More than 350 attendees gathered on the stately outdoor terraces of the Greystone Mansion’s Formal Gardens on the evening of Sept. 28. The occasion: the annual “State of the City Address” during “An Evening with the Mayor.” Sponsored by the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce, the event is one of the highlights of the city’s municipal calendar. It was also the second high-profile gathering of community leaders and residents in as many nights. The previous evening, the Beverly Hills Police Officers Association held its annual gala.
Guests at the Greystone event mingled on the breezy courtyard while a violinist played classical selections and Local LA Catering by Chef David Lefevre served a selection of food and beverages. They then moved up to the manicured, fountain-bedecked lawn, where video screens were set up for the formal program.
“This is an event that we’re extremely proud of because of the way it brings the community, business and government all together. This may be the luxury capital of the world, but everybody knows everybody here,” Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Todd Johnson told the Courier.
This year marked a milestone of sorts for the evening’s speaker, Mayor Dr. Julian Gold. He began his remarks by reflecting on this, his third term in office.
“People have said that the third time must be easier, after all you have so much more knowledge. Perhaps, but one needs wisdom also. The difference? Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad,” he said, drawing laughter.
After recognizing and thanking the city officials and other VIPS in attendance, Gold went on to highlight some of his accomplishments of the past six months. He also spoke frankly about the opportunities and challenges for the future.
“Generally, the city is doing very well,” Gold remarked. “The hard days of the pandemic seem in the distant past, thankfully. But we are still recovering and while things are better, my conversations with many of you suggest there is still a way to go to meet your revenue expectations. The same is true for the city. Our net revenues are approximately where they were in 2019 before the pandemic.”
He praised the work of the Chamber, noting that a dozen new restaurants and a number of new retail stores have opened in the city.
“We are seeing areas of the city, previously very quiet, becoming hubs for restaurants and night life. There are unparalleled investments by big brands with store redesigns-Chanel, Cartier, Rolex and Patek Philippe to name a few. Despite TikTok proclamations to the contrary, our commercial spaces are occupied and the few vacancies we have, are mostly in transition between businesses,” said Gold.
Public safety also made Gold’s topic list.
“I know we have described the advances by our Police Department several times in the last months. Today, I am pleased to report that recently we achieved full staffing at 145 sworn officers. Additionally, the Real Time Watch Center is up and running 24 hours a day and our drone is flying 12 hours a day across the entire city,” said Gold.
He addressed another topic on the minds of residents, and that is the unhoused. Gold noted that the council recently committed to a $14 million appropriation over 10 years for the support of housing the homeless. The money will go toward 30 permanent supportive homes and 20 temporary housing sites annually.
“While none of the housing will be within Beverly Hills, all of it will be earmarked for those in our city identified as needing these services. I believe it is the right thing to do but there are also good legal reasons to do it. For instance, it allows us to enforce our laws which don’t allow camping in our parks. Being homeless is not illegal and the fact that housing is available doesn’t allow us to force anybody into it. But if someone chooses not to avail themselves of it, we can then enforce our laws,” said Gold.
Gold then spoke with pride about his initiative to develop a unified medical system for residents and visitors. At its core is the nurse practitioner program which operates within the fire department’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS). It was the one of the first in the country to be embedded into a Fire Department’s medical response model and has seen great success.
Gold pointed out, however, that industry-leading police and fire department programs such as these come at considerable cost.
“Today we spend nearly $170 million on public safety alone. Our total general fund budget is about $320 million; public safety is approximately half perhaps a little bit more. Based on a 4% annual inflation rate over the next five years, we will spend nearly $30 million more in 5 years than we are spending today on public safety alone. This does not consider the opening of new subway stations and the impact on our public safety costs. That nearly $30 million is the minimum increase we will see. I am concerned about how we will afford this and maintain our current level of service,” he said.
He then lamented the loss of the Cheval Blanc Beverly Hills hotel project and its anticipated revenue stream. That revenue will have to be replaced from other sources, said Gold. For this reason, he has created the Mayor’s Blue-Ribbon Committee to understand what current spending is, what proposed future spending will be, and how best to pay for the things the city needs in the future.
Looking forward into that future, Gold spoke about the upcoming City Council election to fill his seat and that of Councilmember Lili Bosse.
“The choice of our replacements is critical as this next council will quickly need to take that financial blueprint and turn it into actionable programs which support city revenues. We cannot afford to lose the next Cheval Blanc. We need strong businesses which support the city’s economic well-being in order to sustain our current levels of service. For me, our next council must be unequivocally and strongly pro-growth. Anything less, jeopardizes our ability to provide world class services,” he stated.
As important as the need to keep revenues strong, so is the need for a strong electrical infrastructure. Gold has been upfront in his desire to protect the city from electric grid failure. To that end, he is working with a consultant to determine viable steps the city can take and will report more by year’s end.
Finally, he turned to a few community-facing initiatives implemented this term. One of them is the “Mayors’ Minutes” initiative, which highlights businesses large and small in the city. Similarly, his “Office Hours with Dr. Gold” program has enabled him to spend time in a sit and chat format with residents. The next installment takes place Oct. 12.
After that, it will be but a few short weeks until the holiday season kicks off. Gold made sure to put in a plug for the city’s programming.
“We have a wonderful holiday lighting ceremony planned with world class entertainment the night of November 16, of course on the world class Rodeo Drive. Food, entertainment, fireworks-Santa!! We hope to see you all there,” said Gold.
And, in an announcement sure to please pet-lovers, Gold also announced that the city has just been granted the “Pet Friendly City” award.
In closing, Gold noted, “Cities are organic, like people. The status quo doesn’t last very long. Circumstances change. The best cities are those which anticipate change, prepare for it, remain resilient and then adapt to the new realities. Even then, life can throw a curve ball. Covid for instance.
He added, “As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem. We are doing very well as a city, but we must recognize that there are problems to solve. Which will likely bring other problems to solve. That is ok. That’s life. We will meet that challenge – Beverly Hills always does.”