January 30, 1996 - From the January, 1996 issue

Mayor Alexander: Even Beverly Hills Grapples with Economic Development

Beverly Hills’ planning agenda includes issues ranging from developing a successful economic development strategy for prosperous business triangle to tree programs and sidewalk utilization. The Planning Report met recently with Beverly Hills Mayor, Allan Alexander, who shared his perspectives on the challenges of economic development, intergovernmental cooperation, and community participation in city government.


“The City Council has agreed with the community that the issue of a station in Beverly Hills would be taken to a vote of the community when that time arises.”

What are the dominant issues on the Beverly Hills' planning and economic development agenda? 

The principle issue that we are now focusing on is long range planning for the business triangle. We are looking to the future and taking into account the changes that have been going on over the last several years. I see a positive direction for the business triangle from both an economic and aesthetic standpoint, and the city's standpoint. 

First, the hotels are doing very well—The Peninsula Hotel, the newest luxury hotel in Beverly Hills, has been very successful. The historic Beverly Hills Hotel on Sunset has now re-opened after a major renovation, bringing it up to today's standards. The Regent Beverly Wilshire and The Beverly Hilton hotels have also had major renovations during the past few years. When the hotels do well, so do the retail businesses and the restaurants in Beverly Hills. 

From a retail perspective, the fact that Barney's opened in Beverly Hills was a big boost to the city. Physically, it is a beautiful building on the exterior as well as the interior. It has not created a traffic problem, nor has it had a negative impact in the adjacent residential areas. 

So it has turned out to be very positive from a business and a community standpoint. Barney's led to a domino effect—demonstrated in the expansion and modernization of Saks Fifth Avenue. Saks remodeled their existing store, purchased property next door to it and expanded their store. When the I Magnin store became available just to the west of Saks, Saks leased that entire building, creating a Saks East and a Saks West with over 250,000 square feet. 

By maintaining the high quality of the Beverly Hills business triangle, we have attracted some unique new businesses to the City. For example, the Museum of Television & Radio from New York has constructed a magnificent new building on Beverly Drive designed by the noted architect, Richard Meier. Also, several art galleries have recently opened in Beverly Hills, including the Pace Wildenstein and the Gagosian galleries from New York. 

What are the tools that a city can use to improve upon its land-use allocations and stimulate the economy? Do these things just happen in the marketplace? Is there something you would counsel a planning commissioner to do? 

You raise a very important point. That is the relationship between the private sector and the public sector. In Beverly Hills we have worked very diligently in a cooperative effort with the business community, both those enterprises that are interested in coming into the city and those that already operate here. 

We are looking as a city, and from a planning perspective, to the business triangle as a very attractive and unique shopping region. We retained Stephanos Polyzoides, an urbanist, architect and land-use planner, to help us advise the City. With his guidance, we have studied the triangle as a whole to see what changes we as a city should initiate from a land-use planning perspective. The result has been a focus on Rodeo Drive as the international high-end retail street; Beverly Drive, which is one block over, as the street for national stores which are more modest in price and Cannon Drive, (one street over), as the street for both national stores and some local stores. 

You don't have a redevelopment agency. So what tools can you bring to bear on accomplishing those goals?

No, we do not have a redevelopment agency because we are not deemed to be a blighted area. Obviously, I am very pleased about that. The tools are really land-use ordinances. We can allow more flexibility under our codes for the private sector to develop new concepts which are viewed to be attractive by the community and functional for the businesses. 

We are also looking at the infrastructure, such as landscaping. Our tree program is very important throughout the City of Beverly Hills, including the residential areas. But we are also focusing on the business triangle to create an atmosphere that is conducive to tourists as well as to the local community. We are looking at widening sidewalks and changing the on-street parking configuration. We have changed our City ordinances to encourage outdoor dining, which has been a very popular change in the city. 

