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The Year That Was

As 2008 ends, we take a look back at the good and bad in Beverly Hills. We also take time to remember some of the people we lost this year.

City Hall saw a change of the guard in early March with the installation of a new mayor and vice mayor (Barry Brucker and Frank Fenton, respectively).

Jimmy Delshad ended his term as the nation’s first Persian-American mayor.

“It was absolutely exciting, but at the same time it was overwhelming,” Delshad said in an interview last February. “I never expected the attention that I received locally, nationally or even internationally.”

The new mayor quickly made a name for himself by getting the Council to adopt a new green building ordinance that took effect July 7.

The ordinance incorporates environmental building techniques into the design, construction and maintenance of all new commercial, multifamily residential and mixed-use buildings. It ensures buildings remain “green forever,” not just at construction and regardless of future tenants.

Three months after Brucker’s installation, the Council approved a four-year extension of the Joint Powers Agreement with the Beverly Hills Unified School District.

The new contract totaled $48 million, a 20-percent increase from the previous JPA.

As part of the agreement, the community is allowed access to the school district’s facilities; including fields, courts, auditoriums and parking facilities.

“As our schools and children benefit from the investment, so to do all residents who take part in City programs at BHUSD facilities,” said Brucker at the time of the approval. “This level of commitment demonstrates the unique nature of Beverly Hills as a community investing in our future through our schools and through the programs all residents enjoy.”

The council adopted a $409 million budget for 2008-2009, $4 million less than the year before.

Police and fire represent 48 percent of the total expenditures, public services, including street maintenance, water and sewage 16 percent and community services (parks and libraries) 19 percent.

Months after the budget was adopted in June, residents saw the nation’s economy dive. Dow Jones fell nearly 6,000 points since reaching an all-time high in 2007. Lehman’s and the American Investor’s Group filed bankruptcy, leaving residents and some council members asking, “How will this affect Beverly Hills?”

This question would become a focal point in a bitter local election that divided the community. At stake was the revitalization of one of the City’s most beloved hotels: The Beverly Hilton. The City Council approved the Beverly Hilton Revitalization Plan to add a five-star 12-story Waldorf-Astoria hotel, one six-story condominium tower along Wilshire Boulevard and one 16 to 18-story condo tower on Santa Monica at the site by a 3 – 2 vote in May.  

Supporting council members pointed out the project would bring much-needed revenue to the City, almost $390 million over a 30-year period, in times of economic uncertainties.

Opponents to the project felt it was “just too big” for Beverly Hills. Shortly after the Council’s approval, an opposition group collected 2,574 signatures to put the item on the Nov. 4 ballot.  

Opponents were eventually defeated; residents approved the revitalization project by a slim 129 votes.

Residents also overwhelming approved the school district’s bond,  “Measure E” on Election Day. A $334 million bond, Measure E will revitalize the school district’s facilities at all four K-8 school sites and renovate the high school in the years to come.

In other education news, the Board of Education adopted the legacy permit policy by a 3-2 vote in May.

The permit policy gives preference to children of alumni whose grandparents live within the school district’s boundaries. First-year Board of Education member Steven Fenton championed the program, earning prominent community support from residents who included David Nickoll, Planning Commissioner Lili Bosse, former mayors Max Salter and Les Bronte and long-time residents including Murray Fischer and wife Bunnie.

In other school district news, California cut its education budget by $4.8 billion. The trickle effect caused Beverly Hills’ Board of Education to reduce its budget by $3.6 million in February.

Despite the cut, the board did not cut any programs and was able to rescind 24 of the 35 potential layoff notices sent to teachers by May.

This fall, Board of Education members learned BHUSD might not be affected by state budget cuts before long. A consultant told board members that the district will become “Basic Aid” by 2011. Basic Aid school districts are supported by local property taxes, not state monies. Districts go “basic aid” when property taxes are high enough.

In November, Superintendent Kari McVeigh announced she was leaving the district to take a position in Northern California. McVeigh, who started in 2006, was the third administrator to leave BHUSD since the start of the school year.

Interim Superintendent Jerry Gross stepped in and has been earning rave reviews from board members and parents.

Hiring a permanent superintendent and restructuring the district’s permit program are issues the board will face in 2009, coupled with overseeing the bond.

In real-estate and business happenings, the City Council approved a mixed-use project to be developed by Lotus LLC on the site of the shuttered Robinsons-May department store by a 4-1 vote in April.

The 9900 Wilshire Blvd. project will include the demolition of the existing 228,000 square-foot-department store building and parking structure. It will be replaced by 235 condos and 16,441 square feet of retail and restaurant space.

CPC group, a property development business based in Guernsey and Kaupthing HF Bank of Iceland purchased the site in April 2007.

This fall, Iceland’s Financial Supervisory Authority seized Kaupthing, Glitnir Banki HF and Landsbanki Islands HF, the nation’s three largest banks, as the global credit crisis deepened.The future of 9900 Wilshire is unclear.

The Sun Cal Cos. plan to build a 45-story condominium tower at 10000 Santa Monica directly behind Beverly High was also put on hold because of the developer’s inability to “obtain assurances of continued funding” after the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers.

On a lighter note, the first new luxury hotel property to be built in Beverly Hills in more than 16 years, Montage Beverly Hills opened amid fireworks and fanfare at a black-tie gala on Dec. 3 with more than 1,000 attendees.  

The Spanish colonial revival designed property includes 201 rooms, a 20,000-square-foot, two-story spa and two exquisite dining rooms.

Thompson Beverly Hills also opened its doors last February. The boutique hotel on Wilshire Boulevard has 97 guest rooms and 15 suites which feature hardwood floors and stark white walls. It also is home to BondSt., a 130-seat restaurant and bar.

On the Planning Commission’s current agenda is the pro posal from philanthropist Eli Broad, to open a contemporary art museum on the corner of Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards.

Perhaps the wackiest story of 2008 was the Rodeo Drive plastic surgeon, Dr. Alan Bittner who converted human fat to fuel to run his SUV. Bittner was under investigation by the California State Medical Board for allowing his girlfriend Stephanie Darcy, the office manager who did not have a medical license, to practice liposculpture procedures on at least three different patients.

There were many local heroes in 2008. Judie and Frank Fenton received the Beverly Hills Education Foundation’s Bosse Spirit of Philanthropy award for their 30-plus years of philanthropy and service to the community.

Their son, Steven, was named Democratic Man of the Year by the Los Angeles County Democratic Central Committee.

The Maple Counseling Center honored Beverly Hilton Owner Beny Alagem with its annual Crystal award for community excellence and Lily Collins with the inaugural Crystal award for teen spirit at its Crystal Ball.

Jeanne Reynolds created and awarded the first-ever recipients of The Beverly Hills Firemen Association’s Donald Reynolds Scholarship Fund.

Reynolds awarded three teens with scholarships at the Backdraft Ball in June.

In 2008, the City lost many prominent members of the community. Warren Cowan, the legendary publicist who pioneered entertainment publicity and co-founded Rogers & Cowan, died May 14, he was 87.

The City’s first City Manager George Morgan died Aug. 19; he was 84. Morgan came to Beverly Hills in 1971, where he served at the City’s first manager for seven years.

Rabbi David Lieber, Beverly Auerbach Pressman, Ret. Fire Chief Harold Boardner, dancer and actress Cyd Charisse and actor Charlton Heston were also among those we lost this year.

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