Beverly Hills' Iranian-born Mayor Jimmy Delshad plans to call today for the city to eliminate its pension fund investments in foreign companies operating in Iran. The largely symbolic action is intended to rally support for a movement in California and other states to isolate the Middle Eastern nation.
The proposal, aimed at Iran's widely perceived role in sponsoring terrorism, is especially poignant in Beverly Hills, where officials say about 25% of the nearly 34,000 residents are Iranian.
"Because I'm Persian American, I don't want to be quiet about this thing," Delshad said. "I want to make sure that people know that I support America."
The Beverly Hills proposal follows the Los Angeles City Council's passage of two related measures last month. Both the Los Angeles effort and Delshad's plans are meant to boost prospects for California's so-called Divest Iran bill that passed the State Assembly unanimously last month.
American companies already are barred from conducting business in Iran, but pension fund investments are still allowed in foreign firms with operations there.
Delshad said he planned to urge the Beverly Hills City Council to consider adoption of a resolution backing the state divestiture bill at tonight's meeting. He also hopes to persuade the council to call for the withdrawal of the city's own pension fund investments in foreign companies linked to Iran. Officials say they do not know how much of the city's $482 million in public employee pension funds is invested in companies with Iranian ties.
Delshad expressed confidence that the city council would approve his proposal, although he wasn't sure if it would win unanimous support.
"My feelings are they like the concept, especially when it comes from me," he said, referring to his Iranian heritage.
Beverly Hills is stepping into a growing national debate that also has raised the issue of whether local governments have the right to pick sides in U.S. foreign policy by legislating the use of billions of dollars in public retirement funds.
Since first being proposed in California, similar bills have emerged in about a dozen other states, including New York, Texas, Michigan, Georgia and Massachusetts. Last month, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist signed the nation's first Iran-divestment bill into law.
The California bill, known as AB 221, has been supported by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger but still is in committee in the State Senate. Introduced by Assemblyman Joel Anderson (R-San Diego) in January, the bill would prohibit the state's public employee retirement funds from being invested in foreign-owned companies that do energy or defense-related business in Iran.
"The bottom line is everybody understands that Iran is a bad place to park California taxpayers' and retirement monies because money is the mother's milk of terrorism," said Anderson. He alluded to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's call for the destruction of Israel, his criticism of the United States and his government's development of technology that many fear could be used to produce a nuclear weapon.
In California, the California State Teachers' Retirement System and the California Public Employees' Retirement System, with assets that total about $410 billion in retirement funds, are believed to have investments in at least 19 foreign-owned companies with ties to Iran.
The two systems, representing more than 2 million public employees and their families, staunchly oppose the bill, saying that it unjustifiably hinders their ability to make investments and eliminates their ability to "constructively engage" with the affected companies.
The California Federation of Teachers is also against the bill.
"We believe divestment should only be taken in the most extreme cases, and that's in cases like apartheid and genocide," said Martin Hittelman, federation president. "I mean, if we were to divest of every country that has the same policies as Iran, we'd be divesting of most of the world."
But Tom Dresslar, spokesman for State Treasurer Bill Lockyer, who also sits on the boards of CalPERS and the teachers retirement system, said fulfilling the systems' investment responsibilities "does not equal maximizing returns regardless of how dirty the money is or how abhorrent the activities it finances."
The state divestment bill "marries our moral obligation with our legal duty to workers and retirees," Dresslar said.