Switching to an inter-governmental issue, Beverly Hills is not an island. It is impacted by other planning decisions and transportation decisions every day, whether it's Santa Monica Boulevard or Wilshire Boulevard and metro rail planning decisions on your borders. How do you deal with and relate to those other cities? 

We meet with representatives from the surrounding cities on the West Side, including the City of Los Angeles, on a regular basis to discuss the intra-city issues. It is vital that we work in cooperation with the other communities so that we understand their concerns and they understand ours. An example is the West Hollywood Sunset Plan. We have been very active in reviewing and commenting on their plan. 

But what is the City's interface with the MTA and with Caltrans, the transportation agencies that effect the arteries, which are the lifeblood of your city? 

We have staff following the MTA mass transit program and particularly issues which affect the extension to the West Side. We have commented on alignments as we view they may affect Beverly Hills. We will continue to monitor developments as the process continues. 

You have been an outspoken proponent for the extension of metro rail up Wilshire Boulevard. Do you want to comment on your experience in trying to accomplish that goal? 

The City's position with regard to metro rail—in particular a station in the City of Beverly Hills—awaits further deliberations. The City Council has agreed with the community that the issue of a station in Beverly Hills would be taken to a vote of the community when that time arises. 

We have supported a further analysis of the Wilshire alignment east of Beverly Hills because of the importance of providing access to the museum area and the Miracle Mile area. An alternative plan was proposed whereby the alignment would go south to Pico but then would return to the La Brea area so that it could again pick upon Wilshire to include the museum and the Miracle Mile areas.

The hydrogen sulfide problem that has arisen opens up again the whole issue of where the best alignment lies. This is a serious problem and at this point I don’t know what the best alignment would be. But I do believe that it is important that all reasonable alternatives be analyzed carefully. The decision on alignment will be with us for 100 years or more so it better be well thought out.

You’ve had experience, Allan, in a number of cities as a lawyer and someone knowledgeable about land-use. How do you compare, and how do you promote doing business in Beverly Hills as distinguished from the other jurisdictions in which you've had experience? 

Beverly Hills stacks up very well in comparison to other communities with regard to encouraging existing and new businesses in the city. We are concerned, of course, with the impacts on the residential community. 

However, we have a strong outreach program to bring businesses into our community, particularly businesses related to the entertainment industry, which is a special historically-based niche for Beverly Hills. We can continue to encourage businesses in a manner that recognizes the need for sensitivity to residential areas and still allows the businesses to nourish. So far it has worked very well. 

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Do you have any lessons to offer your neighboring jurisdictions from your own experience on how to improve as we downsize government? How do we improve the incentives and disincentives coming out of government and the end goals that your communities are seeking? 

Continued dialog and inclusionary government is critical in this process. This entails a time consuming process. Patience then becomes a virtue. Listening to everyone that is acting in a reasonable way is important. That goes for both the government side and the private sector side. 

Providing the forum for this debate is important. In our case, we have televised city council meetings. Exposing issues in the community via television is very helpful. That has led lo more interest in our community on the issues. Also, out of this open forum of deliberation comes better government better decisions and a more positive atmosphere in the community.

So, Allan, you’re not very critical of these other processes. Have you learned that there are some roads not worth going down? From your own experience, are there some policies and behaviors that you just try to steer the city away from?'

I come back to process. This means allowing people to voice their opinion and then pursuing the conclusion on a reasoned basis, trying to keep the emotional part to a minimum and getting at the real facts. One of the problems that I've observed over the years is that people get very emotional about issues and don't look at the facts enough. Many times the facts will solve the problem. By this I mean that if you know the facts, it may turn out that the problem really isn't there. 

I give the example of Barney's. There was enormous concern by certain residents that Barney's was going to create a severe traffic problem. We brought in a traffic expert to represent the City. Barney's had their traffic consultant, and the homeowners had their traffic consultant. We encouraged all three to come to a conclusion on traffic generation from the project. 

