we should understand the kind of questions we’re trying to answer and then we should go answer them,” said Gold. “I just think we should design the metrics and the questions early on and then make sure that we design a real mechanism to collect the data.”
The other council members echoed Gold’s stipulation that success of the bike lane should be rigorously measured.
While the proposal aims to limit impact on vehicle lanes and parking, it does include a plan to shrink parking spaces on Roxbury to make room for the bike lane. During public comment, some residents raised safety concerns that shrinking parking creates a hazard.
City staff assured the Council that proposed changes are within state safety guidelines.
“I think if we are going to pick a place to have a pilot project that is as safe as can be, I think this is the correct one,” said Councilmember Lester Friedman.
A temporary demonstration of the proposed lane was held in July where the community was able to take a test ride at the location. At that event, 25 out of 30 cyclists surveyed by the city said they thought the bike lane felt safe and would be a good fit for Roxbury.
“This is about positioning Beverly Hills for the future,” said Mayor Bob Wunderlich. “This is something that’s widely desired by families that would like their kids to be able to bicycle and to feel safe bicycling.”
Organizers of a proposed music festival and competition celebrating the work of Sergei Rachmaninoff are looking for a sponsorship of $50,000 from the city and a two-day slot at the Wallis Center for Performing Arts to host the event in March of 2022.
“Rachfest” (The Rachmaninoff International Piano Competition & Festival) was first hosted in Pasadena in 2002 and has not been hosted since 2008 when organizers faced financial woes due to the economic crisis which started that year.
While the idea of the festival was met with some enthusiasm from City Council, several council members said the event was too early in the planning process for the city to commit any funding.
“I think there are a whole lot of steps here before I would be prepared to commit to anything,” said Gold. “I wouldn’t close the door, but I think that you can’t make a commitment in a vacuum, there are just too many missing pieces.”
Wunderlich and Bosse both agreed with Gold. Wunderlich said he would need to see more sponsors committed than the event currently has.
“This is the kind of festival that fits us,” said Wunderlich. “We do want to have arts and culture festivals, and in particular when there is a Beverly Hills Connection, that makes it even more fitting for us.”
Rachmaninoff was a Russian-born pianist, composer and conductor and is considered by many to be one of history’s greatest classical musicians. He eventually became a U.S. citizen and lived in Beverly Hills where he died in 1943.
Event organizers were encouraged by City Council to work with the Beverly Hills Arts and Culture Commission and The Wallis to strengthen their bid for sponsorship. They were invited to come back to City Council when they are further along in the planning process.
Throughout the Tuesday session, Wunderlich commented multiple times on the excitement he felt about many of the proposals and their potential to bring renewed energy to the community after the COVID-19 pandemic.