WEHOville

Opinion: Why Won’t the WeHo City Council Speak Up on What Matters?

Wed, Nov 16, 2016   By Henry (Hank) Scott    12 Comments
West Hollywood City Council members (left to right) Mayor Lauren Meister, council members Lindsey Horvath, John Heilman, John D'Amico and John Duran. (Photo by Jon Viscott)

West Hollywood City Council members (left to right) Mayor Lauren Meister, council members Lindsey Horvath, John Heilman, John D’Amico and John Duran. (Photo by Jon Viscott)

Will banning the sale of meth pipes in West Hollywood help reduce the use among our city’s gay residents of one of the world’s most addictive and destructive drugs?

Maybe yes. Maybe no. There are arguments on both sides that are worth a listen. But one thing is clear: The proposal for a ban raised on Monday night by Patrick Shandrick of the city’s Human Services Commission and Estevan Montemayor of the Public Safety Commission will promote a long-needed discussion about something that affects more West Hollywood lives than do poorly lit crosswalks.

The debate over the proposed ban also illuminates the strange unwillingness of our City Council to publicly tackle the meth issue and other controversial local subjects. As has been noted before, our elected officials will vote to condemn the dog meat market in Yulin, China, or the University of North Carolina’s transgender discriminatory dormitory policies or the sale of fur products in WeHo. Those are issues where a council member’s stand can burnish his or her reputation among progressive leaders across the state or country and, in the case of the fur ban, garner campaign donations. But they have nothing to do with the quality of life in West Hollywood. To think that the WeHo City Council’s stand on such issues really matters in China or North Carolina or to the fur industry is delusional.

Meth addiction is a major issue in West Hollywood, where gay men, major users of the drug, make up 40% of the population.  A story in WEHOville in September about Grindr as a platform for local meth dealers  got a lot of attention in WeHo and in other countries. Until recently  Grindr has allowed dealers to use emoji and words to promote the sale of illegal drugs. The gay sex hookup app has an estimated two million users in 193 countries. And it is headquartered on the 14th floor of the Pacific Design Center’s Red Building in WeHo (not in China or North Carolina, although a Chinese billionaire now owns a majority of Grindr.)

In response to WEHOville’s story, Grindr finally took steps to block text and images that promoted meth sales, steps that already had been put in place by Scruff, its major competitor. Blocking illegal drug vendors from pitching their products is likely to save tens if not hundreds of thousands of gay men around the world from spontaneously buying this addictive drug. But that didn’t happen because of our City Council, whose public response to the issue has been nada.

Mayor Lauren Meister, who hasn’t raised the issue in public, did tell WEHOville she would press Grindr founder Joel Simkhai to meet with her and City Manager Paul Arevalo. As of publication of this article, that meeting still hasn’t happened. Several council members have ducked the question about Grindr, saying they were deferring to Meister. Councilmember John Duran, a friend of Simkhai (who donates to his re-election campaigns), told WEHOville he would talk to his Grindr friend. But Duran refuses to reveal what he or Simkhai said.

The Grindr/meth issue isn’t the only one our City Council members won’t address publicly. Consider that three Sheriff’s deputies killed one innocent young man and wounded another in 2014 and are still at work in West Hollywood. The council has remained silent despite an investigation by the L.A. County District Attorney that suggests the three may have lied about whether they knew who their target was when they fired. Our City Council’s silence is especially odd given  that the L.A. County Board of Supervisors was concerned enough about the shooting to award the injured man and the family of the dead man a total of $7.5 million in reparations  — a lot more than what was paid to settle former council deputy Ian Owens’ suit against West Hollywood.

The City of West Hollywood in August 2014 did issue a statement saying “the West Hollywood City Council and City Manager are seeking answers and are working diligently to support efforts to examine the many details of this incident.” But those details have yet to be revealed. When asked about the 939 Palm shootings, our mayor and council members duck the question or suggest WEHOville take it to the captain of the Sheriff’s Station, whose job limits what she can say.

Our City Council also hasn’t raised any public questions about an appeals court decision in August holding two WeHo Sheriff’s deputies responsible for not properly responding to the brutal beating of a drunk man in their custody. As a result, he spent four years in a long-term care facility and still suffers memory loss. That will require a payout of $830,000 by Los Angeles County.

And no one is discussing, at least publicly, a report last December by the L.A.County Inspector General that calls out the large increase in accidental gun firings by Sheriff’s deputies  after the  L.A. County Sheriff’s Department decided to replace deputies’ standard Beretta 92F handguns with Smith & Wesson M&P handguns. Should West Hollywood be concerned?.

