On May 11, Rotary Interact and Teen Beverly Hills Education Foundation (BHEF) held a student run City Council candidate forum at the Cherney Hall Auditorium at Beverly Hills High School (BHHS). The forum was broadcast live on KBEV, with 10 candidates participating. Candidates for City Treasurer, Jake Manaster and Howard Fisher, were in the audience, as well as other students, teachers, administration, and Beverly Hills Unified School District (BHUSD) Superintendent Dr. Michael Bregy. One candidate, Kevin Kugley, declined to attend.
Supported by the Beverly Hills Rotary Club, Rotary Interact is the high school equivalent of Rotary Clubs within Rotary International, for young adults who attend BHHS to come together and tackle the most important issues facing the city. Teen BHEF is a volunteer organization of 7th through 12th-graders in the BHUSD whose purpose is to inspire students to make a difference in their community through service projects. Students prepared seven questions, and five moderated the discussion: Melina Rosen, Interact/Rotary Club President; Eli Okum, Teen BHEF President; Sienna Wolfe, Vice President of Interact; Sarah Lefkowitz, Vice President of Teen BHEF; and Manuela Torres, a dual Interact/Teen BHEF member. While the students aren’t eligible to vote yet, they will be soon, and the issues that matter to them center around homelessness, mobility, affordable housing, sustainability, effects of the subway stations opening, helping small business and citywide surveillance cameras.
“Since this forum is entirely student-driven, it will offer a unique perspective on each of the candidate’s platforms and personalities,” BHEF’s Danielle Lieber told the Courier. “Our teenagers see local and community issues from a different vantage point than we do and are therefore better suited to ask creative and more novel questions which adults may not think to ask.”
Shiva Bagheri kicked off the forum with her opening statement, which was delivered in the form of a rap that began “don’t let your rights be taken away by globalist psychos that want a pay day, they thrive on power, money, control if you’re not too careful, they’ll take your soul.”
The first question asked the candidates how they would use city resources to address homelessness, and the next question cited an April 25 Los Angeles Times article regarding the city’s roughly 2000 closed-circuit cameras. “Do you agree with the City Council’s decision to sign off on this, or do you believe that this is an unnecessary invasion of privacy,” asked student Melina Rosen.
All the candidates, apart from Bagheri, supported the use of cameras throughout the city. “I’m no lawyer, the lawyers can correct me, but I believe you have no right to privacy when you’re in public,” Licht said.
Other questions asked candidates how they would enforce traffic regulations to ease traffic congestion, how to make Beverly Hills more accessible to lower income families, how they would make Beverly Hills a more environmentally friendly city, and what effect the subway will have on the city once it opens.
“I’m also a big proponent of mixed use,” Markowitz said in response to making the city accessible for lower income families. “I don’t know if the kids know about it, so it would be a store at the bottom and over the store would be two or three extra homes where people could live and that reduces major costs.”
“The transit system, that would obviously help, and we have a whole sustainability committee that is looking at things that we can do as a city,” Mirisch said regarding sustainability issues. “We are part of the Clean Power Alliance, which allows us to have energy that is renewable and electrification.”
The last questions asked candidates how they would encourage the growth of small businesses in Beverly Hills and ensure their success.
“It’s really important to start bringing in businesses by giving them incentives,” Nazarian said. “Whether it be to expedite the process for permits, or the amount of time that it takes for them to be able to be a part of it. What I’m more concerned about is finding businesses that are more appropriate for our community.”
The candidates also met for two forums on May 9 hosted by the Beverly Hills Active Adult Club (BHAAC) Senior Forum and residents of the Hillgreen Watch neighborhood.
The latter forum, which was held virtually, was moderated by Frances Bilak, who told the Courier that Hillgreen has seen a recent “spate of trespassers, vandalism, dumpster divers, robberies and break-ins.”
The forum extended invitations to six candidates, Councilmembers Lester Friedman, John Mirisch and Robert Wunderlich, plus Planning Commission Chair Andy Licht, Public Works Commissioner Sharona Nazarian and Vera Markowitz.
Attorney Darian Bojeaux, who joined at the last minute, offered a lone defense of embattled District Attorney George Gasco?n, who has been blamed in part for recent crime trends. All other candidates have expressed support for the attempt to recall him, even donating to the cause and helping to collect signatures to place the matter on the November ballot.
Bojeaux pointed to statistics showing that “crime is up nationwide and it also is up in areas that have a traditional DA.”
Other candidates have acknowledged national crime trends, but at the forum, Licht said that the lived experience of residents, including himself, felt different.
“Perception outweighs the reality to me,” he said.
Former Mayor Les Bronte moderated the BAAC Senior Forum, which focused on issues relevant to Beverly Hills’ elderly residents. Public safety took precedence, with Bronte explaining that seniors felt afraid to walk outside unaccompanied.
Candidates also spoke about the need to make the city accessible to the senior community, with Nazarian suggesting a program that would provide seniors with discounts at retail stores throughout the city.