In 2016, three precincts on the Westside of Los Angeles went for Donald Trump. Not many, I’ll wager, would be surprised to discover that all three were in Beverly Hills.
One straddles Sunset Boulevard between Beverly Drive and Greenway, with another, a tiny bump (11 people voted there), appended to its side. The third is Trousdale Estates, up in Beverly Hills’ hills.
The reddest of the three on The Times’ voters map are the big one and the little one along Sunset. In that neighborhood, across from the Beverly Hills Hotel, none other than Donald Trump purchased a home in 2007 for $7 million.
I was reminded of this a few weeks ago when the Beverly Hills Unified School District gave its students time off to protest the plan to dig a Purple Line subway tunnel under Beverly Hills High School. Some of the kids were bused to the “walkout” at Will Rogers Memorial Park. The demonstration represented a cynical — and probably fruitless — attempt at manipulation. The park appears to have been chosen as the protest site because of its proximity to the president’s property, across Canon Drive. Among the signs raised by students were several requesting that he intercede.
Why plead to the president? His canceling of federal funds is the last hope of those obsessed with stopping the tunnel. In the six years since the Purple Line expansion was approved, Beverly Hills has sued to shut it down — and lost — repeatedly. Those opposed say building the subway line under the high school will put students at risk, but experts and courts and more experts have determined otherwise, time and again.
The special pleading is a long shot, but who knows? The president seems to love nothing more than the flattery of such appeals. In late May, Kim Kardashian asked Trump to commute the sentence of a Tennessee woman imprisoned on a drug charge. A week later, he complied, a one-off version of incarceration reform.
And there are those precincts. Maybe the president will choose to imagine that he could expand on them, and his support in Beverly Hills, if he upends the Purple Line by fiat.
To someone who dwells far from Rodeo and Wilshire, the precincts look like blemishes, light pink and red blips in the sea of blue that is the Westside map. They underscore the Beverly Hills of popular imagination, a cliché, a place set apart and above the rest of Los Angeles.
“Look at all those movie stars / They’re all so beautiful and clean,” sings Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo in the eponymous 2005 song.
Of course, in the most literal sense, Beverly Hills is set apart. It’s an independent municipality edged all around by Los Angeles or West Hollywood. Fortress Beverly Hills, we might call it, an impression only heightened by the community’s dogged opposition to projects such as the Purple Line, which would serve to knit it more completely into the region as a whole.
At the same time, Beverly Hills’ exclusivity is more illusory than it appears. Its median annual household income, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau data, is high for Southern California: $100,630. But the medians in a other nearby neighborhoods and municipalities are higher. And according to the city’s own statistics, the community known for leafy estates and mansions has more renters than home owners, not unlike the rest of Los Angeles. Approximately 62% of the population lives in apartments or condo units.
Even the Trumpian precincts aren’t what they appear to be. In light pink Trousdale Estates (529 voters), the president bested Clinton by 9 votes and couldn’t muster a majority. It’s true he swept the tiny bump precinct 8 to 3, but the district next door (537 voters), which is equally red on the map, is really just barely, faintly Republican.
The president received 51% of the vote there, 274 votes to Hillary Clinton’s 244. In the down-ballot races, Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris won resoundingly, as did Proposition 64, which legalized recreational marijuana. The precinct’s congressional representative is another Democrat, Ted Lieu. In other words, these voters aren’t so different from you and me.
Still, watching Beverly Hills’ long fight against the subway can’t help but reinforce the impression that this city within the city believes sharing common ground with the rest of us is dangerous: to high school students, to property values, to the brand. Battling the tunnel may have been framed in terms of methane and air quality, but I can’t help seeing in it an isolationist desire.
There is no sign, yet, that the president has even noticed Beverly Hills’ Purple Line plea. Mayor Eric Garcetti says the subway route is a done deal, and construction near the Beverly Hills leg is underway. And we’ll see how the Trump precincts vote on Tuesday. Meanwhile, I’ve decided to think about them less as outliers and more as a harbinger: pieces of the electoral map to flip.
Wishful thinking? Perhaps. But if we don’t have hope, what else do we have? In Beverly Hills and everywhere else, we must find a way to come together if we do not want to continue to stay apart.