An Interview With The Former Mayor Of Beverly Hills

Here’s an excerpt from Mark Egerman’s bio on his law firm website:

MARK EGERMAN was born on August 18, 1942, at Los Angeles, California. He is married to Dr. Lynn Egerman and has two children, Kim Nemoy and Lee Egerman, both attorneys practicing in Los Angeles, California. He is the proud grandfather of twin eight year old boys, Will and Max Nemoy, and Evan and Aidan Egerman, ages three and one.

Mark Egerman completed the four year course of study for a B.A. degree in 1963 at UCLA in three years. He completed the three year course of study at UCLA School of Law in two and one half years and received his Juris Doctorate in February, 1966. Mr. Egerman finished first in his graduating class at UCLA School of Law, was a Senior Editor of the UCLA Law Review, and was awarded the highest law school scholastic honor of Order of the Coif. Mr. Egerman is admitted to practice before all courts of the State of California, the United States District Court, Central District of California, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal, and the United States Supreme Court.

…Mr. Egerman served as Mayor of the City of Beverly Hills in 2004-2005 and 2001-2002. He served two terms on the Beverly Hills City Council from March, 1997, through March, 2005.

I call attorney Mark Egerman Thursday afternoon, Dec. 23.

Luke: “When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?”

Mark: “Aside from when I was a young child, the usual thing of policeman and fireman. When I got a little older, I did want to be a lawyer.”

Luke: “How did you come to realize that law was your career?”

Mark: “My father was a lawyer. I grew up in a household where I was told, ‘You can be any professional you want — doctor, lawyer or engineer.’ It was very clear that schooling was key in the household and that it would be a choice among professions rather than a trade.”

Luke: “Where are you in the birth order?”

Mark: “I’m second. I have an older sister.”

Luke: “What was your reputation in [Beverly Hills High School]?”

Mark: “A serious kid. I was a good student. I was on the swim team and water polo team but I was in the group of kids considered more quiet and more serious.”

Luke: “Were there any particular moments that swayed your life?”

Mark: “In high school, I learned that education could be fun and that if you did work hard, you could get it. You could do well. Doing well was not a mystery. I met my future wife in high school. That meeting caused me to accelerate my education in college and graduate school.”

“I loved law school. It was the old style, the Socratic method, which they don’t generally follow in today’s law schools. Every class would be conducted by the professor by asking students questions. I found that challenging and exciting.”

Luke: “When did you realize that you could be really good at this profession?”

Mark: “Hard to say. I did well in law school but through most of my career, I have felt concerned, am I prepared enough? Am I ready to go? Generally, I would get comfortable once I felt that I was prepared.”

Luke: “My sister is a barrister in Australia. Do you ever wish you could wear a golden wig?”

Mark: “If you ever saw my hairline you would know that the answer to that question would be absolutely yes.

“There’s just something so wonderful about barristers. They sound so intelligent. Always so on point. They portray the legal profession wonderfully.”

Luke: “How did you find your niche in the legal profession?”

Mark: “I started in my father’s law office. He was a general practicioner. As a young attorney, I would do anything. If the client came in the door, it didn’t matter what the problem was, I would learn it and do it. Fairly early on, I started gravitating to areas of the law involving real property, usage of real property, landlord/tenant.

“My wife is a physician so a lot of our friends were physicians. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, doctors would invest in any real estate venture that promised substantial tax relief. So, in the good years, I would be representing them going into deals, and in the bad years, I’d be litigating them out of bad deals.”

Luke: “When did law schools stop using the Socratic method?”

Mark: “Both my daughter and my son are lawyers. They had a more traditional lecture-type learning experience than I did. They are both very good lawyers, so I guess both teaching methods work well, but the Socratic method really made you prepare for class. If you were asked a question and gave an unsatisfactory answer, you would be roasted publicly. That happens less these days.”

Luke: “What did you think of the movie The Paper Chase?”

Mark: “I liked it.”

Luke: “Was that anything like your law school experience?”

Mark: “Not really. Not as dramatic. Law school for me was challenging intellectually but a lot of hard work. You read a tremendous amount. You had to be prepared each day. I ended up briefing all the cases in the case book before I went to class. It was a combination of a grind with exciting classroom time.”

