Election 2020: Beverly Hills Went to the Polls!

The electorate has spoken and incumbents Lili Bosse and Julian Gold will serve another 4-year term on Beverly Hills city council. These councilmembers have served nine years since being elected to council in 2011. And for the next two years we can expect continuity on city council until 2022 when three council seats will be up for election.

According to preliminary counts first-place winner Lili Bosse ran away with the race. She opened a 10 percentage point lead over second-place winner Julian Gold — a very substantial margin. To put that in perspective she won one-third more votes than did he and her updated total makes her one of the top 5 vote-getters in Beverly Hills since 1950. Candidates haven’t pulled in that many votes in fifty years!

Gold opened a 5%+ lead over third-place finisher Lori Greene Gordon. Candidates Robin Rowe and Sidney Green trailed far behind (splitting 10% of all votes cast). Write-in candidate Aimee Zetlzer evidently didn’t poll well enough for the county to report a result.

Votes Percent
Lili Bosse 5,367 38.48%
Julian A. Gold 3,922 28.12%
Lori Greene Gordon 3,187 22.85%
Robin Rowe 759 5.44%
Sidney Green 713 5.11%
Updated 3/24/20. Source: Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters.

The county will be updating results twice weekly prior to final certification on March 27th.

Election 2020: Meet the Candidates

Lili Bosse headshotIncumbent Councilmember Lili Bosse announced her candidacy relatively late. Two challengers and a fellow incumbent had already announced but tossing her hat into the ring changed the race. One of the challengers, Joe Shooshani, a fellow planning commissioner, immediately dropped out. He’d already hired a campaign consultant but he saw the writing on the wall. After nine years on city council Bosse was a formidable appointment.

On the council dais, Bosse is known for her fine-grained attention to policy details. She not only reads the staff reports but reaches out to affected businesses and residents. She’s in the neighborhoods taking a first-hand look at the issue. Off the dais, too, she has galvanized a passionate base of supporters though her signature Walks with the Mayor that every week brought a crowd to featured small business.

Clearly Bosse was the candidate to beat. Her supporters packed her campaign kick-off and the energy was palpable. Everybody likes a winner, the saying goes, but her supporters sure like her. She is a natural campaigner with a consistently positive message and a theme (‘healthy city’) that resonated. Her campaign reached voters repeatedly with mailers that bested the field.  Renters Alliance endorsed Bosse but she hardly needed the boost.

Julian Gold headshotIncumbent Beverly Hills Councilmember Dr. Julian Gold announced early his reelection bid and he surprised some with that change-of-mind: earlier he had stated his interest in serving only two terms. Perhaps a confluence of concerns animated his interest in a third term: the changing retail environment, the coming of two metro stations, and the city’s obligation to permit new housing on a scale not seen before in Beverly Hills. There are also several significant real estate projects on the horizon and all add up to a pivotal moment in the city’s evolution — and clearly Gold wants to be a part of the decisions that shape our future.

Gold is a big-picture guy rather than a retail-politics type. There are no walks with Mayor Gold, for example, where he talks one-on-one with stakeholders. Instead he prefers committees. He is the councilmember behind the Next Beverly Committee (young-leader Chamber types), Strategic Planning Committee (business interests), and the Small Business Task Force. He’s a process-oriented arguably more at home on city hall’s executive floor than on the street.

Gold finished strong having run a tight campaign notable for covering all of the bases. His website was very good and frequently updated. He kept in touch with potential voters with a steady stream of mailers in his signature green and gold. He advertised on the big cable networks and even had a greeter near the city hall voting center. We glimpsed him in his smart car with a hatch full of lawn signs. He worked hard for his second-place finish.

Lori Gordon headshotPlanning Commissioner Lori Greene Gordon announced her bid for city council early, along with a fellow planning commissioner, before the intent of the two incumbents was known. Known as a sharp-eyed commissioner who works hard, Gordon presented a formidable challenger with the resources to run a competitive campaign. However the terrain of the city council race changed when both incumbents put in their bids for a third term.

