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

Would You Double Down on Yesterday’s Planning Paradigm?

Los Angeles intersectionToday the Los Angeles Times ran an op-ed critical of efforts to plan for multimodal mobility. Titled, ‘Mr. Mayor, L.A. is not Stockholm,’ by 29-year Santa Monica resident Bruce Feldman. “As I’m sure you know, cyclists make up just 2% of all road traffic…[yet] your road diet would make congestion in our expansive region much worse than it already is,” the writer says of the city’s new mobility policy. Such measures will diminish quality-of-life, he adds, yet paradoxically he finds his cure to the region’s mobility morass in the very policies that today ail us.Why highlight an op-ed that rehearses stale ideas? Because it repeats a spurious argument we hear all the time from critics: equal access to roads for all road users is a giveaway to those who bike and a takeaway from those who drive. As if a motorist’s right-to-the-road – the whole road – were granted by the divine. (The crux of his complaint seems that he simply doesn’t want to share the road.)

We believe that this is the wrong way to frame transportation challenges and choices. Mobility is not the zero-sum game that opponents of road diets and bicycle lanes say it is. On the contrary, only steps that increase access for all users will make our transportation system(s) more efficient and, as important, more safe for road users. We think about it as an intermediate step toward the urban future we envision. We’re not there yet, but we won’t get there without sensible mobility policies. Have a read and then scroll down for our rebuttal.

This is not Mr. Feldman’s first rodeo. In a previous op-ed titled, ‘From Santa Monica, the lament of an “urban villager,”‘ he objected to increased residential densities (a key element of Santa Monica’s embrace of the ‘urban village’ concept). “My beachside community’s downtown core works fine for those who can afford to live there,” he lamented in January of 2014. “They can walk from their $4,000-a-month studio apartments in the hip center of town to their choice of half a dozen coffee joints, and they can pick up the latest fashions on the way so they’ll look good when they get there.”

Well, that sounds pretty good to us. If Santa Monica’s policies are making the city so desirable to, well, the desirables, then we say Beverly Hills needs a bit of magical thinking too.

Feldman also took potshots at those who ride a bike because, evident to him, we clog his roads. And we misbehave! We ride either too fast or too slow; ride in the middle of the lane or alongside stopped traffic; and of course we blow every stop sign (a favorite bugaboo of critics who themselves undoubtedly obey every traffic control).

“Of course, sometimes we’re forced to drive — say when we need to buy food from a nearby grocery store,” he said in his first op-ed (with emphasis added). “Then we have to run a gantlet of empowered cyclists.” Empowered! Sounds like the ‘bicycle lobby‘ is making some impressive gains of which we weren’t aware.

Then as today, he can’t win! On one hand he’s “forced” to drive on city streets; on the other, officials are making that journey even more onerous by squeezing his roadways so others can use the blacktop. By helpfully offering Mayor Garcetti a menu of recommended options (like making main boulevards one-way to facilitate throughput and expanding surface parking to accommodate those who, like him, are “forced” to drive) he’s really just pleading to maintain the status quo – a century-long auto-centric planning paradigm that got us into this mess. “I’ll have some hair of the dog that bit me please!” he seems to say.

Our Reply to Mr. Feldman

To the Editor:

In ‘Mr. Mayor, L.A. is not Stockholm,” Santa Monica resident Bruce Feldman objects to increased residential density and contemporary mobility measures like ‘road diets’ and bus-only lanes. He says they exacerbate traffic congestion. I’m a walker, bicycle rider, and drive, too, and I find travel inconvenient. It’s often hazardous too.
Yet would Mr. Feldman double-down on the policies that over time have brought us to a near-standstill on the Westside today? I fail to see how eight lanes of one-way travel, with increased traffic throughput and higher speeds, will improve our quality-of-life. We’ll see more devastating crashes, that’s for sure. He seems to recommend as the cure more of that which ails us.

Most planners know better. This metro region will welcome millions of newcomers in the coming decades, each of whom requires housing and transportation options that make travel not only more efficient but safer too. Consult the recent Los Angeles Times analysis of county-wide crash injuries and fatalities to see that the hazards we walkers and riders face every day are not a bug but a feature: the’ve been engineered-in the design of our roadways. That must change.

We can no longer afford to view city streets as merely a playground for motorists. Indeed planners  150 years ago recognized that city streets are our greatest of public spaces. And cities including Santa Monica acknowledge as much in city plans. We must recover them not only for safe travel for road users but as an opportunity to collectively enjoy one of the greatest of human achievements, the city.

As Mr. Feldman observed back in early 2014 in this very paper, newcomers to Santa Monica’s downtown “can walk from their $4,000-a-month studio apartments in the hip center of town to their choice of half a dozen coffee joints, and they can pick up the latest fashions on the way so they’ll look good when they get there.” That sounds great! A different approach to urbanization seems to be working very well for Santa Monica.

And today in your pages Mr. Feldman continues to celebrate the Los Angeles of old and, for good measure, then contrasts it with Stockholm, among the world’s most beautiful (and livable) cities. Yet the Stockholm of his description, characterized by a “compact, well-defined central downtown business and shopping core with a large number of residential units,” suggests the Swedes are doing something right too.

Meanwhile, in the Los Angeles metro region we must daily accommodate the diminishing returns of an outmoded approach to urban planning, one based on principles more than a half-century old and less-relevant to today’s challenges than ever. And we want to double-down on that?

I have some advice for Mr. Feldman. I suggest you relocate to Beverly Hills if you want to bear-hug yesterday’s planning paradigm. Here you will share our civic leaders’ continuing embrace of mid-20th century auto-centric planning policies. Here you will enjoy every day the congestion that it has wrought. And here you can sit comfortably in your car, queued at a light or stop sign, while “smug urbanites” pass you by on a bicycle.

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