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The Courier Looks Back At 2009

As 2009 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.

The year kicked off with the City Council race. With more than 10 candidates in the running, Dr. William Brien and John Mirisch were elected to two seats on the dais in the March election. Coming in first was the City’s mayor, Barry Brucker, who was re-elected to a second term in office.  

He ended his term as mayor on March 11 handing the gavel to former Councilman Frank Fenton. Under a special succession plan, Fenton served as the City’s mayor until the new City Council was sworn into office on March 25. Nancy Krasne was appointed mayor at that time.

Before the newly elected councilmembers took their seats in City Hall, the former council approved one last project: the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.

One of the most anticipated projects of the year, this new performing arts center is slated to break ground in February.

Shortly after the installation of the new council, they were tasked with starting the process of approving a new City budget. Faced with dwindling revenues from a bleak national economy, the five-member council was forced to find alternative solutions to make up for the $18.3 million shortfall.

By June, the Council approved a budget of almost $400 million. Although it was reduced, the Council avoided making layoffs or furloughing City staff, unlike many other municipalities in the nation.

In the midst of the budget process, City Manager Rod Wood announced he would retire from his position in August. Jeff Kolin, the city manager of Santa Rosa, was hired as his replacement. He will begin his tenure in Beverly Hills on Jan. 20.

Also retiring this year was Steve Miller, director of the Parks & Recreation Department andDeputy Chief John Karns of the Fire Department.  

City Hall also lost its Assistant City Manager Katie Lichtig, who was recruited by San Luis Obispo in November to take on the role of city manager there.

Not only were there drastic changes at City Hall last year, the Beverly Hills Unified School District saw a restructuring of its Board of Education.

On Nov. 4, the City elected two new members to the Board of Education: Lisa Korbatov and Jake Manaster.

During the campaign, the district was sued for $16 million by Strategic Concepts, LLC, the contractor assigned to oversee the Measure E bond for $334 million, passed by voters in 2008.

The lawsuit came after the BHUSD terminated two contracts with Strategic Concepts claiming the contracts were void and invalid.

It hurt incumbent Nooshin Meshkaty who was not re-elected to a second term on the board.

Almost immediately after the installation of the new school board members in early December, the board informally agreed to eliminate the district’s opportunity permit program by fall 2010. They will vote on it this month.

The program, which allows more than 500 students from Los Angeles County the opportunity to attend BHUSD, has divided the district. It has been and will continue to be one of the most talked about issues in Beverly Hills.

In the middle of the permit battle, the district is still searching for a new superintendent. After the resignation of Superintendent Kari McVeigh in the fall of 2008, BHUSD appointed Jerry Gross as interim. His contract ends June of this year.

Hiring a permanent superintendent and restructuring the district’s permit program were issues the board faced in 2009, and will continue to face in 2010.

BHUSD, however, was pleased to announce it did increase its average API and STAR test scores.

In real estate and business happenings, the new headquarters for William Morris Endeavor broke ground on Beverly Drive. The building will be completed this year.

Rumors swirled that the company’s president Ari Emanuel was pulling out of the 20-year-deal because of the close proximity of a competing talent agency.
The Courier confirmed last week from the building’s owner George Comfort & Sons’ attorney, Michael Federman, the project is moving forward as planned.

Projects slated to begin construction this year, including 9900 Wilshire–a condominium building at the old Robinsons May site, have not moved forward.

9900 Wilshire lost financing in 2008 and has been unable to secure any since.

Messages left with the owners of 9900 Wilshire, the CPC Group, were not returned.

On a lighter note, the City did see the opening of new restaurants including the much-anticipated Bouchon by Thomas Keller. The restaurant is located near the site of Montage Beverly Hills—the City’s newest hotel that earned five stars in record time. Montage was not the only City spot to earn five stars—so did the Beverly Hills Public Library.

Other hot openings included Villa Blanca, Famous Cupcakes on Beverly Drive and Drago’s Via Alloro on Canon. The Italian restaurant is one of the merchants on the up and coming BH block to join the newly formed Canon Drive Association.

Perhaps the most notable story of 2009 was that of Katherine Varjian, a 65-year-old Los Angeles resident who faced possible jail time for feeding feral cats in Beverly Hills.

Neighbors had complained it created a nuisance in the area, and in fact the City had an ordinance prohibiting the feeding of the cats. However, the ordinance by mistake had been deleted in the City’s municipal code.

When animal activists caught wind of Varjian’s charges, they stormed City Hall creating a  national media frenzy. The Council, City staff and community volunteers spent many months on the issue, ultimately creating an ordinance that satisfied both parties.

The ordinance allows for the feeding of the cats under City approved feeders. It is geared around trap-neuter-release.

There were many local heroes in 2009. The Beverly Hills Education Foundation honored Lillian and Stuart Raffel. It announced exclusively to The Courier, it will honor Shawn and Larry King and Debbie Allen with a new award, BEST, Building Educational Success Together.

The Maple Counseling Center honored Paula Kent Meehan with its Crystal Award for Community Spirit; Brooke Knapp & Drew Mandile with its Crystal Award for Community Excellence and Donna Goldstein with The Maple Leaf Award.

Jeanne Reynolds who created the first every Beverly Hills Firemen Association’s Donald Reynolds Scholarship Fund awarded the scholarship’s group of  second recipients oat the BHFD Backdraft Ball in June.

Beverly Hills  also lost some of its greatest this year: Dominick Dunne, Gregory Dillon, Ambassador William A. Wilson and Michael Jackson.

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