Gordon then had to position herself as a challenger. She called out what she characterized as excessive spending by the current council (offering as an example Bosse’s signature B.O.L.D. marketing initiative). She presented herself as a new, and refreshing, voice. And that message evidently resonated: Gordon separated herself from the remainder of the challenger pack by pulling in twice as many votes as they did combined.

However the ‘change’ message was clearly not enough to motivate a relatively disengaged electorate. Some may have liked the message but not enough actually voted for that change. So she trailed the two incumbents by a wide margin. Why could Gordon not make more of the opportunity? One factor was the outsized voice of a political action committee that was ostensibly organized to support Bosse and Gold. But the objective behind the PAC campaign was probably to separate the incumbents from the challengers (and it succeeded).

Another factor was Gordon’s campaign. It simply didn’t make the most of the candidate. This was a very competitive election driven by uncertainty about the new consolidated election. The two incumbents were clearly motivated. To be competitive Gordon needed a hungry, insurgent campaign to slug it out at the grassroots. Instead the campaign seemed complacent. Mailers from the incumbents and the PAC flooded our mailboxes but only one came from the Gordon campaign. Gordon’s detailed policy platform didn’t reach enough potential voters or it didn’t persuade.

Robin Rowe headshotResident Robin Rowe was an unlikely candidate for city council from the start. He was little known as a sometime member of the city’s informal Technology Committee. He announced late in the race. And he ran without a broad social network that is so invaluable to getting to voters (ours is a small town after all). Moreover it takes money to campaign in Beverly Hills: mailers to send, ads to place, lawn signs to manufacture and distribute, and election lists to buy. But Rowe pledged to cap his campaign expenditures at only $2,000 total when established candiates were spending upwards of $50,000 to reach the voters. Forum appearances and free media only go so far!

The currency Rowe brought to the race was some out-of-the-box ideas. There was proposed a ‘skyway’ above Wilshire Boulevard that would connect Rodeo Drive with Westfield Century City. He suggested artificial intelligence to better manage traffic congestion, a small business “innovation center,” and “better, cheaper Internet.” He even called for prohibition on gas-powered leaf blowers.

However the proposals needed more thought. The skyway to Century City would never fly (sorry!) with city business interests disinclined to send shoppers to Westfield. Traffic congestion is largely a function of through-traffic and it’s not clear what kind of marginal gains artificial intelligence could offer. The city already prohibits gas blowers (the challenge is enforcement) and the city already has a ‘fiber to the premises’ initiative but here the problem is project management. There is an incubation center which is run through the Next Beverly Committee.

But Rowe did bring a challenger’s perspective. But his campaign never gained traction. He might instead have suggested incremental steps toward the future he envisioned. But most crucially he needed a campaign apparatus to present himself to potential voters. Having failed to make that connection at any scale he was left far behind the leading candidates when the polls closed.

Simcha Green headshotResident Rabbi Sidney ‘Simcha’ Green also announced his candidacy late in the race. And Green pledged to spend no money at all. He depended on candidate forum appearances where his mischievous humor served him well. But ‘unearned media’ only goes so far.

Green policy platform (such as it was) seemed a bit quixotic. While leading candidates talked about the headwinds of changing retail and the state’s onerous housing requirements, Green talked about infusing civic life with religion (“interfaith co-education” he called it). Notably he wanted to end the city’s prohibition on the sale and consumption of medical marijuana. (The former may have found some support among fellow councilmembers but the latter would be a non-starter given our the city’s relative conservatism on both smoking and marijuana.

Again the candidate had no campaign apparatus to capitalize on his personal appeal. He had no endorsers (nor a website to feature any) and he sent no mailer to voters. We did one time find a small ‘Vote Sidney ‘Simcha’ Green’ campaign card perched inconspicuously atop a South Beverly news box. It seemed such a guerilla move that we’ll memorialize it here.

