Beverly Hills City Council Votes Unanimously to Not Enforce County Mask Mandate

More lawmakers continue to announce opposition to new mandate

  1. The Beverly Hills City Council voted to not enforce an all but certain return of the Los Angeles County indoor mask mandate on Monday night.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health is only a few days away from announcing whether or not the County has pulled above the ‘high’ CDC new rate and hospitalization threshold for COVID-19 that would automatically trigger a return of the indoor mask mandate to the County. Such as return has been threatened for months, with it only becoming a looming issue on July 15th when the Public Health Department said that the threshold was reached and that the County has two weeks to get below or else the mandate would return as early as July 29th.

While local businesses in the County are scrambling to get ready in time in order to remain open, many cities have been looking at ways to make the mandate more manageable, with others trying to find ways to not make a mandate so impactful on their city. On Monday, Beverly Hills made the largest step, by far, of any city, deciding to not enforce the mask mandate within the city. In an announcement, the city noted that enforcement would instead fall to the Public Health Department itself, with no city resources to go to the enforcement of the mask mandate.

“I feel it is our job to lead and I support the power of choice,” said Beverly Hills Mayor Lili Bosse on Monday in a statement. “Our job is to be proactive and public about what we believe. This is a united City Council and community that cares about health. We are not where we were in 2020, and now we need to move forward as a community and be part of the solution.”

Beverly Hills rejects mandatory masking enforcement

Beverly Hills wasn’t the only one to make such an announcement on Monday either, as other lawmakers have come forward opposing the return of the mandate. The most prominent, besides the city, was Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who not only brought into doubt what the effectiveness of masking was, but also noted the recent Alameda County indoor mask mandate returning for only a few weeks last month before abruptly ending once again.

“I have not seen any empirical data that conclusively shows that masking mandates make a difference in decreasing or stopping COVID-19 transmission rates,” wrote Barger on Monday. “An analysis of Alameda County’s June 2022 masking mandate, in fact, concluded it had no significant impact in comparison to its surrounding counties that did not impose a masking mandate. Alameda County dropped this mandate after only three weeks.”

Analysts noted that other cities might join Beverly Hills soon, or at least have prominent lawmakers continue to come out against a mandate.

“Less and less people are standing for these mandates,” explained Chelsea Lang, an LA County political consultant, to the Globe on Tuesday. “And that includes those in office. They’ve seen what these mandates can do to businesses and how they can negatively affect citizens. So they’re taking a stand. They’re saying ‘Hey, you can say that masking is back, but if you want it back so much, you deal with it.”

Click here to read the full article in the California Globe

Beverly Hills Increases Surveillance

Travel along Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills and digital eyes follow you. The same goes for Olympic Boulevard. And Rodeo Drive. And more.

For years, the Los Angeles enclave synonymous with exclusivity and privilege has been building a network of surveillance cameras that today covers much of its bustling shopping district and many residential areas.

The city has about 2,000 closed-circuit cameras — nearly 1 for every 17 residents — along with others at many intersections that snap photos of drivers going through red lights, as well as drones and dozens of devices that can read license plates and automatically check them against law enforcement databases to find unregistered plates or stolen vehicles.

And city leaders aren’t done. At a meeting in August 2020, when the City Council unanimously approved the purchase of a few hundred more surveillance cameras, Assistant City Manager Nancy Hunt-Coffey laid out a five-year proposal to spend $14 million for an additional 900 cameras and 50 more license plate scanners.

The ultimate goal?

“Ubiquitous coverage,” Hunt-Coffey said.

Such ambitions have kept Beverly Hills squarely at the center of a debate here and elsewhere over how cities should combat robberies, thefts and other crimes targeting luxury stores and wealthy people.

City officials reason that the cameras pose no threat to people who don’t break the law and say they serve as both a deterrent to would-be criminals and an indispensable tool for detectives trying to solve crimes like the armed robbery of a man’s half-million-dollar watch last year.

But the city’s technology push is unsettling to civil libertarians and other police critics, who see the blanket surveillance on streets, in parks and elsewhere as an invasion of privacy and a step down a slippery slope of government intrusion into people’s lives.

And with Beverly Hills having come under fire in recent years for allegedly singling out Black and Latino people for arrest and criminal charges, they don’t trust police to use the cameras in an unbiased way.

“When you are in a heavily surveilled environment, the definition of wrong magically expands; people start to become much narrower about what becomes acceptable behavior,” said Shobita Parthasarathy, director of the Science, Technology and Public Policy program at the University of Michigan. “In a community, it could be about noise levels or it could be about how high your grass is growing or about what kind of lawn ornaments you have. And so there are all kinds of things that could become the domain of the criminal justice system.”

