Who to Watch in the Beverly Hills City Council Election

Beverly Hills voters will elect two councilmembers at our upcoming municipal election scheduled for Tuesday, March 3, 2020. For residents who rent this is an important election. Because the rent stabilization ordinance has yet to be finalized, the next city council will have its say on key aspects like the allowed annual rent increase and relocation fees and more. But many other aspects of rental housing regulation are affected too, so it is crucial that we have a city council which supports tenants’ interests. Here is our preliminary look at the announced candidates.

Big Decisions Ahead

It has been three years since voters last elected a city council. In March of 2017 we returned John Mirisch to council for a third term along with newcomers Lester Friedman and Robert Wunderlich. The current city council has presided over important changes to the rent stabilization ordinance including tying the maximum allowed increase to inflation (currently 3.1% in our region) and ending no-just-cause eviction. We also have a rent stabilization office to receive inquiries and complaints.

However there is much yet to do! A new Rent Stabilization Commission will discuss key aspects of the ordinance prior to city council acting this coming spring or summer. And we continue to see problems related to habitability (specifically water damage and mold). There are short-term rentals and landlord practices that keep rental units off the market too. All of these issues should be addressed by city council.

In the bigger picture, we expect that economic forces will buffet households that rent in Beverly Hills. There is always the threat of redevelopment and tenant displacement but the Purple Line extension will likely accelerate that process. Also, the state is pressing localities to accelerate the production of housing. The city is already discussing significant policy issues like mixed-use development and affordable housing that may replace only some of the lost units.

All of it makes the coming election very significant indeed. Three of the four candidates have planning commission experience which is a plus. Let’s meet the candidates.

Farsid ‘Joe’ Shooshani

Update: Candidate Joe Shooshani has dropped out of the race. In a statement provided to the Courier and reported on Friday, Shooshani cited the competitive field as a challenge difficult to overcome. “I’ve been proud to work with and know Lilli Bosse and Dr. Julian
Gold. I consider them to be not only excellent public servants, but friends. I did not intend to run against two incumbents when I first began exploring this run for City Council.” The candidate filing window has not opened yet. It will close on December 6th. So we may yet see some jockeying as candidates and would-be candidates assess their options.

Joe ShooshaniCurrent planning commissioner Joe Shooshani was the first to throw his hat into the ring this summer. “Joe is a lifelong entrepreneur with a successful manufacturing business, and is a passionate mentor to young entrepreneurs and next generation leaders,” says his website. “Joe Shooshani has spent his entire life in the service of others.”

Shooshani has been resident in the city for 43 years. He served on the Public Works Commission where important decisions about city infrastructure are taken. And today he is serving his fifth year on the Planning Commission. Reportedly he operates the family’s ornamental metalworking business.

We don’t have a good read on his policy preferences but on the commission he does express support for residential property values and  tends to take a more relaxed view on development regulations (he talks about allowing property owners their “dream home”).

Somewhat controversially Shooshani has labeled as “old” the city’s General Plan. The Planning Commission regularly makes determinations that rely on the General Plan so it was an eyebrow-raising statement.

We don’t know where this candidate stands on the rent stabilization ordinance or tenant protections generally. He has stated some concern that rental housing should be affordable to the next generation of Beverly Hills residents. However he has also embraced luxury condominium development. His campaign has not yet offered policy specifics.

Lori Gordon

Lori GordonCurrent planning commissioner (and past chair) Lori Greene Gordon was the next to throw her hat into the ring. The 50-year resident holds an MBA from UCLA and owns a family commercial real estate firm, GTL/KG Properties. Read more about the candidate.

Gordon has proven herself to be a hard-working commissioner in her four years on Planning Commission. She is always well-prepared and has an appetite for policy details.

Notably three years ago she flagged a hotel’s application to open a new restaurant because the current hotel operating permit (called a conditional use permit) was not included with the restaurant application. After her questioning planning staff conceded that the conditional use permit had expired. Which others have expired, she asked? All of them! A city review later found that every hotel conditional use permit citywide had expired.

Gordon is policy-oriented by nature and among these four city council candidates she is the first (and to date the only one) to state her the policy concerns. Those include reining-in city expenditures, finding “new commercial opportunities” for business, and “smart development” that would balance growth with residents’ concerns. (Read more in the candidate’s plan of action).

We don’t have any indication of where Gordon may stand on the rent stabilization ordinance or tenant protections generally. However her one action plan item that may appeal to those who rent is the proposed elimination of residential parking fees.

Julian Gold

Julian GoldIncumbent councilmember (and recent Mayor) Julian Gold is well-known to city watchers: he was elected to city council in 2011 and in that time has presided over many key decisions (including the changes made to the rent stabilization ordinance). He has served two one-year terms as mayor in 2015 and 2018). (Read more about the councilmember.)

Gold is a retired physician/anesthesiologist at Cedars and previously served on the Traffic and Parking Commission among other boards. He is also a longtime resident.

While Gold has not yet offered a policy platform, his campaign website does suggest a few issues of interest: the revitalization of retail in the business triangle; managing “transformative” change coming to the area around the La Cienega station; and grappling with new projects like the anticipated Hilton development. “The city needs strong, seasoned leadership to oversee this change,” he says on his campaign website. “I have that leadership experience and am ready, willing and able to serve.”