Vote Sidney Green card

Challengers Rowe and Green may not have polled well (splitting 10% of total votes) but they did succeed in attracting enough of the anti-incumbent vote to very likely change the outcome of the race.

Change Comes to the Polls

The 2020 election promises to be like none we’ve had before. The California Voter Participation Rights Act has sparked some big changes in how we will vote. In lieu of traditional assigned polling places, new ‘voting centers‘ will welcome voters. And votes can be cast there throughout an 11-day voting period. New ballot-marking machines use touch-screens so a voter’s choices can be reviewed prior to casting the ballot. And vote by mail is easier than ever: a ballot can be left at any designated drop-off center throughout a 29-day period or drop it in the mail postage-paid!

These innovations emerged from the Los Angeles County Voting Solutions for All People program created to comply with the new law. To learn more about the changes see the Modernizing the Voting Experience flyer. Read a New Voting Experience excerpt from the county’s Voting Systems Assessment Project. Or kick back with this promo video.

Ballot-marking devices: touch screens for better or worse!

For voters who travel to polls, the most obvious difference from past elections is the new ballot-marking device. It eschews the trusty pen-and-ink ballot (‘inka vote’) of yesterday in favor of a touchscreen. Watch the video:

The advantage of the touchscreen is that ballot choices can be reviewed and revised prior to marking the paper ballot. And in another break with the past, the voter herself rather than the pollworker will insert her marked ballot into the scanner.

Electronic ‘Pollbooks’

Replacing the voter registration ledgers of yesteryear is a new electronic roster of registered voters that replaces traditional weeks-old paper ledgers. Pollbooks will allow pollworkers to access a voter’s registration electronically and in theory help to minimize the time needed for voter verification at the polls.

Because these ‘real-time’ pollbook rosters show up-to-the-minute voter registration they should prevent a voter from voting again at different voting center. The old paper ledger used a voter signature as proof of a vote cast. But that voter sign-in was not accessible to pollworkers elsewhere. Now a voter trying again anywhere in the County will be flagged.

Most significantly, an electronic pollbook will allow voters to ‘conditionally’ register at the polls and cast a same-day ballot. That’s a big improvement over the provisional ballot. Election officials say it’s about confidence in the system.

Consolidated Elections

The California Voter Participation Rights Act has also mandated another important change in how we vote: municipal elections in Beverly Hills from now on will be consolidated with the state’s primary contest and administered by Los Angeles County’s Registrar-Recorder & County Clerk.

Candidates will see new rules and deadlines. Voters in municipal elections will see a longer ballot that now includes state and local races and measures.

The consolidation of elections is intended to encourage turnout in historically low-turnout places like Beverly Hills. In 2017 only 25% of registered voters cast a ballot in our municipal election — a percentage that has declined steadily over past fifty years. Today one-in-five voting-age residents are not even registered to vote.

These changes beg a question: Are you registered to vote? You can check your registration status online or call the Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters at (800) 815–2666. For general inquiries about the March 2020 election please contact the Beverly Hills City Clerk at 310–285–2400. Need to register? Register online with the Secretary of State.

How to Register to Vote

To vote one must be a US citizen, be at least 18 years of age, and neither adjudicated mentally incompetent nor incarcerated (or on felony parole or probation). To register one must provide a name and current actual residential address, date and place of birth, California driver’s license number (or California ID number), the last four digits of your Social Security number, your telephone and and political party affiliation (if any).

Register using a paper form (available from the Beverly Hills City Clerk or by request to the Secretary of State at 800-345-8683) or register online. If registering by paper form, know that the County Registrar must receive the form at least 15 days prior to Election Day. Another option is conditional registration at a voting center.

For citizens under 18 the state allows for registration on or before Election Day as long as the voter is 18 years of age on election day. Alternately, a younger voter can pre-register to vote which will transition to non-conditional registration automatically on her 18th birthday.

As we approach the March 2020 election look for more Renters Alliance coverage of the campaigns and candidates. This is an important election for tenants because the final rent stabilization ordinance is riding on it!

Voter Resources