On Feb. 3, the candidates for Beverly Hills City Council faced off in the room over which they soon hope to preside.
In the Council Chambers at City Hall, all five candidates to appear on the ballot – challengers Rabbi Sidney “Simcha” Green, member of the city’s Technology Committee Robin Rowe and Planning Commissioner Lori Greene Gordon, and incumbents Lili Bosse and Dr. Julian Gold –were present for a candidate forum hosted by the Municipal League of Beverly Hills. Attorney Aimee Zeltzer, who qualified as a write-in candidate that morning, also participated.
The contenders addressed the standing-room-only crowd for an opening statement and took questions from the moderators, the audience and each other, leading to a two-hour forum that covered a wide array of topics, including traffic, changes to the city’s general plan, and whether Beverly Hills needs experience or new ideas in the coming years.
When asked about traffic in the city, Rowe, a technologist, said he’s worked on traffic control software and artificial intelligence can be used to ease congestion, but that won’t be enough. Many people who work in Beverly Hills don’t live in the city, Rowe said.
“That creates tremendous traffic that we have to address with affordable housing,” he said.
Bosse said many of the traffic issues arise in other cities, so Beverly Hills is always going to have some traffic, though some measures can be undertaken to ease the problem, such as increased enforcement of traffic laws.
“I also think that we’re trying to enforce a more walkable city as well, trying to teach people to not always use their cars to get around,” she said.
Green, who indicated that he is only running to draw attention to two issues – interfaith relations and medical cannabis – that he feels the incumbents have overlooked, said the fact that the candidates were discussing traffic implies that it is an issue the current City Council hasn’t solved.
“I don’t know that I’m going to solve it either,” Green said.
Gordon also said Beverly Hills residents will have to learn to live with traffic, but she’d like to make the city more walkable, look into making some streets one-way and partner with the Luskin School of Public Affairs at UCLA, where she serves on the board of advisors, “to work on ways that we can find … small changes that might make a difference in cut-through traffic.”
Gold also said much of the traffic comes from Los Angeles and he wants the city to become more walkable, but he added that the use of technology, such as autonomous vehicles for mass transit and automated enforcement for speeding, could help. Gold also said ride-hailing might ease traffic by reducing parking demand.
“People are just circling around, looking for a place to park. It creates traffic,” Gold said.
Zeltzer, who said she has lived in New York City and Washington, D.C., added that she has seen cities that work without cars, where the residents walk and use public transit instead, and that way of life is more sustainable, one of the issues she considers most important.
“I don’t think the issue is more parking spaces … I really am against building more parking,” she said.
The candidates were also asked about the city’s general plan and potential changes to the city’s density and height limit of three stories and 45 feet for commercial buildings. Multiple candidates referenced the Regional Housing Needs Assessment, which would like to see the city’s general plan allow for approximately 3,100 more housing units.
Gordon said the city’s current limit is “sacrosanct,” but some changes may be required to reach the housing goals. Gordon said, if anything, she would only support moderate changes that all projects would have to abide by instead of developers asking for exceptions.
“I would like this city to be fair for everyone,” she said.
Gold said “the world around us has changed,” and the city looks will have to consider the housing shortage.
“Clearly, we’re not going to do this in residential neighborhoods, but I do think that there are parts of town where we’re going to have to be very, very careful and thoughtful and perhaps, we’re going to have to increase height and density,” Gold said.
Zeltzer said she was against increasing building height, as “it could get very dark as you build higher and higher,” though she would like to hear community input on the subject.
“I would just hate to see this beautiful city lose its magic charm. I would hate to see big buildings,” she said.
Green said the issue had “no simple answer.”
“As a member of the council, I will sit with my four colleagues, and we’ll come up with answers, and we’ll let you know about them,” he said.
Bosse said housing units are needed for young people and for seniors to age in place, and she added that there are some parts of the city that already allow for taller buildings than currently exist.
“We could modify our code to allow for smaller units to encourage the seniors or the next gen, and mixed-use is also another way, which is also currently part of the general plan,” she said.
Rowe decried the slow pace of local government, saying that if Beverly Hills wanted to meet its housing requirement all at once, it would need to build something like two 70-story residential buildings that contain 1,500 hundred units each.
“That is the scale of the problem that we face, and it’s not going to be solved by discussion, ‘we’re talking, we’re looking into it,’” Rowe said.
The candidates also were asked whether an incumbent or a new representative would suit the city best. Bosse and Gold were each first elected in 2011.
Green said the incumbents haven’t come around to his views on encouraging interfaith relations and allowing medical cannabis businesses in Beverly Hills.
“I had hoped that maybe I would convince them to agree with me, but they have not stepped forward yet, so therefore, I have to be on the council for those issues that I am concerned with,” Green said.
Green added that it was a “disgrace” the council spent so long defining anti-Semitism in a study session, as “everybody knows what it is.”
Gordon did not say that a new representative would be better than an incumbent in principle, but she said the current council members have served for nine years already. Gordon added that she has new ideas and her background in business and planning would make her a good council member.
“I have that understanding that I can bring, and [I’m] ready to go on day one,” she said.
Gold said the candidates were each running on their record, and the current City Council’s record and ability to work well together speak highly of the incumbents. Gold added that the city will face many hurdles in the next four years, and having an experienced council will help the city overcome challenges.
“I actually think that the best training ground for City Council is probably City Council,” he said.
Zeltzer said she has some government experience, from student government to the South Robertson Neighborhoods Council. Though she wasn’t referring to the incumbents specifically, she said when officials spend too much time in power, “they tend to maybe become a little bit more relaxed.”
“I think it’s really great to have new ideas, fresh people, people with different experiences that they can bring to the table,” she said.
Pointing out that George Washington thought two terms were enough, Rowe said he would support term limits for the City Council members.
“We’ve had the incumbents for quite a long time … and I think that it’s time for a change, and it’s time for ideas to advance faster on the City Council than they have,” Rowe said.
Bosse said the city is “truly the fiber of my being,” and though she has experience both as a council member and Planning Commissioner, she also has new ideas.
“My ideas are fresh, they’re creative, they’re imaginative … I’m inclusive. I work with everyone, and I really believe that Beverly Hills is me, and I am you,” Bosse said.
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