It’s likely that some council members with bigger political ambitions don’t want to upset the politically powerful union of L.A. County sheriff’s deputies, whose endorsement is sought by candidates in countywide and statewide races. Perhaps no one wants to upset the wealthy Joel Simkhai. Perhaps our council members want to focus only on issues like housing density and parking and traffic flow — undeniably important — that draw the avid attention of those older folks and home owners who make up the bulk of the city’s dismally small voter turnout.

But as we look ahead to the March 7 City Council election, we need to remind all candidates — incumbents and challengers — that their job is to represent all of the people of West Hollywood, not just wealthy real estate developers and those homeowners and neighborhood activists who show up at City Council meetings and are likely to turn out to vote. The rich and the poor, the young and the old, the gay and the straight, those who vote and those who should but don’t. They  are all West Hollywood.

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About Henry (Hank) Scott

Henry (Hank) Scott is publisher of WEHOville.com. Scott is a journalist and media business executive who has worked at newspapers as varied as the weekly Butner-Creedmoor (N.C.) News, circulation 1,200, and The New York Times.
henry@wehoville.com

View all posts by Henry (Hank) Scott →

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12 Comments

  1. A Concerned CitizenMon, Nov 21, 2016 at 3:20 pm

    J Simmons, if you want them voted out, people are going to need to be quite vocal, or given a fresh option. Perhaps someone needs to remind the public at every City Council meeting between now and March of the incident where Duran used poor judgment to hire someone he had sexual relations with, as a subordinate. It is the only public forum that is widely watched by the community (and I’m not sure how widely). He put the city at risk. It doesn’t matter if there was sexual harassment or not. He put the city in a difficult position, ultimately embarrassing the city, costing it money, and affecting the public’s ability to trust it’s leadership. This is tax payer money used to clean up this mess, as well as the rest of “Deputygate.” Even if insurance covered some of it, people should be angry about this.

    Remember that the incumbents will be fueled with a lot of campaign funds, a lot of which will come from developers. It is hard to just blame the public for not voting them out. Money wins elections.

  2. A CitizenMon, Nov 21, 2016 at 3:19 pm

    J Simmons, if you want them voted out, people are going to need to be quite vocal, or given a fresh option. Perhaps someone needs to remind the public at every City Council meeting between now and March of the incident where Duran used poor judgment to hire someone he had sexual relations with, as a subordinate. It is the only public forum that is widely watched by the community (and I’m not sure how widely). He put the city at risk. It doesn’t matter if there was sexual harassment or not. He put the city in a difficult position, ultimately embarrassing the city, costing it money, and affecting the public’s ability to trust it’s leadership. This is tax payer money used to clean up this mess, as well as the rest of “Deputygate.” Even if insurance covered some of it, people should be angry about this.

    Remember that the incumbents will be fueled with a lot of campaign funds, a lot of which will come from developers. It is hard to just blame the public for not voting them out. Money wins elections.

  3. A Concerned CitizenMon, Nov 21, 2016 at 11:00 am

    J Simmons, in the case of local politics, it is easy to just “blame the voters,” but consider how much Heilman and other council members have to spend on their campaigns, versus others. And a lot of this comes from developers. They also get the endorsement of many local businesses, who display their signs in their windows all along SMB. The incumbents usually win by quite a steep margin.

    One of the problems with WeHo politics is the transient nature of its residents. Many are young renters. Some are just starting their careers, or see themselves in LA as a stepping stone to somewhere else. They aren’t putting down roots in this city, and don’t spend much time thinking about (or even knowing) who their leaders are, development issues, historic preservation, etc.. I believe this is the main reason for our low voter turnout.

    People need to work on moving WeHo’s election to November. This most certainly will increase voter turnout. If people want Duran out in March, I think the best they can do is be very vocal about the inappropriate choices he made with hiring his deputy. I mean attend council meetings, and use public comment to remind people each and every meeting of what happened. Even if there was no sexual harassment, he put the city at a great deal of risk with his hiring choice (where he had a past sexual relationship), and in the end, it cost the city some money (even though insurance covered all or most of it). But it also affected public trust, and was a huge embarrassment for the city. I think he needs to go, way more than Heilman does.

  4. carleton croninMon, Nov 21, 2016 at 9:23 am

    “Tip toe through the tulips…” Treading carefully in politicoland.

  5. J SimmonsThu, Nov 17, 2016 at 9:42 pm

    Why? If they even acknowledge the real problems, people expect the ELECTED CITY COUNCIL to do something.

