Editor’s note: In early December, we asked each of the candidates running in the March 2013 election for West Hollywood City Council to address four key questions that are either on the public agenda or relevant to the city’s future. For each of the next nine weekdays, we will publish answers from the candidates.
Tom DeMille moved to West Hollywood in 1992 to be an actor after landing a part in the Jeff Bridges-Tommy Lee Jones action thriller “Blown Away,” which was shot in Boston. Since then, he’s done extra work on more than 100 shows/films, including five years as a Klingon on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.” Today, DeMille keeps his passion for the arts alive painting pop art.
With a taste for politics, DeMille, who has been HIV positive since 1998, ran for the Provincetown, Mass. city council once and has run for the West Hollywood city council three times. The 57-year-old DeMille was Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank’s lover for three years in the late 80s/early 90s.
“Barney and I are still good friends,” said DeMille. “I spoke with him recently. I wished him well on becoming a senator and he wished me luck on my campaign.”
PRESERVATION VERSUS COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT
Question: This is a very fraught issue, with some residents claiming the city is willing to tear down buildings that they see as an integral part of its past and important to quality of life today in favor of dense development. On the other side are those who argue that “old” doesn’t equal “important,” and that the city must strike a balance between preserving historic West Hollywood and building for the present and future. Does the city’s current process for designating cultural and historic landmarks strike the right balance? And if not, what needs to be changed?
Answer: Total inventories have to be made about housing stock, tax incentives and/or tax credits to landlords to remodel existing stock. Landlords should be responsible for their properties. Every historic building is really on a case-by-case basis. Rudolph Valentino was married on Flores Street. All throughout our area, I can make a case by going back in history; there is a reason to save every building in West Hollywood. As a published historian at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, I am aware of our rich history, and the people who have come before us. What needs to change? I will give you an example: the residents’ voices have to be respected.
URBAN DENSITY VERSUS URBAN VILLAGE
Question: This is another issue that, like most on the political agenda, involves development. Some residents see West Hollywood as an “urban village,” words that evoke an image of moderate density, low-scale buildings, easy walk-ability, and little traffic. People have moved here because of what West Hollywood is, they argue. So why change it? Others see the value of urban density — with an increase in apartment buildings meaning an increase in population and business revenues and, perhaps, a more competitive market for renters. Some also hope that increased use of mass transit and the walk-ability of the city will offset an increase in automobiles. Many press for construction of more parking garages, like those proposed for behind City Hall and underneath Plummer Park. City planners have devoted a lot of attention to this question and have produced some impressive reports. Now we need to know where our council candidates stand. Should we be happy with West Hollywood as it is, in terms of density and population? Or should we be pushing for growth? And if we are going to grow, what are we going to do with all those cars?
Answer: We could work with Bank of America at Crescent Heights to build a four-story parking garage with the bank store-front that could house 400 vehicles. The city could buy the 7825 Santa Monica Property that is adjacent to our already existing municipal parking lot. On that land, we could build the same type of parking structure. We also need to look to our immediate future to develop gay-friendly senior housing and we have to find developers who are willing to develop studios that are affordable to young artists coming to our city. The walkability issues are incredibly complex at three in the afternoon. You’re pretty safe if you are not crossing the street, but at night, everything changes. The street lights are out across the city and throughout our neighborhoods. Capital improvements in our residential neighborhoods are essential to the livability of residents, especially residents who own dogs. The Chamber of Commerce has to do more for small business. If you walk down the street you will see our streets are littered with empty businesses.
TERM LIMITS VERSUS CIVIC ENGAGEMENT
Question: Also on the March ballot will be a proposal to limit city council members to three four-year terms. The proposal, which won’t be retroactive, is championed by residents who argue that some council incumbents, having always won their re-election races, aren’t responsive to the community. Another issue is civic engagement. In 1984, 17,000 people voted in the election that gave birth to West Hollywood. Last year, only a little more than a third as many voters turned out for the municipal election. Obviously we’d like to know where the council candidates stand on the term limits issue. But we’d also like to know what they think the city can do to engage more residents in civic life. Should municipal elections be shifted to the same date as national elections, when there’s much larger turnout? Should the city sponsor a campaign on the sidewalks to register voters? There’s little incentive to increase voter turnout for politicians who don’t want voters looking over their shoulders. But it’s the only way to guarantee the good government that West Hollywood deserves.
Answer: The one thing lacking in West Hollywood is democracy itself. Never in my wildest dreams could I ever figure out why a candidate or sitting city council member would be willing to spend upwards of $100,000 for a job that pays $500 a month.
The first rule I learned in West Hollywood when I came as an actor, never pay for a job! The incest over time with developers is deplorable. Never has there been a time where so many mistrusted this current makeup of the city council.
As someone who has run four times, I can honestly say that there have been many residents who have run who would be very qualified to represent our city, and I include myself. I could see myself voting to increase the city council to seven members and dedicating one seat to the Russian community. It’s been a long time since the Russians, our neighbors, our friends, have been taxed without being represented. And if it takes term limits, vote early and vote often.
THE CREATIVE CITY
Question: West Hollywood promotes itself as “The Creative City.” Urban development theorists such as Richard Florida argue that fostering a “creative class” of knowledge workers is essential to the economic health and well-being of a city. Should the City of West Hollywood invest in making the city a more attractive place for residents and businesses engaged in the knowledge economy as opposed to the service economy of restaurants, bars and hotels? If so, what can the city do?
Answer: Build more housing for artists! Let them sit and paint on our sidewalks, anywhere they would like to! Let them display art! More programs for children in the arts. Musical instruments in all of our schools. Change Gay Pride so it doesn’t look like it has for the same 25 years! Close Santa Monica Boulevard for 48 hours from La Cienega to Doheny and really celebrate gay pride … not stuck in some corner like it was 1970!