City Council Candidates Take Part in Community Forums

The Beverly Hills City Council candidates took part in two more community forums last week, answering questions from representatives of Beverly Hills’ oldest and youngest populations. The forum on Feb. 8 was held at Beverly Hills High School and organized by the students in the Interact Club and Teen BHEF, and the forum on Feb. 9 was held at Roxbury Park and organized by the Beverly Hills Active Adult Club.

They were the third and fourth forums held since January, and though the candidates covered well-worn territory including the housing element and public safety, they also discussed issues that hadn’t been explored at earlier forums, including parking woes near BHHS and the city’s minimal nightlife.

And unlike the two prior forums on Jan. 11 and Feb. 1 – which were hosted by the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce and the Beverly Hills Southwest Homeowners Association, respectively – the candidates were not present for the entirety of last week’s forums. On Feb. 8, Craig Corman left for another event shortly after making his opening statement, and Myra Demeter arrived late to that forum after finishing a 6-hour Planning Commission meeting. Upon arrival, Demeter clashed with a student who tried to limit her speaking time while she introduced herself to the crowd.

Alissa Roston was absent from the forum on Feb. 9, and Nooshin Meshkaty left early, saying she had another appointment in downtown Los Angeles. She also stated that moderator and former Mayor Les Bronte was not giving her opportunities to respond to his questions.

The BHHS forum on Feb. 8 followed a familiar format, with the candidates each giving an opening statement before answering a series of questions, starting with how the candidates plan to address parking shortages near the high school.   

Craig Corman advocated for a daytime student parking permit, and Mary Wells said there are plans to build a new parking lot in 2027 and she would relax parking rules in the interim. Roston doubted the feasibility of a part-time permit because of existing parking issues, though she said the city should encourage biking and walking and revive a proposal to build a tram that would travel in a loop from the Wilshire/La Cienega Metro station to BHHS.

“I think having more cars is not necessarily the best thing for our city,” she said.

Sharon Persovski said the city should encourage more students to carpool and give high school seniors a sticker that would allow them to park in the neighborhood during school hours, while Russell Stuart supported a parking permit and said the city should excuse parking tickets that have been given to students.

“Right now, yes, parking is a mess everywhere, but anything that discourages someone from coming to school, or putting a financial burden on anyone coming to school is … an absolute no-go,” Stuart said.

Meshkaty said it was important to focus on sustainable solutions and said the city should model a carpooling system based on one at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where she works, in which the lab pairs up residents who live close by each other.

Robin Rowe said that increasing parking near the school would exacerbate traffic, and he repeated his proposal to build a gondola-like skyway above the city.

The students also asked about the candidates’ plans to incentivize small businesses to invest in the city after many closed their doors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wells said that many small business owners have complained of poor communication from city government, and she would appoint a city employee to act as a “point person” for small business owners.

Roston said that the costs of opening businesses in Beverly Hills are prohibitive, and she would work to lower fees. She also said the city should use property it owns to attract new businesses and pointed to the Erewhon grocery store at 339 N. Beverly Drive as an example of a business in city-owned property that acts as an “anchor” of a vibrant commercial area.

Persovski said the city should give incentives including tax breaks to new businesses, and Stuart said that improving public safety was the most important thing the city could do to boost small businesses.

Tiffany Davis opined that the city needed to cut down on red tape, overhaul its marketing plan and promote more dialogue around rent issues. Hamid Omrani said that reviving the city’s nightlife was essential to attracting more businesses, and he proposed building theaters and other entertainment options on top of city-owned parking structures.

As in other forums, the candidates presented different solutions when asked how they will manage crime stemming from the new Metro stations.   

Incentivizing mixed-use development could create vibrant neighborhoods around the stations, Roston said, adding that the city should also ensure services for unhoused people. Persovski similarly recommended creating an arts district around the Metro stops.

Stuart, however, said that apart from voting Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón out of office, enhancing security was the biggest crime deterrent. He called for more police officers, security guards and cameras near the Metro stops and throughout Beverly Hills’ busiest streets.