    NEVER MENTION, ACKNOWLEDGE … LEAVES THEM FREE OF BLAME AND CAN RETURNING TO SELL WHAT’S LEFT OF WEHO TO THE MULTIMILLION DOLLAR PROJECTS LITERALLY SQUEEZEING THE EXISTING RESIDENTS IN THE PROCRSS.

    TRMP WON THE UNITED STATES.

    HEILMAN & THE CITY MANAGER WON WEHO.

    BOTH CASES … ONLY PEOPLE TO BLAME ARE VOTERS.

    LET’S VOTE THEM OUT! THAT’S NOT ANYONE’S RESPONSIBILITY THAN ALL OF US VOTING (or not bothering to) AND LET’S SAVE WEHO.

  6. Henry (Hank) ScottThu, Nov 17, 2016 at 7:02 pmAuthor

    West Hollywood does indeed support a number of recovery services for those addicted to methamphetamine and other substances. And I have attended on of the meth forums, organized by John Duran. It was very informative. But the audience was largely composed of meth addicts in recovery.

    What the city must do is focus not just on recovery and but also on reducing the popularity and ubiquity of meth. A focus only on recovery services and not on prevention is sort of like saying that as long as we have good hospitals we don’t need to act to reduce traffic accidents or gun violence.

    Yes, people say that is impossible. But nothing is impossible. Take a look at the radical reduction in the use of crack cocaine by African-Americans, or the reduction in HIV infections during the ACT-UP era, caused by people willing to speak out about the issue.

    A City Council that won’t speak up about a local business that provides a platform for dealers trying to sell an illegal and destructive drug to its residents is not a City Council that I would describe as “vocal.”

  7. Gary SmithThu, Nov 17, 2016 at 3:47 pm

    Both Duran and D’Amico and the Council have sponsored a number of community forums discussing Meth addiction in the community over the three years. Both ahave been vocal about the issue. Is more needed? Absolutely! A more constructive way of calling the Council into action is be part of the dialogue, volunteer your time to help set up larger dialogues, talk to the Council members. Each of them are 100% behind the crisis and are aware of it. Give credit where credit is due instead of whining and complaining that “government” isn’t doing their job. Banning meth pipes isn’t the solution… Specific treatment protocols are called for with Meth addiction as well as funding needed to those services.

  8. Steve MartinThu, Nov 17, 2016 at 11:55 am

    The problem is that the incumbents covet law enforcement endorsements such as the Sheriff and ALADS, the deputies union, so that they self censor when it comes to real world problems involving the Department. As long as voters keep responding positively to law enforcement endorsements, you won’t have proper oversight by the City Council. Anyone who attempts to assert any sort of meaningful oversight will never get the endorsement.
    This is a problem nationwide.

    Back in the late 1990s I blew the whistle on Sheriff’s vice doing unauthorized sting operations in the Pacific Design Center. Scores of innocent local residents were entrapped by aggressive undercover officers. My council colleagues seemed more embarrassed about my drawing attention to the issue than outraged about obvious entrapment. The Mayor was falling all over himself trying to defend the Sheriff.

    As I sucessfully represented the late Bruce Boland, a gay deputy unlawfully terminated by the Sheriff in his claim against his union, I was never invited to to seek their endorsement when I ran for City Council, even as an incumbent. So if you don’t play their game you don’t get the prize.

  9. You keep re-electing this rubbishThu, Nov 17, 2016 at 10:01 am

    Don’t like them – vote em out in March! Mayor and her three Johns.

  10. RandyWed, Nov 16, 2016 at 5:06 pm

    I agree that our Council needs to stand up. I don’t know how I feel about the meth pipe ban though. It is a piece of equipment a user only needs to pick up once (unless they break their pipe), and I don’t think someone having to drive to a head shop in nearby Hollywood is going to keep many people from getting them, or from becoming users.

  11. The ObserverWed, Nov 16, 2016 at 9:17 am

    The Self Gratification Awards are poised to give WeHo a Lifetime Achievement Acknowledgement. Spin the story, avoid responsibility, employ every manipulative measure available, glorify busy work and above all exercise poor judgement. A few would be excused from this category but some are eternally visible.

  12. Todd BiancoWed, Nov 16, 2016 at 8:27 am

    I doubt we’ll ever see City government (Council or management) say anything bad about the LASD. No one wants to say anything bad ever. Just shock or outrage or sympathy – but no follow through on any promises of investigation or transparency. It hasn’t happened yet, so I don’t expect it in the future. Only undying devotion, respect and silence.

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