The evidence is also mixed about whether cameras have a direct effect on crime, she said. A 2016 review of several studies found that closed-circuit TV cameras were most effective when combined with other crime-fighting tools such as improved lighting and security guard patrols, but that they hadn’t been shown to reduce violent crime on their own.

Although comparatively tiny, Beverly Hills’ roughly 60 cameras per 1,000 residents ranks it among the most surveilled cities in the world alongside the likes of London and Beijing, according to statistics compiled by the consumer site Comparitech. Los Angeles, by comparison, has roughly 35,000 cameras and 4 million people — or about 9 for every 1,000 residents.

Beverly Hills’ surveillance buildup is part of a broader, years-long push to remake itself into a “smart city,” in which data on many aspects of residents’ and visitors’ lives are collected and analyzed to address common urban challenges such as traffic, sanitation and public safety. City officials envision a wired Beverly Hills of the future with driverless public transit and high-tech cultural venues.

Some of the city’s cameras are in plain view and some inconspicuous. Many are encased in black orbs and are affixed to traffic light poles or installed in city parking garages. Elsewhere, they adorn the sides of boutiques and art galleries, or look down from utility poles in residential areas.

The city has been adding cameras since 2005, and the endeavor picked up significantly in 2018 after the council expanded surveillance into residential neighborhoods, according to minutes from council meetings.

Then came the decision in August 2020 to spend $1.2 million to install the additional 200 cameras throughout the city.

The expansion came at a delicate moment: Earlier that summer, protest groups such as Black Future Project came into the city to hold demonstrations against the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and other police abuses, knowing the juxtaposition of Black and Latino protesters in the overwhelming white and rich city would draw attention. Police and the city attorney’s office took a hard line with protesters, making arrests and pursuing prosecutions on minor criminal charges.

The decision to add cameras on the heels of the protests was viewed by critics as an attempt to further boost the city’s ability to tamp down on such dissent and a response to the anxieties of residents unsettled by the sight of protesters taking to city streets to rally against racial injustice.

“In a community where people perceive Black people and poor people as threats to their wealth … then people will respond with surveillance systems and strategies to protect what they have at all costs,” said Safiya Noble, co-director of UCLA’s Center for Critical Internet Inquiry, who wrote a book about how search engines can reinforce racial bias.

In the years since, tensions over race and wealth have continued to simmer in Beverly Hills, where the population is 78% white and the median household income in 2020 was $101,241.

A Times report last year found that an overwhelming majority of the people arrested by a special Beverly Hills Police Department detail patrolling Rodeo Drive were Black.

The special team was formed amid complaints over what residents and shop owners said was a “criminal element” on Rodeo Drive, and it focused, at first, on curtailing minor infractions like loud music and illegal street vending. Most of the arrests, however, were part of a crackdown on shoppers believed to be part of an elaborate scheme to defraud the state’s unemployment system, records show.

Police have not explained why so many of the arrests were of Black people.

The city’s police chief, Mark Stainbrook, says the cameras have helped solve “dozens” of crimes since he took over the job late last year, including the December slaying of renowned philanthropist Jacqueline Avant and the overdose death of a billionaire’s son. In both cases, detectives used city cameras to stitch together the suspects’ movements.

But he hasn’t always shared the council’s breathless enthusiasm for adding more cameras, saying that before the city thinks about expanding its surveillance any further, it should redeploy its existing cameras to areas with more crime.

“You’d have to ask the people on the council what they think. I’ve always said that you have to evaluate what you have first,” Stainbrook said in an interview a day after sledgehammer-wielding thieves pulled off a daytime robbery, making off with $3 million to $5 million worth of jewelry.

At a meeting with the City Council this month, however, Stainbrook floated the idea of building an intelligence center, where feeds from cameras, drones and automated license plate readers could be monitored in real time by private security contractors.

In response to a question from a councilmember, Stainbrook acknowledged some residents have expressed concerns about their privacy being invaded, but said safeguards are in place to prevent misuse of footage. “The data is kept in compliance with state law,” he said.

Currently, Beverly Hills doesn’t have nearly enough cops or civilian employees to monitor live feeds from the cameras, Stainbrook said. Instead, the footage is uploaded to a server, and when a crime occurs, investigators check whether suspects were caught on camera. In the “age of ‘CSI,’” he added, “juries seem less willing to convict someone without video evidence.”

“At least criminals know that when you’re going to come here and commit a crime, you’re going to be on video and we’re going to find and arrest you,” he said.