Meshkaty suggested a technical solution, saying the city should use artificial intelligence to track Metro riders and create an app that allows residents and visitors to report crimes and find parking.

Rowe rebuffed the idea that electing a new DA or adding more police officers will reduce crime. In an apparent jab at Stuart, he added, “The candidate who is saying he runs a security company and knows it will be a problem— maybe has a little bit of a conflict of interest since his company provides the security he’s promoting we all buy.”

Davis agreed the city should install more cameras and the Beverly Hills Police Department should take a harder line on enforcement. Omrani said the city should seal off one side of the Metro entrances and install new gates around the city’s perimeter to make it harder for criminals to abscond, and Wells reiterated her proposal for a dedicated BHPD Metro unit.    

The candidates responded to another question that hadn’t been posed at previous forums: What do they hope to accomplish within their first three months on the council?

Although the candidates largely agreed it would be hard to make sweeping changes within three months, Persovksi said she wanted to focus on increasing public safety in light of rising antisemitism, addressing economic concerns and certifying the housing element.

Stuart said the housing element would be his first priority, followed by public safety. Meshkaty responded that she would “take an inventory of everything that is happening” before focusing on her priorities, and Rowe said that he would move faster than his opponents to carry out his agenda, especially with certifying the housing element.   

Demeter repeated her plans to create a Metro ridership committee composed of social workers, police officers, residents and business leaders and to restore public comment at City Council meetings to three minutes.

Charlie Brach, co-president of the Beverly Hills High School Interact Club and vice president of Teen BHEF, hoped that the forum provided a broader view of residents’ concerns.

“I think when there’s a student perspective it can kind of shift the narrative a little bit to represent all residents, and that’s what we wanted to accomplish,” he said.

On Feb. 9, the Active Adult Club forum at Roxbury Park was less structured. Bronte, president of the club, did not allot a specific time for candidates to answer each question, and he commented on their answers throughout the forum. At one point, he gave Wells extra time to speak about her accomplishments on the school board after Rowe blamed successive school boards for degrading the district’s national reputation.

Bronte asked the candidates about several topics that had been covered at prior forums, including their thoughts on crime and the Cheval Blanc project, though one new topic was the city’s Senior and Disabled Dial-a-Ride Shuttle Program, which does not provide sufficient services, Bronte said.

Demeter said she is intimately involved with the rideshare program as her disabled husband frequently relies on it.

“When you make the appointment, the van comes very promptly … the problem is the return,” Demeter said. “You have to approximate how long your doctor’s appointment will be or how long you need. And very often you finish [early] and have to wait … [for the return shuttle], or you finish late, and you miss your shuttle.”

She also advocated for implementing a fixed-route shuttle system that seniors can use.   

Davis said each shuttle should be staffed by a driver and another employee to assist riders and enhance accountability, and she said the city needs to better communicate how the program works and how residents can use it.

“I have heard from the daughter of a senior who has seen the shuttle, and she says, ‘I have no idea how to access the shuttle or where it goes,’” Davis said.

Corman said that hiring a second person to ride in the shuttles would be too expensive, and it would make more sense to incentivize drivers to be more responsive or work out an agreement with rideshare services.

Bronte also asked the candidates how they would grow the city’s population and attract more young families.

Though the candidates mostly responded with answers they had provided at previous forums, some offered fresh suggestions. Davis said the city should build a teen center, Corman said the city should help fund a new preschool at Hawthorne Elementary School and Omrani said the city should build a community college.   

Echoing a theme of the previous night’s forum, the candidates also spoke about their plans for enhancing Beverly Hills’ nightlife.

“We need more entertainment in a contained way,” Davis said, adding that the city should offer more rooftop dining experiences. Meshkaty said the city should encourage restaurants to keep later hours, and Persovski said the city needed more family and budget family restaurants.

Omrani provided a much grander proposal. He said that building a covered parking structure on Santa Monica Boulevard that is connected by bridges to the Metro stations would make Beverly Hills nightlife competitive with its neighbors.

“It creates a new system so we can bring huge amount of changes to the city,” he added.

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