From the Beverly Hills Courier - March 31, 2022
Candidates for Beverly Hills City Council gathered for the first time on March 30 for a forum hosted by the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce (BHCC).
The June 7 election will see 11 candidates compete for three open City Council seats. Given that large number, the BHCC hosted two panels for the City Council forum, with six candidates participating in the first and three following them. Two City Council candidates, Darian Bojeaux and Akshat “AB” Bhatia did not participate.
Public safety took precedence in the City Council portion of the forum, with the three incumbents defending the Council’s record of responding to the increase in crime and the challengers attempting to lay out an alternative to that record.
Candidates all agreed on the need to attract new officers to address staffing shortages in the Beverly Hills Police Department (BHPD). The candidates also found common ground in their support of the effort to recall District Attorney George Gascón, whose policies they blame for exacerbating crime in the city.
While challengers spoke about the need to improve public safety, incumbents tried to contextualize crime trends and offer strident defenses of the city’s response.
“The increase in crime in Beverly Hills is not solely a Beverly Hills problem,” Mayor Robert Wunderlich said. “It’s a national problem. It’s a regional problem. Beverly Hills actually is vastly safer than our surrounding neighborhoods, both in terms of crime and in terms of homelessness. But I understand that safer is not enough.”
“As I hear some suggestions that are being put forward, I’m not hearing anything that we’re not already doing,” Wunderlich said. “Over the course of my five years on City Council, we increased the police budget by 40%.”
Wunderlich highlighted other safety measures the Council has supported or implemented, including adding more CCTV cameras and automatic license plate readers, hiring private armed security firms, rolling out a police drone program, and passing ordinances aimed at curtailing harassment related to public demonstrations.
Councilmember Lester Friedman added that the Council had also supported the city’s Fire Department, increasing and upgrading equipment and launching the nurse practitioner program.
To address recruitment issues, Planning Commission Chair Andy Licht suggested making working conditions more appealing to prospective candidates by reducing working hours.
Councilmember John Mirisch suggested that BHPD could use technology as a force multiplier, using artificial intelligence to monitor the city’s many CCTV camera feeds. He reiterated a recent suggestion of his to purchase more mobile command centers.
“If there are issues, whether it be protests or a rash of crimes, we can deploy mobile command systems wherever we need to strategically and that can be a base for more foot patrols,” he said.
The forum discussion also repeatedly touched on the southeast of the city, which sitting Councilmember John Mirisch described as the “the ugly stepchild” of Beverly Hills in comparison to the ritzy Business Triangle. All candidates agreed on the importance of attracting and retaining businesses in the area.
Public Works Commissioner Sharona Nazarian accused the Council of neglecting the southeast.
“There are certain areas in our business district that are kind of falling apart. You walk on South Beverly, and you look at the sidewalks and they’re really decrepit,” she said. “It’s not becoming of our city.”
Planning Commission Chair Andy Licht emphasized that the city itself can only encourage certain forms of development.
“We aren’t developers as a city, we’re only here to provide [the] opportunity to make it easier for developers to do and encourage them [to do] what we want them to do,” he said.
Mirisch, who is running for his fourth term, said that the city had failed to revitalize the southeast despite years of lip service. He suggested forming a Business Improvement District, an area in which businesses pay an additional tax to fund projects that serve local businesses and encourage commercial activity.
Councilmember Lester Friedman defended the Council’s efforts in the southeast, saying he had recently moved his business to Southeast Beverly Hills. “Could it be improved? Yes, it could be improved,” he said. “I just don’t see it as a decrepit area. I see it as an opportunity.”
Forum moderator David Mirharooni asked the candidates about the minimal impact of the 2020 Mixed-Use Ordinance, which allowed residential development in large commercial swaths of the city. Since its passage, the city has seen no mixed-use projects, with just two developers expressing an intention to file projects with the city.
All candidates other than Mirisch expressed some form of support for the concept of mixed-use in the city, with Friedman, Licht, and Wunderlich saying that the ordinance needed to be reviewed and possibly revamped.
