Task Force Discusses Future of OpenBH
The Beverly Hills City Council liaisons heard a number of updates from members of the Small Business Assistance Task Force Committee at its Dec. 13 meeting. Topics of discussion included recent business openings, attraction efforts, an uptick in retail theft, ways in which the city can support small businesses owners and the next iteration of OpenBH.
The Council previously extended the OpenBH program in its current format through March 31, 2022. The outdoor dining tents at the end of Canon Drive at Spago and Nusr-Et restaurants are also approved through March of next year. Businesses such as restaurants, retail salons, and faith-based organizations participating in the program will be able to continue outdoor operations until then with expedited permits and fees waived.
The city has explored viable long-term conversions of the OpenBH program for quite some time. In September, the City Council directed staff to create a process for converting the temporary no-fee OpenBH program parklets and expanded outdoor dining uses into a long-term, fee-based program.
“We need to get them looking like they belong in Beverly Hills,” CEO of the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce Todd Johnson said of the parklets. “Some of them are extravagant and some of them look like they’re just kind of thrown together.”
“I think one thing that we need to start looking at is the traffic congestion and lack of ability for people to pick up orders on Canon,” Council liaison Lester Friedman said. “I’m starting to hear some complaints now about the amount of traffic that there is on Canon in terms of the valet who don’t have places to put the cars when a person stops.”
“And I’ve heard reports of people having to wait five, seven, 10 minutes just to get through Canon,” he added. To potentially alleviate the issue, city staff are exploring multiple ways to utilize the sidewalk curb for valet parking, as well as parklets.
Currently, the City Council is meeting in two subcommittees to discuss the future of the program. The OpenBH Code Changes and Fees Subcommittee is focused on broader policy considerations, including code and fee structure changes. The OpenBH Design and Operating Standards Subcommittee will concentrate on design standards and guidelines.
“We need to work together to find something that can be long term,” Vice-Mayor and liaison Lili Bosse said. “So, I think we’re in the right direction and we’re not going to rush this, but we’re going to do this with you as a partner to make sure that we get it right.”
Bosse encouraged business owners to get involved in the subcommittee meetings and provide their input as affected stakeholders.
Babette Beja, the manager at Umberto salon on Canon Drive, highlighted the increase in double parking, illegal U-turns, and overflowing trash cans on the sidewalk. “So, small things like that,” Beja said. “If we can just keep those under control, I think it would help the city look more beautiful when people are walking and living in our city.”
“I would just like to encourage the city to be a little bit more creative in areas that don’t lend themselves to a parklet or a pickup area,” Josh Zad, founder of Alfred Coffee, said during the meeting. Zad proposed “a seating map and seating area on the old railroad that runs parallel to Santa Monica,” which would provide patrons of Alfred Coffee a seating area. Currently, its location on the corner of North Beverly Drive and Santa Monica Boulevard allows for only a few customers to dine-in. “There is so much great action in Beverly Hills, and I would like for my business to kind of ride that wave for a little bit, as well,” Zad said.
Jeff Gross, owner of Mickey Fine Pharmacy, also brought up the possibility of having an outdoor tented space designated for COVID testing and vaccinations.
Blair Schlector, Vice President of Economic Development and Government Affairs at the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce, provided the group with updates regarding new business attractions.
“This has been one of the busiest times I can ever remember in my time here, in terms of businesses coming and opening here,” Schlector said.
Streets throughout the city have seen an influx of new storefronts including Sweet Lady Jane bakery and Matū steakhouse on South Beverly Drive, Tatel restaurant on Canon Drive and Pompadour bakery on Charleville Boulevard.
Future openings on North Beverly Drive include Maple & Ash steakhouse, Sweetgreen, and Erewhon Market, Philz Coffee on South Beverly Drive and Shake Shack on Santa Monica Boulevard.
Business owners in the city also used the meeting as an opportunity to voice safety concerns directly to City Council liaisons.
“We have seen a pretty large uptick in thefts at the store, which never really used to be a concern in Beverly Hills pre–COVID,” Sabaa Kamal, owner of Kamal Beverly Hills on Bedford Drive, said.
According to Kamal, neighboring businesses are reporting the same. Gross also spoke during the meeting about recent thefts at nearby pharmacies. “We all have to be vigilant as far as keeping our eyes out for people because they end up getting arrested, and then they go right back on the streets,” Gross said.
“The current laws right now allow for theft up to $950,” Vice Mayor Bosse added. “So, I think we have some constraints that we are fighting every single day, and fortunately we have a wonderful police chief and police department that’s working together with all of us to get ahead of some of the realities that we’re facing right now.”