Luke: “Have you lived all of your life in Los Angeles?”

Mark: “Yes. Technically, I was not born in Beverly Hills because there were no hospitals in Beverly Hills, but my family was living in Beverly Hills when I was born, and I grew up here and have lived a full life here.”

Luke: “When did it occur to you to become involved with the Beverly Hills City Council?”

Mark: “I blame my political career on my wife. Our children had started elementary school in Beverly Hills and there was a program called the School Improvement program. My wife was made president. This was a program where added money was given to kindergarten through third grade and it had to be administered by parents.

“[Around 1980] my wife came home and looked at me and said, ‘Mark, there are no fathers in the program.’ And I being a very bright and accessible husband said, ‘I’d like to volunteer.’ So I became secretary.

“Then our school system was facing a financial crisis, which the general public did not believe because we were named Beverly Hills. So I ran for the school board in view of the declining resources. I was elected in 1983. When I left the school board a few years later, I went into public works. Then a friend of mine suggested I run for council.”

Luke: “How did you come to serve as mayor?”

Mark: “The mayorship of Beverly Hills, by tradition, is a rotating position. You get elected to the city council and you serve four years. And there’s a system to determine seniority based on the amount of votes you get. Each year, the mayorship changes and the next most senior person becomes mayor.

“You serve as a councilman and you rotate in one year as mayor. And then you rotate back out.”

Luke: “How much time did it take from your typical week to be on the Beverly Hills City Council?”

Mark: “It increased dramatically during my last four years. Because of the rotation system, I ended up being mayor in the first year of my second term and the fourth year. In the fourth year, we had the Montage Hotel development. I was probably spending about 35 hours a week during my last year in office.”

Luke: “How did you keep a legal profession going when you had to spend so many hours on city council stuff?”

Mark: “I’m fortunate. I have a family partnership. I’m partners with my brother-in-law and with my son. During that time, I was just reading all the time or conducting hearings. We had one hearing where we had 106 people who wished to speak on the Montage project. These were exciting times and I was burning the candle on both ends.”

Luke: “What surprised you from your time serving on the Beverly Hills City Council?”

Mark: “It was a pleasant surprise to find that if you are willing to work hard, our government does work. Our representative system of government can get things done. It is a good way to allow people to express themselves. We’re a moderately small city. People will come to council meetings. They will complain about potholes, garbage, trash, traffic, water bills. If you try to explain to them what is going and why their utility bill is higher than last year, they may not be pleased that their utility bill is higher, but they will listen to you. I have a lot of faith in government having had this experience.”

Luke: “How active are Beverly Hills people with Beverly Hills city government?”

Mark: “As is common with most communities, there is a group that is extremely involved. These are the individuals you see at, if not every council meeting, then every other one, or every third one. They are keeping on top of all of the issues.

“If it is a major issue such as the Montage Hotel project or other major projects, our citizens do participate actively in the elections.”

Luke: “How do you put up with listening to so many fools?”

Mark: “If you run for government and you are lucky enough to win, the first thing you have to recognize is that we are in a democracy and everyone has the right to speak. It is your obligation to listen. You may be surprised because you may learn something from the person speaking. Sometimes, it does get tiring, but that’s your job and that’s what you signed up for.

“There are limitations. When we had the 106 speakers, I was mayor and I was running the meeting, and I patiently explained to everyone that rather than the normal three-minute limitation, because of the number of people, I was going to cut it down to two minutes because it is not fair for those at the end of the line to wait until 11 p.m. at night and not get a chance to speak.”

Luke: “What were some of the smartest and what were some of the dumbest things you did while you were on the city council?”

Mark: “We didn’t anything too dumb. We had a good council. One of the things that kept us on the right track is that we had a superb professional staff. If the council was getting near areas that were not sound, you’d have our city manager or police chief or fire chief or heads of the department say this is a difficult place to go for these reasons. We had such respect for our staff, we generally stayed out of trouble.”

Luke: “And what were some of the smartest things you did on the city council?”

