Get to Know City Hall

Get to Know City Hall

City of Beverly Hills is a small city relatively accessible to stakeholders. At the same time, the disproportionate political influence of business and near-total political capture of City Hall by the north-side homeowner social class means the average Joe has relatively little say in civic affairs.

The city’s organization chart, too, suggests opportunities for engagement. While department responsibilities are not as finely-sliced as a larger city (is transportation a function of community development or public works?), smaller departments mean that you can get folks on the phone with a question.

Here too appearances deceive: risk aversion is rife in a City Hall that has downsized and outsourced its way to a two-tiered administrative state: a fat strata of too-highly-paid administrators oversee a relatively thin strata of merely over-paid support staff while every other function falls to a contractor.

We recently contacted City Hall about a dirty fountain adjacent to a children’s jungle gym and the experience reflected the rule. The Rec & Parks department that used to perform park maintenance referred us to Public Works, which now contracts out fountain maintenance. But the official we contacted there responded: “Thank you for bringing this to our attention, a staff member will investigate and take the appropriate action.” Of course nothing was done for a month.

We contacted the chief of the Parks department (on vacation) and it was the staffer promptly contacted the contractor and it was done within days. On some questions, Beverly Hills City Hall’s answer is but a phone call away.

But on other issues like transportation policy, the obstacles can be maddening. Political capture is the only explanation we’ve found for making near-zero progress in our quest to make city streets safer to bike. Yet safe mobility planning is a core function for any city. State law requires conformity with road standards and the federal government keep a watchful eye out too.

Still we urge you – implore you – to take your concerns to City Hall. At the very least they should be made to recognize when they’re not serving the entirety of their constituency!

Are we taking too long to get to the point? Then consult our handy cheat sheet of city officials!

Navigating the Org Chart

Beverly Hills organization chartThe first step is to figure out which department handles the issue that is of concern. Refer to the flow chart (right) to see how our city is organized.

In Beverly Hills the City Manager has responsibility for the day-to-day running of the city. The City Council makes the policy (our five members represent every district in the city in an at-large system) and hires the manager. And our departments implement the policies and programs.

Commissions are merely advisory to City Council (with the exception of the Planning Commission which is a policy-making body).
A rough metaphor is that the Council runs the railroad; the City Manager makes the trains run on time; and the commissions & committees do the engineering. For an issue, one usually begins at the bottom of the org chart with a committee or commission.

Where mobility issues are concerned, for example, the Traffic & Parking Commission is the place to begin. It advises City Council on traffic and parking issues. Have a specific complaint? Introduce yourself to the Commissioners during public comment at the top of the meeting. Describe your issue. And follow up with staff. Ask that a pressing concern be agendized for an upcoming meeting. Traffic & Parking meets once per month on the first Thursday at 9 a.m. with public comment near the beginning.

City Council meets twice monthly in both the afternoon (study session for direction and information updates) and in the evening (the formal meeting where decisions are taken and money is allocated). The city publishes (but does not promote) a Policy and Operations Manual that clarifies how the process works.

Your Cheat Sheet for Contacting City Officials

  • City Council is the key policy-making body for Beverly Hills. Five Council members represent every district in the city (an at-large system) so you need to talk to more than just one. Reach the City Council at (310) 285-1013 or email Council at mayorandcitycouncil@beverlyhills.org. The Mayor (currently Julian Gold) is a largely ceremonial position elected by members of the Council. Still, the Mayor ‘sets the agenda’ as they say.
  • City Manager is currently Mahdi Aluzri. The manager is hired by the City Council to run the city. He’s a rider himself! Surely he’d like to hear from other riders concerned about safety; reach him at (310) 285-1014 or by email at maluzri@beverlyhills.org.
  • Transportation Division (now a part of Community Development) oversees programs and infrastructure. It provides staff support to City Council on mobility issues and implements programs and policies at the direction of Council. Reach Transportation at (310) 285-1128 or by email at transportation@beverlyhills.org. For better results, contact deputy Aaron Kunz directly at (310) 285-2563 or by email at akunz@beverlyhills.org. Avoid other transportation staffers when possible.
  • Traffic & Parking Commission is advisory to City Council on matters related to traffic, parking, and yes, mobility too. Reach Traffic & Parking Commission staffers at (310) 285-2452 or by email at transportation@beverlyhills.org. Currently the Chair is Lester Friedman – no friend to riders.
  • Recreation & Parks division (in Community Services) oversees parks, landmarks and recreation programming. Reach the division desk at (310) 285-2537 or drop director Steve Zoet an email at szoet@beverlyhills.org. He’s very helpful!
  • Recreation & Parks Commission is advisory to City Council on matters of mobility. Policies come here first before reaching Council. Contact the Rec & Parks Commission staff at (310) 285-2536 or by email at iknebel@beverlyhills.org. Currently the chair is Simone Friedman.
  • Planning Division of Community Development implements land use policies, reviews applications, and supports City Council with information regarding development issues. Reach Ryan Gohlich, Deputy Director of Community Development for Planning, at rgohlich@beverlyhills.org or (310) 285-1118. Michele McGrath is also very helpful.
  • Planning Commission is the policy-setting body for land use. In practice, the commission rushes to undermine sensible regulations; permit unconforming structures; and lately successfully tanked the city’s historic preservation program.  Reach a commission staffer at (310) 285-1124.