Their joint conclusion showed that the traffic was going to be equal to or less than the traffic that was generated from the existing building on the site. Once that was known, it made the issue of traffic truly a non-issue and, in fact, the experts turned out to be correct; traffic from the Barney's store has not been an issue or a problem. 

What is your perspective on the regional agencies that impact your city, whether they be SCAG, MTA, the Air Quality Management District, or the water and sanitation issues that affect your city. Talk from an inter-governmental point of view about the positive and negative relationships and experiences that you have had. 

It's a moving target. It's evolving. There is no easy answer and there is no perfect solution. We have to work together because the lines are not clearly drawn between local and regional impacts. 

As a city, we have to be sensitive to the regional impacts and work with the regulatory agencies that are involved (such as AQMD). On the other hand, those agencies have to be sensitive to the desire for local control and independence in our decision making, since our constituents demand it. At the end of the day, we have to do the best that we can to weave our way through the maze of regional versus local control and strive for a well-reasoned and practical approach.

The November TPR carried an article about SCAG putting its member cities online with their own home pages and connecting them. What's been the experience of Beverly Hills, and what do you make of this move into cyberspace on the part or city and regional governments?

I'm a big, big fan of technology, and in particular, technology for our communities as a way of solving some of the major problems of city life. I've stressed a number of technology issues this year as Mayor. We established a Technology Committee in the City and I asked them to address two principle issues. 

One is how technology can be utilized for increased public safety. In particular, we are working with the Beverly Hills Police Department to make sure that we are at the cutting edge of technology utilizing the latest lap top computers in our police cars and exploring the use of surveillance cameras to reduce crime in the City. To me, technology for public safety should be a top priority. Technology holds out the promise of significantly greater security and safety for the community without having to increase the cost or size of the police department. 

The second issue was to provide access to the Internet and the World Wide Web and to develop a Home Page for Beverly Hills. We are now on the World Wide Web. This system will provide our community with greater access to community affairs as the Internet becomes more popular. Also, from a tourist standpoint, it provides instantaneous worldwide access to Beverly Hills. In this regard, we are working with the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce and Beverly Hills businesses so that they can tie into our Home Page. 

Where will the sales tax revenue go when people buy on the Internet? 

That's a big question right now. One of the issues that we are looking at is how our Home Page system can generate revenues for the City. 

Let's go back to another area of how you work through a public policy conflict with respect to land-use: Planet Hollywood in Beverly Hills! How did that evolve itself out as a process? 

That is interesting because it started out on a very bad footing but, through a process of community involvement with the city, the residents, and Planet Hollywood working together, we solved the problem. Planet Hollywood is now open, and doing great business without adversely imposing on the adjoining residential neighborhood. We allow the residents to park just south or Planet Hollywood in the residential area but do not allow parking in that area for any of the patrons of Planet Hollywood or other businesses. 

This was a situation in which we used our planning tools, such as permit parking, restricted parking, control over valet parking, and a requirement that they provide free parking to patrons, to eliminate a serious potential problem created by a new business in the City. When the City uses these planning tools to protect the residents we are helping the businesses because they get the support of the residents in the community. When you have a business that understands this, you can develop a win-win situation, which is what we did with Planet Hollywood. 

Allan, would you comment for our readers on the demise of the West Side section in the LA. Times and the nature of the coverage of local government policy and politics that is extant in L.A? What are the ramifications or both? 

The loss of the West Side edition clearly had a negative impact upon Beverly Hills and, I believe, on all of the West Side. The West Side edition provided the West Side community with much needed information on local government. 

As I expressed before, the involvement of people in the local government process is absolutely crucial. If you can't communicate with the constituents, such as through the newspapers, you drastically interfere with their participation. We communicate through television a great deal in our city. We televise announcements, City Council meetings, and at certain times, Planning Commission meetings when they discuss major issues. Clearly, however, the loss of the West Side edition was a major setback.

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