Mark: “A few areas. Big ticket projects. We totally rebuilt our second largest reservoir in the city. We installed fibre-optics throughout the city. We now have an infrastructure in fibre-optics that gives us great opportunity in the future for communications on devices that I am so old it is difficult to imagine how much communication you can get so easily. The Montage Hotel project was an unbelievable development. We did the Crate & Barrel project. We redesigned our downtown center city.

“We have been the number one city in supporting our school district. School districts are an independent state entity, but percentage-wise, Beverly Hills gives a higher percent per pupil support monetarily than any other city in the state.”

Luke: “Were you in town the night of the LA Riots and do you have any memories of that?”

Mark: “On the evening of the Riots, my office was Mid-Wilshire. I watched an incident of vandalism across the street at Bank of America. We dismissed our staff and made sure that all of them got to their cars. And then I started driving home. I hit a roadblock. The Beverly Hills police department closed the city. I told them I was going home. I gave them my address. They checked my license. And I was allowed in. But I was never concerned [for Beverly Hills]. Our police department is fantastic, extremely polite but very thorough. We had no incidents at all in Beverly Hills.”

Luke: “Is there anything you miss about being on the city council?”

Mark: “I miss the process. I miss having the ability to help good projects move forward. I’m still engaged with the city but the position on the council allows you the opportunity to have the greatest effect on improving the city.”

Luke: “Do you have any interest in pursuing further political office?”

Mark: “Absolutely not.”

Luke: “Where did you learn to play nicely with others?”

Mark: “Depends who you ask. Some people may not feel that way. One thing I picked up in practicing law and working out settlements, I realized early on that litigation is a very inefficient and expensive method of resolving disputes. If you can get the parties to agree to an imperfect compromise early on before they’ve spent huge sums of money, everyone is probably better off. I think I developed some skills in group process and realized that particularly in government, the worst thing is doing nothing. If you can get a project and it is only 80% right, that is good and you move forward. If you are going to be successful in a group process, nobody gets everything.”

Luke: “What do you see as the biggest problems facing Beverly Hills today?”

Mark: “It is the same thing as is facing every other city and county in our state — there are insufficient financial resources to maintain the current level of service. The primary reason for that is that because of the structure of the system, expenses are going up faster than income. One example that is being changed throughout all cities and counties in the state, you have a pension system that was believed at one time to sustain a growth rate of over 7%. If you look at historical growth, that just doesn’t happen but the cities have contractually agreed to pay those kinds of rates. You have to change the system.

“The second major problem you have is that you’ve tied the hands of those elected to govern. The city council can not raise a tax. You have to put it on a ballot. That’s a terrible way to govern.”

Luke: “What is your outlook for California?”

Mark: “I am quite hopeful. We’ve got some major problems. Everyone now recognizes that there are major problems and there are going to have to be some major decisions made. Those decisions will be raising taxes and cutting programs and fixing things like the pension system because otherwise we are not going to function.”

Luke: “Do you think Los Angeles will go bankrupt in the next three or four years or that it will pull its act together?”

Mark: “Legally, they have to pull their act together. They don’t have a choice. They are up against the same thing the state is — substantial cuts to service, new fees. You can’t raise taxes. That has to go to a vote of the people, but you can adopt fee structures to cover the cost of the delivery of services. So you are going to have increased fees and a decrease in programs and services. I hope the economy will turn around, which will create added income with your business license fees and development fees. Certainly the city of Los Angeles has a much more serious problem than Beverly Hills.”

Luke: “Would you like to see a subway running to or through Beverly Hills?”

Mark: “I was co-chair of that sub-committee. I am a big fan of the subway. I love the 30-10 plan of having it in place in ten years because I might get a chance to ride it then. In 30 years, I won’t be here.”

Luke: “What do you love and hate about your practice of law today?”

Mark: “The good thing about getting to my age is that I don’t do anything that I hate. My practice is primarily a land-use practice and estate planning.”

Luke: “What makes you angry, if anything, about the legal system you experience first-hand?”

Mark: “It’s much too expensive. Unless you are very rich or poor, the cost of engaging in the legal process is very difficult to sustain for most people.”

About Luke Ford

I’ve written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).

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