Personal Attacks are Unwelcome in a Civic Debate

Now that City Council has agreed to go forward with the rent stabilization program, proponents and opponents are continuing the policy dialogue in the media. Thankfully, recent exchanges have reflected the comity we enjoyed during the facilitated sessions. But some would malign, though personal attacks, anyone who would speak up with a different vision of a better Beverly Hills.

Take for example Nathan Hirsch’s September 8th letter to the Courier, wherein the landlord responds to tenant Michael Schulman’s letter from the week before:

We are not L.A., West Hollywood or Santa Monica. I am sorry you don’t know the difference, or how rent control has affected the apartment buildings in those cities.

Hirsch continues:

Your pseudo-tenant revolt and the unlawful 3-percent emergency action by the City, that sir, is tyranny. Your selfish and misguided actions are destroying a City and a way of life that you don’t know, understand, nor had no part in building, in which you have no assets nor equity.

Mr. Hirsch concludes with a condescending ‘love it or leave it’ flip-off:

I hope that Mr. Schulman will feel free to avail himself of any of those ‘rent stabilized cities’ to which he refers. He is obviously clueless to real estate law, and what it takes to own and manage a rental property or to general business practices. With our best wishes, please take your “free-market choices” elsewhere.

Having sat next to Michael on the tenants committee during 15 hours of face-to-face dialogue with landlords, I have found him to be both knowledgeable and constructive. However I don’t recall Mr. Hirsch lending his voice to the public debate in a setting provided by the city. Ad hominem attacks don’t cut it.

It is perfectly acceptable to air our philosophical and policy differences in the public arena. But it is another thing to malign someone who speaks up with a vision for a better Beverly Hills. Mr. Hirsch has inspired us to inaugurate a new category of Renters Alliance post: the rebuttal.

In this rebuttal we have no need to engage Mr. Hirsch on substantive claims (he makes none). But we should provide some context for the ire he has directed at Mr. Schulman.

Mr. Hirsch has a dog in the rent stabilization fight: he owns a 4-unit rental property. And he lives there. Presumably he is one of the ‘nest-egg’ retirees whom the landlords say should be exempt from rent stabilization. (That’s the proposed exemption that would remove city tenant protection from as many as 1125 renting households. Read more in the tenants committee position paper.)

Mr. Hirsch explains: “For the vast majority of Beverly Hills owners, [the properties] are our homes. That is the major difference between the smaller (2 to 4) unit owners and the investor complexes.” (Here he echoes a key talking point from the landlords’ side of the table: properties that include four or fewer units are not businesses, really, but are more like a single-family homes that rent out an accessory unit.)

The city regulates duplexes like larger rental properties as the businesses they are. The city requires every one of them to have a business tax license. And that’s for a good reason because each one is an apartment rental and leasing business.

Heck, Mr. Hirsch himself agrees: “We are business owners….It is these smaller unit properties; family owned and operated businesses, which have been the mainstay of this City for the last 100 years.”

Though Mr. Hirsch has owned his fourplex for fifteen years, he does not appear to have registered his business with the city.

Smithwood Drive businesses

His property is not listed. Mr. Hirsch seems not to have a business license.

Mr. Hirsch impugns Mr. Schulman’s motives, saying without evidence that Mr. Schulman has neither assets nor equity in this city. I’ll remind Mr. Hirsch that my colleague on the tenants committee is a longtime resident; whatever his holdings may be we should acknowledge that investment in our community comes in many forms. (Not least he has volunteered his time to the facilitated dialogues.

Not to get too cheeky with Mr. Hirsch, but where Mr. Schulman lives in Beverly Hills it looks like one-third of Mr. Hirsch’s property is located in the City of Los Angeles. His main house fronts on Smithwood, a City of Los Angeles street on that particular block.

Smithwood Drive from assessor's map
More than a third of Mr. Hirsch’s property is in City of Los Angeles.

In fact the city boundary literally chops his main residents into two equal parts!

Smithwood Drive assessor map showing buildings
Half of Mr. Hirsch’s own residence lies in City of Los Angeles. The 2-unit accessory structure at right is entirely in Beverly Hills.

That makes Mr. Hirsch just a partial Beverly Hills resident. At least in the assessor’s view. As for Mr. Schulman? He and his family are one-hundred percent Beverly Hills resident.

Split Lot: What Does It Mean?

More seriously, there are consequences for Mr. Hirsch’s tenants because his rental units lay on the Beverly Hills side of the city line. Consider the array of tenant protections that his three tenant households would enjoy were they City of Los Angeles residents:

City of Los Angeles rent stabilization would prevent Mr. Hirsch from evicting them without cause;

They would benefit from periodic annual inspections to ensure the units meet requirements;

Relocation fees in the event of termination are steeper when the household is median-income or includes a child, a senior, or a disabled resident.

His tenants over the past 15 years he’s owned the place have enjoyed none of those protections. One can see why Mr. Hirsch wants to bar such “cumbersome bureaucracies” at the gate!

Our city benefits when all policy ideas are on the table for discussion, and we would have welcomed Mr. Hirsch’s views in our facilitated dialogues. Instead Mr. Hirsch hung back and now prefers to level personal attacks rather than engage in reasonable debate.