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
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 firstname.lastname@example.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 email@example.com.
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. For better results, contact deputy Aaron Kunz directly at (310) 285-2563 or by email at email@example.com. 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 firstname.lastname@example.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 email@example.com. 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 firstname.lastname@example.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 email@example.com 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.