While Vera Markowitz said she was “very much a proponent” of mixed use, she felt that the Council had passed the ordinance without sufficient transparency.
“If you go down any street here, no one knows what’s going on. We need to have better communication with our residents and our residents need to know what’s going on and mixed use is one of the big things,” she said.
Mirisch, the lone dissenting vote against the Mixed-Use Ordinance, reiterated his opposition to “upzoning.”
“We’re not Manhattan, we’re not Paris, we’re Beverly Hills, and we need to be the best version of Beverly Hills that we can be,” he said.
The second panel saw a smaller crowd than the first. Sitting beside right wing-activist and dance instructor Shiva Bagheri and businessman Kevin Kugly, technologist and financial planner Robin Rowe acknowledged the elephant in the room.
“I’m sitting at the table of the people who are not supposed to win,” he said. But much like his prior run for City Council in 2020, he said his goal was to give residents an option outside of the mainstream.
“I gave people a chance to vote for a candidate who was different,” he said.
From the Beverly Press Park Labrea News - February 24, 2022
Just in Case BH founder Vera Markowitz has experienced plenty of success in her professional career, and she is hoping that will continue with her bid for one of the three open Beverly Hills City Council seats.
Mayor Robert Wunderlich and Councilmen John Mirisch and Lester Friedman are up for re-election, and Markowitz joins four other candidates looking to unseat an incumbent in the June 7 Primary Election.
“There are so many different problems in the city, and at this point, if we don’t make these problems get better, I don’t know if [the city] will ever recover,” said Markowitz, who has lived in Beverly Hills for more than 50 years.
She said the city’s water reserves, its fiber optics project and its general plan update are among the more pressing issues the city will be facing in the near future. Markowitz said the city’s fiber optics project has “all kinds of issues,” and she claims the city’s water reserves would only last three days in an emergency.
“I don’t know if people are even aware of it,” she said, adding that the city could bolster its reserves in a lot of areas – specifically in the hills – to alleviate the issue. “We haven’t utilized those areas.”
Markowitz said the general plan update is “critical,” as it will guide development in Beverly Hills for years to come. She also referenced the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
“It was closed in 2011,” she added. “I’m not even sure it’s open yet. It’s been a fiasco. It was originally opened in 2005, and by 2011, because of mismanagement, it went down. Those kinds of things really need to be addressed.”
Markowitz has never held an elected office, but she has been involved in civic matters in Beverly Hills for several years. Prior to founding Just in Case BH, an emergency preparedness program, she spent several years advising the City Council on issues with the Beverly Hills Police Department, which was inundated with lawsuits at the time.
“Fifty of the best [police officers] left. … The damage that was done at the time is still not recouped,” Markowitz said.
After the resignation of former Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli, Markowitz said she approached now-Vice Mayor Lili Bosse about starting an emergency preparedness program. Markowitz met with Fire Chief Greg Barton, and the concept blossomed.
“It is one of a kind,” she said. “It’s not been done anywhere in the country as to the extent that we have done it. We have a manual that’s going to be going out very shortly to every single resident, and I thank the council for supporting the program. Every single resident will get a manual telling them what to do, where to go, what services are available and, in general, what they have to do in a large emergency. … We’re also developing a real-time app so people get information as it’s happening, as opposed to everyone calling the police department or fire department constantly. It’s quite close to being all formulated and ready to go.”
Markowitz said she feels confident that her civic experience and volunteerism will serve the council well.
“I have to tell you, I am one of these passionate people,” she added. “I feel that, if I make my environment better, it’s better for everyone.”
Markowitz said council members – with the exception of Bosse – have shown “an inability to govern well” in the past.
“I’m working to improve the quality of the city and city services,” she said. “There are so many different issues. The infrastructure is very archaic, and we all have to work together to update our city and make it the great city that it once was.”
Vera Markowitz for Beverly Hills City Council
Beverly Hills, California, United States
Copyright © 2022 Vera Markowitz for Beverly Hills City Council - All Rights Reserved.