And a few numbers for Beverly Hills public safety which may come in handy if you’re nailed by a motorist: Police general number (310) 285-2101; Watch Commander: 285-2125; Traffic Division (for collision reports): 285-2196.

We always encourage cyclists to drop in on City Council and commission meetings in order to learn first-hand how your city government works (or doesn’t). Join us in reminding officials that safety matters. When you call City Hall, let us know what you find out.

Our Plans: The Policy Context for Making Pro-Bike Change

Recent Posts

Back on the Priority List: The Beverly Hills Bike Plan!

City Council pictured in 2013.Among the ignominious developments over the last year in Beverly Hills, surely the one of greatest interest to bicycle riders was City Council’s decision not to include a bicycle lane on Santa Monica Boulevard. But on its heels came another decision that would have escaped notice if we hadn’t reported that the city had intended to step away entirely from an update to our 1977 Bicycle Master Plan. But we called it out, councilmember Lili Bosse took up the cause, and City Council agreed to make it a priority. Again.

The Backstory

Update to a bike plan? You mean Beverly Hills has a bike plan? Yes, we do, and it’s called the Bicycle Master Plan. It was written in 1977 and re-adopted in 2010 verbatim during our General Plan update. And yes indeed it remains in effect! But you’d be excused for not noticing: no city official dares mention it, and no planning or transportation policy has ever referred to it. Indeed it seems like city hall would want to simply wish the bike plan away.

Inconveniently, however, it has been identified for a much-needed update since 2011 when the near-forty-year-old plan was marked by City Council as an official B-level priority (for the 2012-13 fiscal year).

But ever since, our city has been (quietly) walking back any intent to update the bike plan. First any reference to the plan itself was deleted in 2013. Then in the subsequent year, Community Development Director Susan Healy Keene and Deputy Director for Transportation Aaron Kunz rephrased the item’s description to take emphasis off bike facilities generally and instead prioritize the small bike-share system intended to roll out in 2016 rollout.

City Council priorities 2015-16 excerpt bike plan

This iteration of the city priorities failed to include any reference to the plan itself outside of the title. It’s an empty container that merely suggests progress on the Council’s informal priority, a tourism-focused bike-share system.

When the plan update priority was downgraded, no announcement was made by the transportation staff. Indeed the title of the priority item itself (‘Citywide Bike Plan’) didn’t even change to reflect the new emphasis on bike-share.

We were only alerted to the new, diminished concern for cycling safety when the Traffic and Parking Commission declined in the fall to recommend the priority item to Council. Then, when we listened closely to the meeting tape, we realized, according to Kunz, that the city has no intent at all to update the bike plan. So we took it as fait accomplis that Council wouldn’t renew the city’s only bike-related priority item when re-setting priorities in December.

But then after we reported on it in November, councilmember Lili Bosse contacted us by email. “I completely agree with you,” she said. “I was planning on putting the update of our bike master plan ON our priority list!”

Street Safety Needs to be a New Priority

Fast forward to mid-December. Holiday season. Not too many eyes were on city hall. But that’s when City Council met to select priorities for the next fiscal year. In past years, the bike plan update item never made it past the B-level. (We can’t over the past six years the Traffic and Parking Commission ever discussing it.) Would it disappear entirely now?

We made one last plea for bike safety in Beverly Hills by regaling city executives and staff who attended this priorities-setting exercise with our analysis of BHPD traffic data. We noted for example that crash injuries in Beverly Hills the previous calendar year (2014) were 6% higher than average over the prior seven years. And we noted that police enforcement during that time declined precipitously. How precipitously? Look at the citations for red-light runners, among the most dangerous traffic scofflaws out there.

Chart of Signal citations between 2008-2014

Data from Beverly Hills Police Department monthly reports to Traffic and Parking Commission.

No wonder injuries are on the rise: signal violations are so pervasive, and go unpunished in Beverly Hills so frequently, that there is in effect no sanction for running a red light. Even in front of a motor cop.