But crime is relatively rare in Beverly Hills, raising the question whether so many cameras is overkill. Preliminary police data showed that even though the number of violent crimes such as robberies and serious assaults rose from 111 to 139 from 2020 to 2021, the overall crime rate declined roughly 2% in that span.

Lili Bosse, a longtime councilmember who recently started her third rotation as mayor, said in an interview that constituents have told her the cameras bring them peace of mind, especially as many of the roughly 7 million tourists who visited the city each year before the pandemic have begun to return. In today’s hyperconnected world, people have grown used to the idea they could be recorded when they leave their homes, she said.

Despite signs posted in commercial and residential areas alerting people to the fact they are on camera, resident Evan Brenner said he was unaware of the city’s surveillance ambitions. He said he can see both sides of the debate.

“I’m kind of torn about it, to be honest with you, because on the one hand you want to feel safe. But on the other hand, who wants strangers watching every move that they make?” said Brenner, who works in real estate. “I don’t like the government intruding on our privacy, and at the same time, if the intention is keeping us safer … a lot of it has to do with how the technology is used.”

Bosse and her colleagues on the council have suggested the city should find ways to tap into privately owned cameras to further broaden their surveillance capabilities and have endorsed buying artificial-intelligence software that could automatically flag people captured on camera as suspicious based on their appearance or behavior, or scan crowds for the face of a person with a warrant.

“I would be willing to spend more money, if necessary, to … find the most robust artificial intelligence we can find that could be adapted to a policing environment,” Councilmember Bob Wunderlich said at the meeting this month. Stainbrook demurred, saying that while the department will eventually use such technology to automatically read and interpret footage from the city’s cameras, the potential upsides and pitfalls need to be studied more thoroughly.

Wunderlich said the department is already using a type of AI technology from a company called BriefCam, but did not elaborate. Later in the meeting, Stainbrook explained that state law bars the use of facial recognition on police cameras, but BriefCam makes it possible to “review hours and hours of video and hone in on certain cars or times, locations, people, descriptions” to help authorities “quickly locate people.”

Click here to read the full article at the LA Times

Did Beverly Hills Police Target Black Shoppers on Rodeo Drive? What Records and Emails Show

Last month, two attorneys summoned reporters to the steps of Beverly Hills City Hall to make a disturbing accusation. Police had deliberately targeted Black shoppers along the city’s famous Rodeo Drive.

The proof, they said, was in the numbers: A special team of officers assigned last fall to patrol the opulent shopping corridor arrested dozens of people for minor infractions such as jaywalking or riding scooters on a sidewalk and all but one of them were Black, they alleged. They labeled it brazen, illegal racial profiling.

A closer examination of the Beverly Hills Police Department’s Rodeo Drive Team offers a more complicated picture of the operation, shedding light on how it started and raising new questions about why the overwhelming majority of the people arrested were Black.

Click to read the full story at Los Angeles Times

Voter Fraud: If It Can Happen In Beverly Hills …

Beverly HillsIn a city in which an election was won four years ago by seven votes, every vote should count. But only the votes that should count should count. And that’s a problem in Beverly Hills.

Voter fraud is real. It’s alive. It’s happening. And we have to stop it. Whether or not it happens at the federal level, we know it happens at the local level. We have seen it ourselves and our own investigations have proven it happens.

Last week, at a marathon City Council meeting, the Beverly Hills City Council at my request unanimously agreed to launch an Anti-Voter Fraud Initiative. The initiative will attempt to use every tool at the council and city’s disposal to protect the integrity of our local election, the next of which is March 7 (and in which I and the vice mayor are up for re-election).

We will attempt to inform our own voters to help report suspected instances of unauthorized voters (“If you see something, say something”), as well as continue to lobby the secretary of state, our DA and other officials to take the matter of suspected voter fraud seriously and to take action. The decision to launch the Anti-Voter Fraud Initiative follows a Monday meeting of the City’s Sunshine Task Force which we created to make our city a model of transparency and good government.

Yes, we are frustrated.

Our frustration and the decision to educate, lobby and take whatever local action we can to deal with voter fraud is preceded by two council study sessions in which we discussed the matter with representatives from the local registrar-recorder and the secretary of state, one meeting more exasperating than the other. We shouldn’t have to self-police and we are extremely limited as to what we can do locally to put an end to voter fraud.

Some background information is in order, particularly for those who aren’t familiar with Beverly Hills, beyond the stereotype, or suggest that voter fraud doesn’t exist.

In 2008 a local developer won a referendum by 129 votes which granted a controversial building entitlement. The developer spent millions of dollars prior to the election with all manner of expensive propaganda. The grass-roots group opposing the developer’s plans suspected that many voters who had voted in Beverly Hills were not bona fide or legal residents of the city, but nonetheless voted in the election.

