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June 9, 2011     Beverly Hills Weekly
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June 9, 2011
 

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fromthehills, School drive wins And a committee harms JPA By Rudy Cole At some point, the school district and the city council should jointly pay special trib- ute to the incredible fundraising efforts by the leaders and volunteers of the Beverly Hills Education Foundation. Their "one million in one week" drive fell slightly short on both time and donations, but close enough to save jobs, restore programs and, equally important, again make us feel good about ourselves as a community. Hundreds of volunteers worked each of the schools: mostly parents, PTA activists, teachers and administrators. BHEF offi- cers sought out the major donors. But for now a special recognition for Jonathan Prince, the BHEF chair. It is hard not to respond to his enthusiasm and energy. Keeping it all businesslike was BHEF VP for finance, Todd Okum. School funding came up at Tuesday's city council meeting in a rather convoluted way. An advisory budget/finance commit- tee formed by City Treasurer Eliot Fiukel made a very serious charge: the city "gives" the schools money "without any accountability." Finkel's committee has some very tal- ented and knowledgeable members. So, it was surprising to hear this claim made in such broad strokes and unrelated to the legal realities. Councilmember Lili Bosse quickly pointed out that the funding through the Joint Powers Agreement are not grants, but money for specific services the district provides to the city and community. We do not "give" the schools donations, we pay for facilities. That is the only legal option available. Bosse made the connection, giving Finkel a way out of the overly harsh and procedurally faulty allegations, by sug- gesting that what the committee really meant was "accountability" for the precise contracted programs. We have an elected City Treasurer, serving for four years and legally respon- sible for monitoring city investments, and almost nothing else. In our long history, no Treasurer has ever gone beyond that charge, and we have had some great talents in the office - Frank Fenton and Joan Seidel being the most recent. No question, Fenton, Seidel and now Finkel performed well in their jobs. All three are financial professionals and have helped make the city's investment pro- grams fiscally responsible. As for Finkel's committee, it too has some highly talented civic leaders, and their work and reports may be valuable tools in the budget process. However, the committee and the Treasurer are also creating another layer of responsibility that dilutes both staff and council efforts. The council and staff, not the Treasurer, are responsible for the budget, despite what the title implies. They are the ones we can and should hold responsible. Now, there is a far more serious prob- lem, brought on by the Committee's report to the city council Tuesday. When the question of holding the schools account- able was made the funding Was compared to city allocations to other civic needs such as the Conference and Visitors Bureau. If that was accurate, it could endanger the whole JPA program and deal a serious blow to our schools. The legal process of paying for services and facilities would be put in jeopardy. In more simple terms, "giving" money to schools would be illegal and could easily be challenged in court. The loose and generalizing statements made by the committee could really be a civic disaster, especially if the committee is really considered a legal city entity. The city council totally gets it and for- tunately, Bosse was there to "correct" the Woman Sings Song 731 Times in a Row After Using Thera-Gesic BEXAR COUNTY - After applying Thera-Gesic* to her sore back and neck, Mary Ann W., felt such relief that she burst into song and belted out "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" 731 times in arow. When asked why that song, she PAINLESSLY replied, "None of your dang business!" Go painlessly with Thera-Gesic  3fbeverly record. Well-intentioned, probably, but another reason to make sure the existing code and ordinance delineation of duties is clearly understood and followed. - For the record, city staff does moni- tor JPA funding for school services and there is considerable accountability by the "city departments and even by the council through their ad hoc committee. Side note: Some years back then-coun- cilmember Tom Levyn raised a similar question, but more in terms of amounts of the grants. He suggested the council, not some other committee, should look at the JPA and have more direct involvement on how it is spent. A march on city hall by the then-PTA leaders led to a quick retreat. The message was clear: Don't mess with the JPA. Final thought: Before any quasi or offi- cial committee makes a public report, it should be vetted by the city manager and the city attorney. Both would have _ quickly spotted the legal debacles this could cause. . Tuesday's budget vote was a bit of a shocker. For the first time in recent city government voting, the council split three to two for approval. Voting for were Mayor Barry Brueker, Vice Mayor Dr. Willie Brien and Councilmember Dr. Julian Gold; In opposition, and not precisely for the same reasons, were Councilmember Lili Bosse and Councilmember John Miriseh. Here was Mirisch's explanation: "I voted against the CIP [Capital Improvement Program] because it contains no funding for the development of the southeast part of town. It does contain funding for an over grandiose rebuild of Roxbury Park, as well as some $5 million for the library, most of which will be spent on the Children's Zone. "As the only councilmember with a young child, i actually use the kid's sec- tion, and it is more than functional and is in good shape, especially compared with surrounding libraries (in other cities). On the other hand, th.e southeast is pretty much" blighted in a number of areas and is in need of immediate upgrading." Although she too voted against the CIP budget elements, Councilmember Bosse probably agreed with Mirisch mostly on the Roxbury Park improvement plan, not the library dement. As for "improvements," Mirisch is at least partially right about the need to support regeneration in the southeast. However, even a cursory look at some other areas of the city will demonstrate how important creating city cgnditions and support for economic change should be. Yes, our business district is recovering nicely from the economic downturn, tour- ists are returning to our hotels, stores and restaurants, but there are signs of neglect. Many vacant stores on North Beverly Page 6 Beverly Hills Weekly Drive and years of unused store frOnts on Wilshire between Spalding and Linden are not good signs of economic viability. As for the southeast, and Robertson Boulevard, the city's failure to create a parking facility to serve the area is lamen- table and should become a priority. Here, Mirisch is right. As for making the south- east an entertainment zone, he might find residents not that supportive. On balance, and even allowing for differ- ences on priorities, the city's financial staff team did an incredible job. This report, approved by the council majority, is a col- laborative effort by many city agencies and departments, and it merits commendation by the community. Love the New York Times, but their recent bit on the possible loss of prestige in our shopping areas, obliquely referring to Rodeo Drive and the possibility that very similar shopping areas in other Southern California venues make it less unique, was a bit of a stretch. / First, the story mixed elements of com- munity assets. Quoting a real estate "expert" that the people who live here "really don't like all those tourists," is a specious argument. Tourists on ugly buses traveling through residential areas hardly contribute to our sense of quiet enjoyment, but that has noth- ing to do with how much we value a shop- ping kind of visitor to our hotels, stores and restaurants, and, yes, Rodeo Drive. Even a cursory examination of tourist sta- tistics will show that, next to Disneyland, Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive are the most frequently mentioned reasons for coming to Southern California. There simply is no comparison. Rodeo Drive, in the middle of a fabled city with all the other advantages of personal safety, world class hotels, celebrity spotting and excellent dining are not duplicated any- where, even though you can certainly find a Gucci in other shopping places. Protecting and promoting the city "brand" is an ongoing challenge. Sometimes, we assume that any mention or publicity is good, but .that simply isn't true. We demean our external and even internal image by less-than-quality promotions. Our real or stated perception of exclusiv- ity is very much a part of our appeal. If we seem too needy, too ordinary in promotion, we demolish the attraction. Put another way, we measure a restau- rant's success not just by the quality of their service or food, but how difficult it" is to obtain a reservation. You won't see Spago or the Montage offering discount coupons. Honoring Fred Hayman and promot- ing the Walk of Style; the annual Golden Globes at our world famous Beverly Hilton, the Affaire in the Garden - all are positive examples of the right kin d O f attention. Bad, even horrendous, the Open- ing ceremony for the 90210 event featuring the Kardashians. Yes, they are media stars and have a following, but for setters of style and excellence in living, not ready-for BH prime time. If it is "ordinary" or lacks even moderate