Ficus Trees, Soccer Teams and Housing Element on City Council Agenda

The Beverly Hills City Council held its sixth meeting of the year on March 21, with highlights ranging from heartwarming to heated.

The bulk of public commentary from the nearly two-hour forum was dominated by discussion of the city’s action to remove ficus trees along Robertson Boulevard. Other topics included affordable housing, Nowruz-the Persian New Year celebration, and recognition of Lili Bosse’s final official meeting as mayor. However, all of this came after the council took time out to celebrate the accomplishments of two local American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) teams.

“We’ve got champions in the house!” cheered Mayor Bosse as she called the teams forward to receive certificates and pose for photos.

On March 11, two teams of boys from AYSO Region 76 in Beverly Hills, the under 10s and under 12s, won this year’s Western States Championship. Although a team of girls won the championship last year, no boys team from the organization’s 48-year history in the city has ever achieved this distinction. 

“We will never forget March 11, when you made history that way,” said Bosse.

The meeting’s most delightful moment included speeches from the coaches of both teams, Ji Lee and Martin Marcus.

Lee, coach of the under 10s who also serves as AYSO’s regional commissioner, offered some perspective on the sheer magnitude of this accomplishment.

“The western states comprise about 180,000 players, so when we look at these two teams, and in their age categories, they’ve proven to be the best of 180,000 players,” said Lee. 

Marcus, coach of the under 12s, offered perspective on just how far his team had come since he began working with them.

“This is pretty much the same team that stayed together for over two and a half, almost three years. And when they started, I can tell you, there was no chance in the world we could win the Western States Championships,” said Marcus. “The parents know, we were getting beat 6-0, 8-0, 11-0, and it’s really remarkable what these boys did. It’s unbelievable.”

The council also recognized the holiday of Nowruz, which is known popularly as the Iranian or Persian New Year. A pre-recorded video featuring community member Nooshin Meshkaty and Councilmember Sharona Nazarian offered an introduction to the traditions practiced during the annual celebration, including the symbolic Haft-sin table. After the video, Bosse reminded those in attendance that a Haft-Sin Table will remain on display at Beverly Hills City Hall for the remainder of the week.

“Happy spring, happy Nowruz, and only good things ahead,” said Bosse. 

The vibe in the room quickly shifted when the time came for public comment. Across telephone, in-person, and written admissions, more than a dozen individuals spoke on the controversial ongoing action by the city to remove mature ficus trees from Robertson Boulevard.

Forty-nine of the 87 trees identified by the so-called sidewalk enhancement project have already been removed, according to Public Information Manager Lauren Santillana. They will soon be replaced with crape myrtles and Mexican fan palms.

The city has dubbed the trees invasive, citing complaints of growing roots causing damage to underground plumbing and rendering sidewalks uneven and unnavigable for individuals using mobility devices. Referencing concerns for aesthetics, history, and the environment, commenters implored officials to halt the phased project and save the 38 remaining trees.

“Cutting down all those trees is no different than Bolsonaro cutting down the trees in the Amazon rainforest, just on a smaller scale,” said Lauren Steiner, referencing action taken by the former Brazilian president to deforest millions of acres of the so-called lungs of planet Earth.

Nadia Mansour suggested that Beverly Hills officials could consult with her former home city to find a creative solution to this problem.

“In Paris, we have trees that are over 150 years, sometimes 200. Nobody removes the trees, and they have huge roots,” she said. “Call the city of Paris and ask them how they do it.”

One of the later comments came from Tiffany Page, who teared up as she quoted Dr. Seuss’ ubiquitous, pro-environment children’s book, “The Lorax.”

“I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. The trees have no tongues, so I am screaming from the top of my lungs,” said Page, before gifting a copy of the book to Bosse. “I’m gonna give you this book, Mayor Lili, if you could read it, and you can make the decision of speaking for the trees.”

Another matter that drew noteworthy commentary was the issue of the city’s general plan and housing element annual report. In March 2020, the state of California issued a Regional Housing Needs Assessment for all cities, covering the period of October 2021 to October 2029. The plan requires a build out of more than 3.5 million housing units statewide. Of those, the state has demanded that Beverly Hills create 3,104 new housing units by the year 2029, more than 50% of which should be designated for occupants with low or very low income. A previous version of the plan was not certified by the state.

One commenter, James Wendell, called in to protest the city’s housing plan. Wendell stated that he had previously lived in Beverly Hills but had been displaced in 2005 “due to illegal Airbnbs and landlords with lack of protections for young renters.”

“I’ve been disappointed because this is the second or third iteration of a housing element. I started back in 2011, and here we are in 2023,” said Wendell. “Unfortunately, because of 50 or 60 years of not addressing this issue, it has exacerbated to the degree that very low income, low income housing is basically not even a consideration in the city.”

Following Wendell’s comment, the council voted to approve the general plan to be sent to the state for review, with only one no vote from Councilmember John Mirisch. If the state does not accept the plan, legal action to force compliance could be forthcoming, like that which is currently proceeding with the city of Huntington Beach. 

At the end of the night, Bosse moved to adjourn the meeting, only to be interrupted by Vice Mayor Dr. Julian A Gold, who will assume the position of mayor on April 4.

“Let’s take a minute to applaud our mayor, and a year’s worth of work. Strong work,” said Gold, as the entire body applauded the soon-to-be outgoing mayor.

“A very productive year,” added Councilmember Lester J. Friedman.

“We did it together,” said Bosse, thanking her colleagues.