In a Herculean effort, volunteers canvassed the city, going door-to-door to investigate the claims of voter fraud. They uncovered 569 documented cases of voters who were not entitled to vote in our local election. The group of phony voters included random people registered at unsuspecting residents’ addresses, non-U.S. citizens, Beverly Hills residents’ adult children who themselves were domiciled elsewhere, etc. That’s right: there were 569 documented cases of illegal voters in an election which had been won by 129 votes. The math is pretty simple.

The citizens’ group turned over their voluminous documentation over to the local DA’s office, which complimented them on their meticulousness and then proceeded to do … absolutely nothing. No indictments. No prosecution. No convictions. Nothing.

Fast forward to the months preceding the Nov. 2016 election: the same developer who had won the tainted 2008 election was now attempting to pass an initiative to build a 375-foot skyscraper in Beverly Hills. As in 2008, the developer spent millions of dollars in campaign propaganda (it turns out that the developer ended up spending more than $1000 per vote in a losing effort), and reports of potential illegal voters arose once again. The city received a list of over 500 voters registered at a few business addresses. As a council colleague remarked, the limited number of business addresses makes this seem like an organized effort. We turned the list over to the Los Angeles County Registrar Recorder, who sent letters out to these 500 registered voters, informing them that their voting status would be placed on hold pending their verifying that they actually lived in Beverly Hills and were entitled to vote here.

It turns out that only two of the over 500 registered voters ended up verifying that they actually live in Beverly Hills.

If we had not been provided with a list of unauthorized registered voters, which we forwarded to the registrar with the request to invalidate the registrations pending further confirmation, we could have had 500 illegal voters in the November election. This is in a city in which, as mentioned, a council member won election in 2013 by a mere seven votes.

At our council study session earlier this month in which we asked for representation from the local registrar, the secretary of state’s office and the DA, only the registrar seemed to take the problem of voter fraud seriously. The secretary of state’s representative gave answers which actually decreased our confidence in its ability to protect the integrity of our voting process and raised the frustration levels of the entire council. After having refused to prosecute the widespread 2008 voter fraud, the DA’s office refused to even send a representative to our council meeting, even after I followed up the initial refusal with a letter to county DA Jackie Lacey, personally asking her to send a representative to discuss this serious issue. Their job is not just to prosecute voter fraud (something they evidently refuse to do, as was the case in 2008) but also to help us avert such crimes which undermine our electoral system. This nonchalance was both shocking and stupefying.

At that meeting, as confirmed by our city clerk, we pointed out various ways in which voter fraud could occur and evidently had occurred: people could simply register at houses where they did not live, either with or without the bona fide residents’ knowledge or they could register at business addresses, as they had done in the past. At the polls, they could comb through the voter rolls and see who had not voted and simply get replacements to vote in their stead. There is effectively no way under our current system to avoid or deal with most of these situations, particularly if the local DA’s office is unwilling to take action.

According to today’s Washington Post: “Multiple investigations of the extent of in-person voter fraud — someone showing up to vote fraudulently — have found that it’s not a significant problem.” Well, if these “investigations” are anything like our own experience, this is a prime example of a self-fulfilling conclusion. Our secretary of state’s office and our own DA seem unwilling to investigate or even acknowledge the problem. Small wonder that ostrich “investigators” – in opposition to grass-roots residents – are finding that voter fraud is “not a significant problem.” See no evil. Hear no evil. … You get the picture.

Our situation is different from President Trump’s claims of voter fraud in that many (though not all) of the phony voters in Beverly Hills are U.S. citizens who simply don’t live in Beverly Hills and therefore are not entitled to vote in municipal elections. But the problem remains a serious one at any level of government and we deserve to have faith in the integrity of our electoral system at all levels of government.

On Tuesday, the National Association of Secretaries of State issued the following statement: “We are not aware of any evidence that supports the voter fraud claims made by President Trump, but we are open to learning more about the administration’s concerns.”

How about also being open to learning about the concerns of cities in which elections are won and lost by seven votes? How about taking action in instances in which voter fraud clearly has taken place and in which there are ongoing attempts to rig our elections?

Whatever the situation at the national level, we in Beverly Hills are committed to doing whatever we can to protect the integrity of our local elections, even if we do not receive the support from the authorities who are tasked with doing so. Because if the integrity of our electoral system is not protected, if bad actors know that they can literally get away with voter fraud without any consequences, then we can expect to see this phenomenon spread and grow, further undermining our democracy.

