Coronavirus has challenged local governments in a way that no public health emergency has before. We see a cascade of executive orders and urgency ordinances that have shuttered businesses, prohibited gatherings and tried to cushion the impact of an economic shutdown in response to this insidious threat. The most surprising: a sweeping embrace of the eviction moratorium. Beverly Hills Mayor John Mirisch has ensured that our city was among the earliest in the Southland to step up with one. He deserves an ‘A’ grade in a crisis.
Mayoral Leadership: A+
Mayor John Mirisch followed right on the heels of Santa Monica and City of Los Angeles in calling for a moratorium on residential evictions in Beverly Hills. Just as our city was preparing to declare a coronavirus local emergency on March 17th, the mayor pushed the city manager to declare it earlier, on March 15th, and the next day council was discussing the eviction moratorium in emergency session.
The mayor ensured the moratorium was the first discussion item after the council ratified the local emergency declaration. It was his top priority as this clip from the 7-hour emergency meeting shows (start at time 30:30).
The mayor also pressed for a ban on commercial evictions, which comports his interest in small retailers of the kind that have long given Beverly Hills beyond Rodeo Drive its character.
City council agreed to enact the eviction moratorium and, by that evening, urgency ordinance 20-O–2805 was signed. Both residential and commercial tenants are protected from eviction for the duration of the local emergency if COVID–19 has affected a tenant’s ability to pay the rent. (Read the Renters Alliance explainer, Beverly Hills Eviction Moratorium: What You Need to Know.)
Moreover, the moratorium puts the brake on no-fault evictions that are otherwise allowed by law. For example the landlord cannot evict to remodel a unit, to use a unit himself, or even move-out a resident manager.
The mayor pressed hard for a moratorium on utility shut-offs, including notably the local authority to prevent Edison from disconnecting residents and businesses from gas and water service. Council agreed on water service, which Beverly Hills provides, but wasn’t sure how to proceed when Edison is regulated in Sacramento. Instead he pressed or a city letter to pressure Edison not to act on non-payment.
Mayor Mirisch has also put on the next council agenda a measure to expand the eviction moratorium to keep landlords from using the state’s Ellis Act to serve households with a notice of termination. We would be only the third city in the Southland to include that protection in our moratorium.
Mayor John Mirisch deserves an A+ for leadership during the coronavirus state of emergency and not only for protecting tenants. He deftly handled the city’s first-ever, extraordinary 7-hour city council ‘tele-meeting,’ wherein real-time public comments by text, email and phone had to be incorporated into the council discussion on the fly. We look forward to his leadership at the March 31st meeting and anticipate whatever else he has put on the agenda for residents who rent.
Crisis Communications: A
Beverly Hills has historically not been a leader when it comes to online communications. The website has gone too long without a refresh. Content was not always timely or informative. City hall seemed not to understand that local government is all about constituent communications. That has changed with the arrival of Chief Information Officer Keith Sterling who deserves an A for keeping us informed and engaged in this unusual moment.
Sterling understands that the city is in the communications business. That means every cog in city hall turning together to keep residents and stakeholders informed (and involved). Under his watch, if not exactly his authority, the city website has been improving. At the very least he knows a communications problem when he sees it and is motivated to fix it rather than defer or delegate it.
Lastly, crisis communications is the order of the day during an emergency and Stirling has served us very well here too. He brings an urgency to public communications that simply did not exist in this city before. That has come in handy during the coronavirus emergency. The Beverly Hills COVID–19 topic page for example is second-to-none. It is informative, packed with resources for residents and businesses, and often-updated. The COVID–19 page added another new feature in the time it took to write this post so far: a new Kindness Task Force (another mayoral initiative).
Emergency Planning: A
Beverly Hills was already well-prepared for an emergency (read the fact sheet). We are well-resourced and we provide top-notch police and fire services. The emergency management program under Director Pam Mottice-Mueller has provided a wealth of resources to the community for seemingly any disaster — even ‘pet preparedness.’ Have a look at the emergency preparedness webpages and sign-up for telephone emergency alerts. Beverly Hills already deserved an A grade!
Now that the Emergency Operations Plan is getting an update we can do even better. Councilmember Lili Bosse has made it her priority to be sure we are prepared for any disaster or eventuality. She calls it a JUST IN CASE initiative — a “comprehensive and efficient program to inform and educate the people of Beverly Hills on some very basic issues of emergency preparedness” as her campaign platform described it.
That’s not just talk. When staff brought to city council a progress report earlier this year, Bosse took a red pencil to the rulebook and thereby sent the message that it’s pedal-to-metal time when it comes to preparing the community for anything. And that was before coronavirus was a thing.
Rent Stabilization: B
When Beverly Hills city council adopted an urgency ordinance on March 16th to imposes a moratorium on evictions for non-payment of rent and for any no-fault reason it couldn’t have taken the rent stabilization division of community development by surprise: deputy director Helen Morales was one of the few staffers in the chamber for the tele-meeting. Two days later a link to the ordinance and a brief paragraph describing it was posted on the rent stabilization website.
Given the urgency behind the moratorium it seemed like two days was a long time to wait. And given the complexity of the ordinance some guidance from the rent stabilization division would be helpful. Now, one week later, we are still waiting on that guidance. Other cities that enacted the moratorium have provided useful, detailed guidance. Los Angeles has posted guidance with a FAQ section. San Francisco provides step-by-step instructions. West Hollywood provides a fact sheet and a useful template for a letter to the landlord.
We are still waiting on rent stabilization to bring some additional clarity to the ordinance. In the meantime we have posted our own explainer which reflects the specific provisions of our own ordinance: Beverly Hills Eviction Moratorium: What You Need to Know.
Rent stabilization gets a B grade because we’re grading on a curve. Longtime rent control cities like Santa Monica, West Hollywood, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Berkeley provide a wealth of information online about their policies. They get the A grade. Our rent control program, in contrast, has been running for over two years but public communication has not been the priority; unlike those cities the foremost message is not that those who rent in Beverly Hills matter most. We squeak by with a B: not as good as we could be but instead about average for the class.
Take the mayor’s A+ and average it with two As and the B and we’re still a solid A!