To My Rent-Stabilized Neighbors: No Need to Save this Date

The installation of the incoming Beverly Hills mayor and vice-mayor will take place on April 4th, says the city’s official announcement. “Save the date!” But it is difficult for me to suggest my neighbors should save the date for a ceremony where Vice-Mayor Julian Gold and Councilmember Lester Friedman will be nominated and elected by fellow councilmembers to the offices of mayor and vice-mayor respectively. Not that I begrudge the honor. All councilmembers give generously of their time to conduct the people’s business. And every year councilmembers rotate into those two ceremonial offices. It just happens that I’m not feeling any love for tenants from Gold and Friedman and that puts me into something less than a celebratory mood.

About the Installation

Each year two of our five sitting councilmembers rotate into the largely ceremonial offices of mayor and vice-mayor. The ceremony is a Beverly Hills tradition. Indeed the speeches, jokes, musical interludes and special guests make the proceedings feel a mashup of the Friar’s Club and a vintage TV variety show. The personal and philosophical differences that provide some subtext to regular council business here take a backseat to back-slapping and bonhomie.

The centerpiece is the handover of the ceremonial baton. It begins with a video tribute to the outgoing mayor followed by humble-bragging about the past year’s accomplishments. After the presentation of token gifts from fellow councilmembers the current mayor makes way for the next mayor. But not before the nomination and election of the incoming vice-mayor. Then some music and speeches and everybody breaks for the reception. Rarely do the proceedings depart from the script.

Watch the 2022 installation video. I’ve taken the liberty of queuing it up a half-hour into the festivities to begin at the handover of the baton.

City council installation 2022 incoming mayor Lili Bosse
Click to watch the video of the 2022 city council installation. Pictured: Julian Gold, Lili Bosse and then-outgoing mayor (and now former councilmember) Bob Wunderlich.

The event is broadcast live on April 4th starting at 7 pm both online and on cable channel 10. I can’t not recommend viewing at home and then dropping by the Wallis for a bite just before the proceedings wrap-up.

About the Election

The centerpiece of the installation is the ‘election’ of our incoming mayor and vice mayor. ‘Election’ because Beverly Hills does not directly elect a mayor or vice mayor. Instead our five sitting councilmembers nominate mayor and vice-mayor candidates from among themselves and then each casts a vote. As there are only five votes there is no need to certify the tally.

Not that the outcome is ever in doubt. The incoming vice-mayor and mayor are elected according to the order in which they finished in the municipal elections. The process is described in the City Council Policy and Operations Manual:

Since 1981, the election of the Mayor and Vice Mayor is as follows: The Vice Mayor position is rotated each year. The Vice Mayor becomes the Mayor (except in the cases where the Vice Mayor does not run or is not re-elected). The position of Mayor follows a sequence based on (a) election date and (b) order of finish within each election. For instance, the third-place vote recipient in the 1998 election would become Mayor before the top vote recipient in the 2000 election. There have been no exceptions made for seniority or for first time Vice Mayors. — Handbook

At this installation Mayor Lili Bosse will officially complete her term as mayor and then hand the baton to current vice-mayor Julian Gold. Gold will hand the vice-mayor baton to incoming vice-mayor Lester Friedman. The order is determined by the votes they received.

Mayor Lili Bosse was elected as vice-mayor at the 2021 installation as the top finisher in the March 3, 2020 municipal election with 5,367 votes. After completing that 1-year term as vice-mayor, Bosse was duly nominated to serve as mayor and was elected at the 2022 installation. In that 2020 election the second-place finisher was Julian Gold with 3,922 votes. When Bosse was elected mayor at the 2022 installation Gold was nominated and elected vice-mayor.

At this upcoming April 4, 2023 installation Vice-Mayor Gold will be nominated and elected as the next mayor.

Just before that happens the incoming vice-mayor is elected. As there were only the two candidates on the ballot in 2020 (Bosse and Gold), the next councilmember in line is Lester Friedman who was the top vote-getter in the subsequent 2022 municipal election. He netted 3,571 votes. So at this upcoming installation he becomes vice-mayor.

Only six votes (!) separated Friedman from the second-place finisher Sharona Nazarian in the 2022 election. But that 6-vote margin matters largely because determines the order of nomination for vice-mayor. At the installation next year Nazarian will elected as vice-mayor and subsequently follow Friedman as mayor in 2025.

The city posts the names of former mayors online. The list shows that Gold has already served two terms as mayor (2015 and 2018) and Lester Friedman, who was first elected later, has previously served a single term as mayor (2020). Next year will be a big year; his previous stint as mayor was consumed by the onset of the pandemic.

What Difference Does the Installation Make?

The political balance of city council won’t change after the installation but a change in mayor certainly can affect how the city is governed. Each councilmember gets only one vote but the mayor sets the agenda for city council meetings and presides over the meetings. The mayor can for example keep things from the agenda or during the meeting allow more or less time for public comment. The mayor is the gatekeeper.

Additional powers as described in the City Council Policy and Operations Manual:

  • The mayor appoints councilmembers to liaise with the city’s twelve commissions. Two councilmembers are appointed as liaisons to each commission. These liaisons have a say in how the commission conducts its business. The liaisons are also the loudest voices when it comes to selecting new commission members. The mayor can appoint himself, or any like-minded fellow councilmember, to a commission that interests him. (Review the appointments for fiscal year 2022–23.)
  • The mayor may (or may not) establish an ad-hoc to address a specific issue and can appoint two councilmembers (including himself) to serve on an ad-hoc committee.
  • The mayor is the designated city representative for economic development to promote the city. This entails travel to New York and overseas on the city’s dime.
  • The mayor may approve the awarding of a plaque, proclamation, certificate, or medallion to recognize outstanding community achievements — and at his discretion may award a ‘key to the city’ to a visitor. These ceremonial gestures give the mayor a soapbox that is unavailable to other councilmembers.

These responsibilities sound mostly ceremonial and they are. It’s what happens away from the council dais and cameras that gives the mayor an outsized influence on city business. This next year we will have Julian Gold as mayor and the following year Lester Friedman.

Why I am Not Saving the Date

Vice-Mayor Gold and Councilmember Friedman anchor what is shaping-up to be a conservative voting bloc on city council. The councilmembers always were more inclined to put the brake on any proposal to expand tenants’ rights. But after the 2022 election they were joined by Councilmember Sharona Nazarian who has tended to see things from the landlord’s perspective. And lately Mayor Bosse has tended to vote with them on tenant matters too.

The new balance doesn’t augur well for tenant rights generally and specifically has stood in the way of tenant protections in the event of redevelopment and displacement. At the February 7, 2023 council meeting a 4–1 majority chose not to eliminate the city’s unique 90-day notice prior to eviction when the landlord obtains a demolition permit. Then at the March 7th meeting a 4–1 majority chose not to add to the state’s bare-minimum affordable housing requirement. Council could have required developers to either set aside additional affordable rental units for middle-class residents or required that some proportion of the new rental units be rent-stabilized. The majority choose to do neither.

In contrast Councilmember John Mirisch wanted to eliminate the 90-day eviction notice and urged city council to both expand the affordable housing requirement and to make some proportion of new units rent-stabilized. But one vote against a four-vote majority doesn’t carry the day.

That make it difficult to summon my enthusiasm to join the installation celebration and makes it difficult to recommend that renting households save the date.