Local government, when done right, is the best form of democracy because it is closest to home. For it to mean anything, though, the elections in which the residents choose their local leaders and decide on local issues must be on the up and up. Sacramento, we have a problem.

And so the Beverly Hills Anti-Voter Fraud Initiative is born. Let’s hope other cities and municipalities join us to create a coalition against voter fraud. Our democracy is too precious to allow its very fundament, our elections, to be subverted.

John Mirisch is the Mayor of Beverly Hills. He has, among other things, created the Sunshine Task Force to increase transparency, ethics and public participation in local government. Mayor Mirisch is a CityWatch contributor.

This piece was originally published by City Watch LA

Beverly Hills Backs Self-Driving Uber in Fight with California

UberBeverly Hills Mayor John A. Mirisch has taken Uber’s side in its fight with the State of California over the company’s effort to roll out self-driving cars without a special permit.

Mirisch backed Uber even as other civi leaders, such as San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, have opposed Uber’s provocative move.

After losing labor court disputes and failing to get the patent protection for ride-hailing, Uber Technologies, Inc. seems willing to bet the company that it can continue to operate un-permitted self-driving cars in California.

Breitbart News noted that after successfully launching the nation’s first legal “autonomous” (self-driving) ride-hailing pilot in Pennsylvania in August, Uber on December 14 launched a commercial self-driving service in California, without obtaining a Department of Motor Vehicle permits, as Google and 20 manufacturers have done.

After DMV general counsel Brian Soublet wrote a cease-and-desist letter to Uber’s Head of Advanced Technology, Anthony Levandowski, threatening legal action, he only acknowledged that there was a “debate” over Uber needing a permit to operate self-driving cars. Levandowski claimed that with a stand-by driver “behind the wheel” making the vehicles “less than fully autonomous,” Uber does not need any California permit.

The hard-ball play by Uber comes as the company is under enormous and legal and regulatory assault worldwide, including the legality of utilizing contract operators without treating them as employees, and its failure to be awarded key ride-hailing patent rights.

U.S. District Court Judge Edward Chen in August denied Uber’s $100 million offer to settle a class action lawsuit involving about 380,000 Uber drivers that were misclassified in the U.S. as contractors, rather than employees under state and federal labor law.

Two months later in October, Uber lost what was billed as the UK employment law “case of the year,” when an employment tribunal ruled that the correct legal definition for two of its “App Only” PHV (Private Hire Vehicle) operators were “employees,” rather than “partners.” That means that approximately 60,000 Uber operators are entitled to all the “attendant statutory protections” of sick pay, minimum wage and guaranteed holiday time.

Given the similarity of labor laws in the European Union and the British Commonwealth nations around the world, the ruling my have significant ramifications impacting about 250,000 international drivers that can now sue Uber for misclassification financial damages.

Uber’s ability to dominate the ride-hailing industry it created with the “fundamental idea of a taxi-calling app” rests entirely on U.S. Patent Application 13/672,658 that covers

A method for determining a location relating to an on-demand service on a computing device is provided. One or more processors receiving a transport request from a user. The transport request specifies at least one of a pick-up region or a drop-off region…

But U.S. Patent Office and the courts have refused to grant the issue of that patent several times. Uber is so desperate to secure the issuance of the application that it is still making further appeals for a “Request of Continued Examination,” according to report by Seeking Alpha’s Andrew Connor.

General Motors, which made a $500 million investment in Uber rival Lyft, acquired the intellectual property rights of former ride-sharing company Sidecar. One analyst suggests that the Sidecar acquisition now gives GM “the power to shut down Uber” in the ride-hailing business.

Uber now faces an enormous set of legal and financial challenges due to its current business model relying on individual drivers using their own vehicles for “ride-hailing.” But with 34 issued patents, including 8 acquired recently from Microsoft, Uber is positioned to dominate a “ride-dispatch” service that relies on self-driving cars owned by Uber.

Google and insurance interests led an intensive lobbying campaign in 2012 to pass several pieces of California legislation that authorized the DMV to create regulatory rules and implement autonomous vehicle tests across the state.

Uber was only a start-up at that time, but has been actively lobbying the DMV in Sacramento over the last two years regarding issues surrounding ride-hailing services and autonomous vehicle regulations.

Uber may be calculating that the potential implosion they face with their current business model is so risky, it may be worth “betting the farm” in a battle to convince Gov. Brown and the Democrat-controlled Legislature that California needs to fully-deploy autonomous vehicles.

Beverly Hills has already planned for “a robot fleet of mass transit vehicles” to ease traffic in the congested area — hence the mayor’s support for Uber.

