Candidates Meet for Southwest Neighborhood Association Forum

Candidates for Beverly Hills City Council and City Treasurer met once again at City Hall, this time for a forum hosted by the Southwest Neighborhood Association on May 3. While the forum saw crime and public safety again take top billing among issues, the candidates touched on new topics and responded to the recent leaked draft of the Supreme Court decision that would end the constitutional right to abortion.

After introductions, moderators opened the forum with questions on how candidates would address the drought crisis impacting the southwest. Just last week, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California set stringent outdoor watering restrictions in areas including Los Angeles, limiting people to watering once a week. As moderators pointed out, the same day as the forum, the federal government announced that it would hold back water in the Colorado River as Lake Powell and Lake Mead hit record low levels – the first time such a measure has been taken.

“Yet we have heard nothing really of measures that have been designed to address these problems in our city,” said moderator Valerie Wisot. “What specific measures would you personally be in favor of to deal with the water crisis?”

Councilmember John Mirisch, the first to respond, explained that the city was taking measures to bolster its water security, including the recently reopened Foothill Water Treatment Plant. Additionally, he said, the city has purchased property on La Cienega where it can drill new water wells.

“But ultimately, at the end of the day, this is a statewide issue and the notion of continuing growth within our state needs to address the issue of resource scarcity,” he said.

In both her introduction and on other occasions, Vera Markowitz raised concerns over the city’s water supply, claiming the city only has a half-day reserve in case of emergency.

Councilmember Robert Wunderlich, who served as the city’s director of Metropolitan Water District for 10 years prior to his time on the Council, said that the measures taken by the City Council like the reopened treatment plant has put the city on the path to 25% self-supplied water. He said that the city could look to Israel for ideas on how to recycle its water, which it currently only does at a rate of 5%.

“The problem is just the plumbing problem, it’s not technology,” he said. “We know how to recycle. It’s just a matter of putting in the infrastructure to be able to do that – to bring back the water that now goes out to the ocean.”

Wunderlich contradicted Markowitz by noting that the city had a water supply of a few days in the event of an emergency.

Public Works Commissioner Sharona Nazarian criticized the treatment plant for running over budget. She added that the city could do better to store rainwater. To that end, she said the city is currently constructing a new reservoir to catch stormwater.

Planning Commission Chair Andy Licht highlighted the commission’s effort at requiring the use of recycled, “grey” water in the irrigation systems of larger buildings. Similarly, City Councilmember Lester Friedman said that the Council had required new projects like the Waldorf Astoria and One Beverly Hills to commit to reclaiming water used in the resource intensive process of construction.

All candidates were asked whether Beverly Hills should also impose a once-a-week limit on watering lawns. All candidates but one, Shiva Bagheri, said yes.

The candidates were also asked, were they on the City Council, whether they would vote on a resolution condemning the leaked Supreme Court draft decision in the case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The opinion, authored by Justice Samuel Alito, strikes down the nearly 50-year precedent guaranteeing the right to terminate a pregnancy. A final ruling is expected in the next two months.

All candidates but two said yes, with Nazarian describing abortion as a “fundamental, important right.” Bagheri, a conservative activist who founded the Beverly Hills Freedom Rally, said no. Markowitz, who also said no, explained that she wanted to wait until the final opinion was released before reaching judgement.

Mirisch added that not only would he vote on such a resolution, but that he has already requested the City Manager to ask the Mayor to agendize it for next week.

On the question of development, Mirisch and attorney Darian Bojeaux expressed the strongest opposition to “over-development” and mixed-use zoning. Bojeaux told the moderators that she could accept some buildings over the city’s current three-story height limit, but that projects like the proposed Cheval Blanc hotel on Rodeo Drive would threaten the character of the city.

“I don’t know if people realize how nice it is to be around buildings that are not that tall. It’s just so much more comfortable,” she said.

Other candidates stood by the Council’s mixed-use ordinance. Licht pointed to the state mandate to zone for more than 3,000 units.

“There’s no land. The only way to do it is to go up,” Licht said. If we don’t, we can spend our time fighting Sacramento or we can make our city livable and not involve Sacramento.”

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