Of course unprotected riders will always fare worst. Again, look at the data. In 2014, the number of rider injuries (48) was not only 37% higher than the baseline year of 2008; it  actually outpaced the 7-year average by 30% too. Moreover, rider injuries in 2014 represented 12% of all crash injuries. But if riders constitute less than 1% of road traffic in Beverly Hills, that would suggest an injury rate of greater than 12X that of auto-occupants. Even worse: the proportion of rider injuries (as a share of all injuries) actually increased by one-fifth larger than in 2008.

The trends suggest we’re making negative progress toward safer streets overall and for riders in particular. Not only is that bad policy; it contravenes our own city plans.**

City Council Agrees to Make Multimodal Mobility a Priority

Ultimately City Council agreed. Or more precisely  Lili Bosse, John Mirisch and Dr. Willie Brien agreed to make multimodal mobility and a bike plan update a priority. Here’s the priority item:

Bike plan update priority item.The councilmembers that did not support making multimodal a priority were Nancy Krasne and Mayor Julian Gold. The former likes to say she “loves the cyclists.” Yet she’s not stepped up to makes streets safe for riding in the way that riders say we need in order to feel safe. She’s been a staunch opponent of bicycle lanes for Santa Monica Boulevard, for example. And Mayor Gold has never evidenced concern for riders, nor for street safety in general. This physician appears unimpressed at the negative trend in collision injuries.

What’s interesting about Dr. Willie Brien is that he was not expected to support this priority item. He’s on record for supporting our small 50-bike bike-share system, but he’s not previously indicated any concern for multimodal mobility or street safety generally. Coincidentally, perhaps, he’s leaving town for a new gig in Texas and might not fear north-side NIMBY blowback. That might have made all the difference.

The other big step taken by the city was to prioritize complete streets improvements for South Santa Monica Boulevard. From the official priorities list:

priority-LSMThis is significant for a couple of reasons. During construction, curb parking will be eliminated from one side of this boulevard. Could that be a step toward incorporating bicycle lanes here to make this corridor a bicycle boulevard of some kind? Councilmember Krasne has long pointed to the south boulevard to accommodate bicycle riders, but with curb parking on both sides there was never an opportunity.

And second, this priority item is the very first time the term ‘complete streets’ has ever been used in a city document to our knowledge. Those words never even pass the lips of any of our transportation officials (let alone make it into print). So this is a significant step forward for multimodal mobility in Beverly Hills.

And it’s a step forward for safety too: a Los Angeles Times analysis of traffic fatalities and injuries showed that several South Santa Monica intersections are far more dangerous than they should be (even controlling for other factors like traffic volume). Making South Santa Monica ‘complete’ would be a real gesture of acknowledgment that we have a street safety problem.

Looking Ahead: Now What?

New priorities will only find action in the next fiscal year (after June). So it could be the Spring of 2017 perhaps before we movement on progressive mobility policies in Beverly Hills (especially with Community Development Director Keene at the helm, and we don’t have much faith in our transportation staffers either). How far behind the curve is Beverly Hills transportation when it comes to multimodal mobility? Our department is still crowing about meeting priorities from 2013!

From the city website: Transportation responds to priorities from 2012

Our transportation staffers fist-bump over years-old programs that met city priorities back in 2012.

There’s more we can do in the meantime. We’re urging the city to protect riders on the North Santa Monica corridor during the long construction period. But our year-long campaign to date has had little to show for it from the city. We’re also keeping an eye on bike-share implementation this spring. Care to get involved? We need your help!

*The 1977 Bicycle Master Plan was simply readopted – verbatim – as part of the state-required General Plan more than three decades after it had been originally adopted. Surely that’s a form of professional planner malpractice, right?

**Beverly Hills plans urge us to drive less and ride more. That’s the official policy statement of the city. For example, the General Plan’s Circulation Element (2010) calls on the city to create “realistic” alternatives to driving, like “taking public transportation, bicycling, and walking,” says the text. The Sustainable City Plan (2009) calls for “improving the pedestrian experience on roadways and encourage alternative forms of travel, especially to parks.” The plan’s goal? To “foster an energy efficient, walk-able community.” The plan concludes, “If there are safe bicycle routes and if secure bicycle parking is available then people will bicycle more.” If only someone informed our policymakers that we’re supposed to embrace the 21st century multimodal mobility future!

  1. Developer’s Rash Tree-Felling Highlights Hazards for Riders (Editorial) Comments Off on Developer’s Rash Tree-Felling Highlights Hazards for Riders (Editorial)
  2. ‘Police and Community Together.’ At the Coffee Shop! Comments Off on ‘Police and Community Together.’ At the Coffee Shop!
  3. Top Secret: Beverly Hills City Council Holds a Priority-Setting Session Comments Off on Top Secret: Beverly Hills City Council Holds a Priority-Setting Session
  4. Celebrating Geography Awareness Week, We Look at Some Bike Maps Comments Off on Celebrating Geography Awareness Week, We Look at Some Bike Maps