This piece was originally published by

New Bill Takes Aim at Hollywood Ageism

Aerial_Hollywood_SignA bill approved by the California legislature this week would allow actors to request that their ages be scrubbed from casting websites, in what supporters hope will be an important step in combating ageism in Hollywood.

AB 1687, authored by Assemblyman Ian Calderon (D-Los Angeles), was approved earlier this week by the state Assembly.

The bill’s supporters — including SAG-AFTRA president and former Beverly Hills 90210 actress Gabrielle Carteris — argue that the law is necessary to keep Hollywood casting agents from discriminating based on age.

“My role on Beverly Hills, 90210 could not have happened for me today, plain and simple. I would never have been called to audition for the part of 16-year-old Andrea Zuckerman if they had known I was 29,” Carteris wrote in an essay for the Hollywood Reporter on Wednesday. “Electronic casting sites did not exist in 1990; today, they are prevalent and influential. And they affect casting decisions even when casting personnel don’t recognize their unconscious bias.

Carteris charged that Hollywood actors face “blatant age discrimination every day” as industry websites like the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) and StudioSystem “force” casting agents to consider their ages when making decisions, whether they realize it or not.

The issue of ageism has long been a topic of discussion in Hollywood, with several big-name stars including Anne Hathaway, Rachel Weisz and Liv Tyler all speaking out on the issue in recent years.

Just this week, actress Renée Zellweger expressed disappointment about Hollywood’s attitudes toward older women in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter.

I’ve never seen the maturation of a woman as a negative thing,” the Bridget Jones’s Babystar told the outlet. “I’ve never seen a woman stepping into her more powerful self as a negative.”

Despite the bill’s approval in the Legislature, some California Republicans say it will do little to curb actual age discrimination in the industry.

“I don’t know what’s so sacred about celebrity birth dates,” Republican state Senator Jim Nielsen told the Los Angeles Times. “[Lawmakers] birth dates are everywhere. These celebrities are public figures just like most of us.”

The bill next heads to the Office of Engrossing and Enrolling for proofreading and then to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

This piece was originally published by Breitbart California

Follow Daniel Nussbaum on Twitter: @dznussbaum

New Water-Saving Technique: Public Shaming

Shower head water droughtAfter a wave of new rules, regulations and crackdowns, many water-conserving Californians have evaded formal and informal punishment. With no end in sight, however, others have begun to face both forms of penalties.

The mood of the public and officials alike has tilted hard against outsized consumers. Although “water providers such as the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power have refused to divulge the names of California’s top residential water users,” the Los Angeles Times reported, “the DWP is now considering changes to its water conservation ordinance that would impose ‘substantial’ fines for excessive use and make the names public.”

Pressed by “public outrage, and questioning by Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz,” the Times noted, DWP would follow in the East Bay’s footsteps, where agency overusers recently confronted “an excessive-use penalty ordinance that allows it to fine and name water customers who consume more than four times the average household.”

From nagging to snitching

In the Bay Area, a culture of water shaming has developed from the ground up. In a report on “the domestic water police,” the New York Times recently identified “moms and dads, spouses and partners, children, even co-workers and neighbors” as among the residents “quick to wag a finger when they spot people squandering moisture, such as a faucet left running while they’re brushing their teeth, or using too much water to clean dinner plates in the sink. And showers? No lingering allowed.”

More nagging has gone hand in hand with more snitching. The Times reported that “state water agencies issued more than 70,000 warnings for overuse and more than 20,000 penalties” this June and July, with many issued when “someone’s neighbor ratted on them,” according to State Water Resources Control Board climate and conservation manager Max Gomberg.

Although those penalties landed on a relatively small group of die-hard squanderers, the state has now leveled substantial fines on whole cities that failed to meet conservation targets. “While most communities continue to hit mandated conservation targets, a few have consistently missed,” the Sacramento Bee noted. “All four were in Southern California: Beverly Hills, Indio, Redlands and Coachella Valley Water District. Each was fined $61,000.”

These sums could be only the beginning. “The penalties are based on the board’s authority to issue fines of $500 per day for violations of its emergency regulation,” according to the Press-Enterprise. “The board could also issue the providers a cease and desist order, which carries a fine up to $10,000 per day for non-compliance.”

A vicious circle

water meter 2The crackdown has come as agencies have hiked rates for users who do conserve. “Water providers in Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area and other parts of the state have recently told customers that rates will go up at least temporarily, as utilities struggle to pay for building and repairing pipes, buying water and other costs, even as customers cut back,” according to Reuters. Agencies have sometimes wound up a victim of their own success. “In Los Angeles, conservation led to a $111 million drop in revenues during the fiscal year that ended July 1, a period mostly before the mandatory cutbacks kicked into high gear, Department of Water and Power budget director Neil Guglielmo said Friday.”

