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 is in business as an apartment lessor. “We are business owners,” he says in his letter. “It is these smaller unit properties; family owned and operated businesses, which have been the mainstay of this City for the last 100 years.” Indeed Mr. Hirsch has owned his fourplex for fifteen years. Yet he does not appear to have registered his apartment leasing business with the city (as required).

Smithwood Drive businesses

As his property is not listed Mr. Hirsch seems not to have obtained a business license to rent apartments.

Mr. Hirsch impugns Mr. Schulman’s motives and says without evidence that Mr. Schulman has neither assets nor equity in this city. My colleague Mr. Schulman sat beside me on the tenants committee and has been a longtime resident of Beverly Hills. Whatever his holdings may or may not be, we should acknowledge that he can have an investment in our community that can take any form — not only financial. Not least Mr. Schulman has volunteered his time to participate in the policy process.

Not to get too cheeky, but it looks like one-third of Mr. Hirsch’s property is located in the City of Los Angeles. While his main house fronts on Smithwood, that street is divided between City of Los Angeles and Beverly Hills.

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 residence into two 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.

While his tenants in the back structure are Beverly Hills residents, arguably Mr. Hirsch is only a partial Beverly Hills resident. At least in the assessor’s view: his main house is split 50-50 across the city lines. As for Mr. Schulman, he and his family are one-hundred percent Beverly Hills residents.

Split Lot: What Does It Mean?

There are consequences because Mr. Hirsch’s rental units are in Beverly Hills. He must pay the business tax for one thing. But his tenants miss out on some tenant protections that their neighbors in Los Angeles can take for granted:

  • City of Los Angeles prevents eviction without cause in rent-stabilized rental housing;
  • City of Los Angeles conducts periodic annual inspections to ensure that rental units meet requirements; and,
  • City of Los Angeles relocation fees are higher when the household is median-income or includes a child, a senior, or a disabled resident.

His tenants over the past 15 years that he’s owned the place have enjoyed none of those protections simply because they live in Beverly Hills. That’s what Mr. Schulman was working to address in his role at the facilitated dialogue.

With greater tenant protections in the offing from rent stabilization amendments here in Beverly Hills, one can see why Mr. Hirsch wants to bar “cumbersome bureaucracies.” In my view, our city benefits when all policy ideas are on the table for discussion. We would welcome Mr. Hirsch’s participation. Instead Mr. Hirsch prefers to level personal attacks in the newspaper rather than engage that reasonable debate.

Update: Mr. Hirsch did finally register his apartment leasing business as required.