On rent stabilization Gold is well-established: he’s voted with the majority on every major council decision, from the urgency ordinances that put in place a 3% rent increase cap to the rental unit registry and RSO office staffing that landlords have decried again and again. On finer points he is somewhat to the right of fellow councilmembers, advocating for probationary tenancy and generally moving toward more relaxed regulations on landlords. (Many of the latter issues were deferred for Rent Stabilization Commission consideration.)

Gold is generally process-oriented: he created the Small Business Task Force to give a boost to business and created the Strategic Planning Committee which empaneled selected residents to discuss long-term challenges. (The task force was launched during his first mayoral term and was re-launched during his second one-year term as mayor in 2018. The committee has taken a different direction under current Mayor John Mirisch and focuses more closely on the Southeast area of the city.)

Gold is also a close reader of council agenda materials. He will usually signal a detailed discussion to follow with a disarming, “OK, I have a few questions” before he launches into a fine-grained, detailed round of questions.

Lili Bosse

Lili BosseLili Bosse was the last of the four candidates to announce her run for city council. She kept us guessing even as her fellow councilmember Julian Gold threw his hat in. But upon announcement she was immediately the candidate to beat. She has the name recognition from two terms as mayor and her face is well-remembered from her signature healthy city initiative, ‘Walk With the Mayor.’ (She also garnered far and away more votes than did any candidate in 2011 or since.) In a phrase, she is ‘out there.’

Bosse was elected to city council in 2011 (the same year as Gold) and has served on the Traffic and Parking Commission and Planning Commission among other boards. Like Gold she was reappointed to office in 2015 when no challenger stepped forward. (Read more about this councilmember.)

Bosse is always well-prepared: she is second-to-none when it comes to a close reading of agenda materials. And Bosse is known to take to the street to get a first-hand look at whatever issue is coming before council. She is also the first to stand up to support greater community participation and inclusion in city business.

On policy and priorities, Bosse is perhaps known for the Bold initiative on which city council has spent lavishly to promote business and hospitality (especially around the triangle). Behind the scenes she is a key supporter of City Hall transparency and has emerged as a real champion of multimodal mobility (safe streets for everyone). ‘Healthy City’ was her initiative and she means it in every sense of the term. As for vision or priorities, the Bosse website has not been updated to reflect the current campaign.

However Bosse’s position on the rent stabilization ordinance is well-established: she has supported key elements including the inflation-indexed (CPI) allowed rent increase and called for relocation fees more generous than did her fellow councilmembers. With Mayor Mirisch she finally put the nail in the coffin of no-just-cause termination one year ago.

And beyond those specific policy points, she has spoken up time-and-again for tenants in the rent stabilization process. (Read more about the history of the process.) Arguably she has been the tenants’ leading advocate on the dais.

Interesting side note: the ‘Bosse plan’ posted on the campaign website dates to 2014 and does not include any point about rent stabilization. Where Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles had endorsed her in her earlier contest, that is not likely to happen this time around.

Do We Need to Pay Attention?

Yes! The 2020 general municipal election will be a bellwether: is the electorate happy with the direction of the city or do we want change? With two incumbents running for two available seats, we have an opportunity to keep the council we have for at least two more years. Or we could change horses and elect two new policymakers. Or keep one incumbent and elect a challenger.

The city council race is sure to be an interesting for other reasons too. Pursuant to state law, the March 3, 2020 election will be consolidated with the general election primary on that day. (Read the city’s fact sheet.) That no doubt means that turnout for hotly contested federal races will bring many more voters — particularly newly-registered electors — into our council council race. Voters will look over the roster of council candidates and some proportion of those voters will not know much about them. That’s a wild card for sure!

Second, this race promises to be an expensive race for the candidates. The general primary election means much more media clutter that a candidate must cut through. That means more, and more costly, media outreach as each candidate competes for visibility. We expect the battle to be waged largely in residents’ mailboxes (as it always is) and flyers are expensive!

Third, the voluntary campaign expenditure limit of $80,000 that is currently on the city’s books means that candidates face a choice:

  1. Accept the $80,000 limit in order to accept up to $450 per contributor or entity (and as a bonus the city pays for the ballot statement); or,
  2. Reject the $80,000 limit and spend at will but accept no more than $125 per contributor or entity.

All of the candidates are well-resourced; any could self-fund their race. But we think it unlikely that either incumbent will self-fund (they don’t have to) while we will wait to see if a challenger needing some advantage chooses to walk away from the expenditure limit.

And fourth, independent expenditures remains a real unknown. The Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership PAC endorses candidates “and also expends funds to support those candidates.” But it hasn’t been particularly active. The Apartment Association’s AAGLA Issues PAC was active in the Prop 10 (rent control) fight and it may surface again to muscle a pro-landlord candidate into office.

Independent funders are responsible for many of the flyers and ads we see in campaigns and they will materialize again in force this time. But because tenants have no such deep-pocketed backers, we can expect only to watch from the sidelines. Each of us does have two votes for city council, though, so Renters Alliance suggests you use them wisely!

Today there are but four candidates running for city council. That could change as the nomination period opens on November 12th and closes on December 6th. Once the window closes we will post live updates to a special election page. This is a race to watch!