But for now, regulators have tried to emphasize the positive. “Californians slashed their water use 26 percent in September, meeting Gov. Jerry Brown’s goal of 25 percent for the fourth straight month,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported, citing recently released state data. Though encouraged by the numbers, water agencies have strained to strike a messaging balance between threats and warnings on the one hand and encouragement and pride on the other, hoping to give savers a sense of reward without subtly encouraging a return to laxity. Utilities, noted the Chronicle, remained dedicated to “trying to keep the conservation message front and center after four dry years, especially as residents may be tempted to become less diligent with forecasts calling for a wetter-than-average winter.”

Originally published by

CA City Appoints 2 Illegal Immigrants to Commission

Huntington ParkThe city of Huntington Park, perhaps best known as being the home town of Rosario Marin, former treasurer of the United States, made news recently by appointing two people who are in this country illegally to its city commissions.

According to a Los Angeles Times article, the two appointees have to successfully complete Live Scan background checks before they can assume their positions.

The article further states that commissioners have to be residents of Huntington Park, though the city can allow up to two commissioners to be nonresidents.

These appointments are understandably controversial and they raise some interesting questions, the first of which is: To what extent should we allow noncitizens (and possibly nonresidents) to participate in local government? The second would be: How should we differentiate between legal and illegal immigrants?

There are some countries, such as Sweden, in which resident noncitizens who are in the country legally are entitled to vote in state and municipal elections. Indeed, a resident noncitizen who is entitled to vote in a Swedish state and municipal election can also be elected to both of those governing bodies.

It should be noted, though, that people who are in Sweden illegally can’t register a domicile and can’t get a Swedish ID number (which is similar to our Social Security number, but with many more practical uses). In other words, people who are in the country illegally can’t vote or serve as elected officials.

Makes sense.

In Beverly Hills, we have a residency requirement for our commissioners that applies to citizens and noncitizens alike. Both citizens and noncitizens have to be legal residents of Beverly Hills prior to being allowed to serve on a commission. So someone who has an address in Beverly Hills, but doesn’t actually live here, would not legally and/or legitimately be considered a resident and would not be permitted to serve on a commission.

I would argue that somebody who is not in the country legally is by definition neither a legal nor legitimate resident of this city, and therefore should not be allowed to serve on a commission.

Big Problem — The big problem with the Huntington Park situation is illustrated in a quote by former Huntington Park mayor, Ric Loya, who supports the appointments and who said: “A lot of people who came here legally or illegally, they’re going to say this is great. Everybody can be involved in government, as long as it’s done legally.”

On the one hand, Loya says everyone can be involved in government, as long as it’s done legally. On the other hand, his statement effectively tries to erase any difference between legal and illegal. Legal, illegal: We should all participate, as long as it’s legal. Sorry, there has to be a difference between the meaning of the words “legal” and “illegal,” both as a matter of fairness and common sense.

If we try to eliminate the distinctions between “legal” and “illegal,” we might as well change the meanings of “right” and “wrong.” Neither should we treat those who have broken the rules the same as those who have played by them.

Who ultimately gets to decide which rules, which laws we can break without any consequences?

The notion that someone who is in this country illegally can pass a background check seems somewhat absurd – unless the check’s sole purpose is to exclude felons who have been convicted of violent crimes.

What, in the background check, aside from the obvious violent crimes and felonies, would disqualify someone from serving on a commission in Huntington Park? A prior conviction for which someone had already served his time? Civil financial infractions? A failed drug test? Whatever the case, it seems that people whose very presence in this country is predicated on a violation of our laws should not be allowed to serve on municipal commissions within a governmental entity.

Those who feel that breaking immigration laws is either a “victimless infraction” or a “trivial offense” would need to create a full list and specify which crimes, offenses or misdemeanors should disqualify people from serving on city commissions and why.

Beyond the issue of city commissions, the attempt to render the distinctions between the words “legal” and “illegal” meaningless – as is often done by polemicists who refuse to acknowledge the difference between anti-immigrant positions and anti-illegal-immigration views – is very dangerous from both a linguistic and a public-policy perspective.

A misappropriation of the terms could effectively justify a selective following of and enforcement of any number of laws as well as, conversely, encourage vigilantism.

While the Huntington Park decision might be motivated by pure populism, it is extremely problematic in its obvious disregard for federal law; the city shouldn’t complain when its own residents start deciding which municipal laws they themselves do and don’t want to obey.

John Mirisch is the Vice Mayor of Beverly Hills and an occasional contributor to CityWatch.

