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, department responsibilities are not as clear-cut as in a larger city. A large city may have a Department of Transportation that plans for mobility and engineers facilities, for example, but in Beverly Hills transportation is part of Public Works. Transportation planning plays a very small role.

Yet planning for mobility is a core function for any city. State law requires conformity with road standards and the federal government keep a watchful eye on safety. Those of us who choose to ride a bicycle should ask ourselves why our city is not doing more for everyone who uses our roads – and not just motorists.

We can start by familiarizing ourselves with City Hall. You don’t want to be embarassed by a bunch of boy scouts who know more about Beverly Hills city government than we do, right? So study up! Or consult our handy cheat sheet to reach 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) and in the evening (formal meeting). The city publishes (but does not promote) a Policy and Operations Manual that clarifies how the process works.

School District Issues

Education is different. Due to local control, representatives are elected to the school board, which sets the policy while the superintendent of schools manages day-to-day operations. He works for the board. In a small district like Beverly Hills Unified Schools we have an opportunity to bring bike-friendly facilities to the city beginning with the schools. There’s federal and state grant money available. Contact Beverly Hills Unified at (310) 551-5100 and tell Superintendent Gary Woods (a cyclist!) that safe routes to school for cyclists and walkers matters.

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.
  • City Manager Jeff Kolin 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 jkolin@beverlyhills.org
  • Transportation Division (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. Or contact deputy Aaron Kunz at (310) 285-2563 or by email at akunz@beverlyhills.org.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Planning Division of Community Development implements land use policies, reviews applications, and supports City Council with information regarding development issues. Reach Jon Lait, Deputy Director at (310) 285-1118.
  • Planning Commission is the policy-setting body for land use and planning matters like parking minimums and other project-level mobility requirements (think bike racks and showers). Reach a commission staffer at (310) 285-1124 or by email at dmohan@beverlyhills.org.
  • Beverly Hills Unified School District enjoys significant power as a stand-alone body backed by a fat bond issue. Their facilities master planning process is underway and presents an opportunity to secure bike-friendly improvements. Contact the district at (310) 551-5100.

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, commission, and school board meetings in order to learn first-hand with how your city government operates. Join Better Bike in reminding officials that safety matters. Have you called City Hall? Let us know what you found out!

Recent Posts

Political Accountability Takes a Holiday in Beverly Hills

Scale of justiceThe usual mechanism for holding officials accountable in a representative democracy is the ballot: if we don’t like how we’re served by our representatives, we can simply “vote the bums out.” But what happens when elections come around and nobody steps up to challenge incumbents? Beverly Hills should be holding a municipal election this March for two Council seats, but the only two candidates to step forward are incumbents. So we simply cancelled the election. Here the practice of governing falls short of theories about governance, and political accountability for unsafe streets takes a holiday.

The ballot box is a powerful lever for affecting the priorities of elected officials. Here in Beverly Hills, our opportunity comes every odd year. Terms for our five-member City Council are staggered; two seats come open in March election and three in 2017. Because office of the Mayor is a ceremonial office, each council elections is our key opportunity to shape the direction we want the city to take. In large part that’s because the ballot we cast affects how the city is managed.

Beverly Hills org chartIn Beverly Hills, City Council appoints a city manager, the technocrat who manages departments, conducts and supervises hiring, and implements programs among other responsibilities. According to the organization chart, the city manager takes direction from councilmembers and manages the staff. But one thing left off the chart is the need to manage staff inertia – the  preference not to act. That’s often chalked up to risk aversion, which is a characteristic of local governments.

Also left off the city’s organization chart is the city manager who doesn’t take direction well. Here in Beverly Hills, we’ve seen friction emerge between City Council and City Manager Jeff Kolin over the management of the Santa Monica Boulevard reconstruction process, as well as the enduring vacancies on the Beverly Hills Police Department. Mr. Kolin announced his retirement come January.

And not a moment too soon. Beverly Hills City Hall is defined by inertia; it’s where good ideas die on the vine for want of City Manager leadership or staff concern. In our five years advocating on behalf of safe streets and multimodal mobility, we’ve seen remarkably little action on that agenda from our officials beyond the empty rhetoric of plans and press releases. Little of substance reflects the city’s stated policy objectives in the Sustainable City Plan and the General Plan’s circulation element such as reducing congestion, slowing the growth of greenhouse gas emissions, and yes, encouraging cycling. Even rhetoric went missing: the city manager is rumored to be a cyclist himself but seems remarkably reticent when it comes to speaking up for safer streets. In fact, we can’t ever recall him uttering a word about making Beverly Hills bike-friendly.

Come 2015, however, we expected the opportunity to nudge our city in the right direction mobility-wise: we were to go to the polls to choose two councilmembers and to work with a new city manager. If only it were so! When no challenger stepped forward to contest a Council seat, our election was canceled (as many have been across Los Angeles County) as no challenger filed the required number of signatures necessary to run.

Because Councilmembers Lili Bosse and Dr. Julian Gold were simply appointed to four-year terms by City Council, missed an opportunity to hold City Hall accountable. And we missed an opportunity to reflect on recent changes in how our city operates. City Council strengthened the hand of insiders, for example, by reducing the size of city commissions to narrow the gate for new, incoming ‘team players.’ City Council raised the limits on contributions, too, in our small city too vulnerable to influence-buying.

Moreover, City Hall has ‘liberalized’ planning regulations; weakened our preservation standards; and reassigned some zoning decisions to an administrative process behind closed doors from quasi-judicial hearings as in the past.

If many of us didn’t pay attention to these policies as they percolated though the governing process, with a canceled election we don’t have any means of giving our collective thumbs-up or thumbs-down at the polls. Ballot box accountability is particularly important because few residents pay attention to what our commissions are doing, according to our quick look at commission meetings:

Commission meeting attendance montage

Commission business in Beverly Hills don’t pull in the stakeholders.

Then again, few pay attention to the polls. The city’s turnout is remarkably anemic. Just 22% of those registered actually voted in the municipal election of 2013, marking a long-term overall slide in voter interest:

Beverly Hills turnout 1950-2013 chart

In the 2013 election, for example turnout was fewer than 5,000 votes in a city of 38,000 residents (22%). One of the three contested city council seats that election was secured with just 2,540 votes (merely 7 more than the runner-up).

In fact, it takes fewer than three thousand votes to secure a City Council seat in our city of 38,000 residents, which means opportunity for those who are involved, and organized, like north-side homeowners, to gain disproportionate influence and use a heavy hand on the tiller of the ship of state.

For those of us who chafe at the city’s inaction on street safety, and who feel frustrated that our calls to make Beverly Hills bike-friendly falls on officials’ deaf ears, we can only lament the missed opportunity at the polls to hold City Council accountable. Instead of a campaign season that might have tested candidates’ commitment to multimodal mobility –  as our plans urge, by the way – we’ll instead wait for our next chance in 2017 to put our own hands on the tiller.

*And maybe it was overdue, as it is surprising to learn how little backing is necessary in order to gain a toehold in local government. In 2013, the three winning candidates spent an average of less than $20 per vote to run a campaign. (Councilmember Willie Brien was the big spender: he broke the bank at $25 spent per voter.) Clearly it doesn’t take very much to keep the wheels of governance turning in Beverly Hills, which is good news to the lobbyists and ‘influencers’ who ply City Hall corridors.

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