Originally published by L.A. City Watch

Water-wise in Beverly Hills

Beverly HillsWith headlines like “Big water users like Beverly Hills, Newport hit hardest by Brown order,” Beverly Hills is being portrayed in the media, including the L.A. Times, as a water hog in our drought-stricken state. Beyond such headlines, this impression is only strengthened by such false information as that Beverly Hills has “no water restrictions.”

The reality is that we have in place conservation measures which are similar to those in effect in Los Angeles – whose water conservation efforts the Times praised in the very same article.  We have tiered pricing; we don’t allow hand washing of cars; we limit watering of lawns to two days per week.

But the name of our city is “Beverly Hills,” and it’s sometimes hard to go beyond the stereotype. Despite the fact that some 60 percent of our residents are renters, we are indeed home to some large estates with a lot of grass and greenery. There is a reason that Beverly Hills is known as “the Garden City.” The beauty of our city is also most certainly one of the reasons we are able to attract tourists from around the world, who also help inject revenue into the larger Southern California economy.

But we don’t live in a bubble and in addition to the conservation measures we already have in place, we are working on a Water Master Plan which will emphasize conservation and sustainability. We’re looking to find ways to recycle gray water and to use shallow ground water. We’d like to continue our regional work to find ways to recycle storm water. And, of course, we want to continue our conservation and efficiency efforts, which include encouraging the replacement of water guzzlers with drought-resistant plants — there is now much discussion of replacing lawns with Astroturf.  (Personally, I believe that live, natural, drought-resistant ground coverings are by far the best option. In general, I oppose the replacement of turf with fake grass; I also oppose the replacement of trees with fake trees.)

We recognize that “we’re all in this together,” as we’ve so often heard from Sacramento.  But with the governor’s mandate for urban areas to cut back on water usage by 25 percent, one can really understand why L.A. Times columnist George Skelton asks, “Why do farmers get a free pass from Brown?” Good question, especially considering that agricultural use accounts for 80 percent of the state’s overall water usage.

In excluding agricultural uses from his executive order, the governor seems to have forgotten that we’re all in it together. He has suggested that an executive order which would, for example, limit ultra-thirsty crops, would be an instance of “Big Brother.” This seems to be a very selective application of the concept of “Big Brother.” Isn’t telling a homeowner what days she can water her plants also an example of “Big Brother”?

According to the governor, it would seem some of us are more in it together than others.

While I recognize that agriculture is an important part of our state’s fiscal well-being, the 80 percent water usage it accounts for corresponds to a mere 2 percent of the state’s overall economy. Let’s not forget that urban areas are also important contributors to the state’s economy, and water is important to their success and livability. However, if the governor is so concerned about urban water use, he should take pro-active steps to rein in future development, as well. Even with significantly reduced per capita water usage, even as we continue to develop further hydrological efficiencies, increased development will quite naturally result in an overall rise in demand for this limited resource in our parched state.

Instead of solely focusing on urban areas, the governor should be looking at an overall water conservation strategy which attempts to create a better balance, which adheres to the principles of fairness, and which will ensure that we actually are all in this together.

For starters, like the city of Beverly Hills has already done as the first city in the state, the governor should ban fracking in all of California. Fracking represents not only a colossal waste of water, but the high pressure pumping of water and chemicals into the ground can provide no benefits whatsoever either to our environment or to our aquifers.

We in Beverly Hills are more than prepared to come together with the rest of the region and the entire state to do our part to create sustainable long-term solutions to the challenges that our climate presents us with. After all, our city is built upon the site of the old Rancho Rodeo de las Aguas, the ranch of the “coming together of the waters.”

But if we are all in this together, then let’s really all be in it together.

John Mirisch is the Vice Mayor of the City of Beverly Hills.

Water guzzlers would be punished under state proposal

As reported by the SF Chronicle:

California officials seeking to cut urban water use by 25 percent amid the punishing drought said Tuesday that the best way to get the job done is to spread the hurt unevenly, slapping the biggest guzzling communities with mandatory cuts up to 35 percent.

This means leafy towns on the Peninsula and a handful of faraway suburbs, where tall trees hover and big lawns rule, would have to make the Bay Area’s largest concessions. The plan is to go easier on places like San Francisco that already consume relatively little water on a per capita basis.

While warm Southern California enclaves such as Palm Springs and Beverly Hills, alongside Central Valley cities like Bakersfield, dominate the state’s list of heavy water users, Northern California spots such as Hillsborough, Atherton, Portola Valley, Woodside and Menlo Park also rank high in per capita water use. Consequently, they would be targeted for the strictest cuts on the state’s proposed 10- to 35-percent sliding scale of reductions.

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