WeHo Council Candidates Square Off in Campaign Debate

Change is needed in City Hall. That was the theme Wednesday evening at a debate largely focused on development issues among candidates for two seats on the West Hollywood City Council.

council debate crowdIn a predominantly civil manner, the seven challengers went after the two incumbents, who remained calm and composed, during the debate at the West Hollywood Park Auditorium, next to the public library. Topics included development, traffic, public safety, housing and the city’s Eastside. About 250 people attended the debate put on by a group of West Hollywood neighborhood associations. Hundreds more watched it on TV.

Challenger Sam Borelli kicked off the debate off by saying the most important issue facing the city is “bringing back trust in government, trust in leadership and trust in the [governmental] process.” Borelli, a public relations consultant, has raised more than $20,000 in campaign donations, putting him second among the nine candidates in the March 5 election.

borelli at the council debateAs did other challengers, he decried the influence of real estate developers on local government. Challenger Tom DeMille accused the incumbents of “prostitution for campaign donations” from developers. Campaign donation reports filed to date show real estate interests accounting for 43 percent of all donations, with 85 percent of their money directed to incumbent Councilmember John Duran and 15 percent to Mayor Jeffrey Prang.

Challenger Steve Martin, a lawyer who served on the council from 1994-2003, also focused on development issues. He said that large projects approved by the current council, such as the redevelopment of Movietown Plaza on Santa Monica Boulevard on the city’s Eastside, would add to traffic problems. He also questioned the rationale for the council’s agreement to reduce the parking space requirements at the proposed Sunset Millennium and Marriott Edition hotel projects. Challenger Nick Garzilli, whose business is transportation technology, advocated the city dedicate itself to a privately funded system of solar powered transportation pods that would run on tracks above the streets. Garzilli managed to work the transportation pods into his answer to virtually every question posed during the debate, eventually sparking laughter in the audience.

Martin also attacked the “development agreements,” in which City Hall approves development projects with special conditions, saying they are a “bane” and an “invitation for corruption” in that they allow City Hall and developers to circumvents the city’s general plan.

Martin and Christopher Landavazo, a Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department deputy who is in the council race, also questioned lobbyist Steve Afriat’s role in city politics. They noted that he is a top land-use lobbyist for real estate interests, including the Pacific Design Center, and also serves as the campaign manager for both Duran and Prang. Martin said Duran and Prang were “in bed and knocked up” with Afriat. Borelli and Martin were joined by challenger Tristan Schukraft, a technology entrepreneur, in questioning whether City Council members and administrators were really unaware of a proposal, recently revealed by WEHOville, for Pacific Design Center owner Charles Cohen to develop the MTA bus yard lot on Santa Monica Boulevard in the heart of the city’s Boystown. That proposal has sparked fierce criticism from council members and residents, who say it will cause traffic congestion.

Borelli bemoaned what he called the gentrification of West Hollywood, saying young people are priced out of the rental market. Schukraft suggested approving construction of 250-square-foot “micro-unit” apartments as a solution to high rents.

Borelli said the City Council’s recent creation of a new Eastside Task Force was tantamount to admitting it has neglected the Eastside of West Hollywood.

duran at the council debate
Councilmember John Duran

Mayor Prang, while saying he regretted voting to approve the controversial $41 million Plummer Park redesign, which has since been shelved due to public outcry, defended the council’s development decisions. Both he and Duran noted they had co-authored a 2008 ordinance that curtailed destruction of rent-control apartment buildings to help preserve neighborhoods and retain residents who might have been priced out of the luxury condominiums that usually replace aging buildings. Prang and Duran defended special “development agreements,” saying they are never approved unless they provide a genuine public benefit. Duran said that development agreements are rarely used, while Prang said he would work to restrain their use and tighten conditions for approval.

Prang disputed Borelli’s contention that the City Council has ignored the Eastside, saying it has spent more on redevelopment and improvements there than on the Westside. Prang called the Eastside a success story, noting that prostitution and drug use are down. Duran said the Eastside is not blighted and that it has many beautiful neighborhoods.

Responding to complaints that real estate development has caused traffic problems in West Hollywood, Duran said pass-through traffic causes most of the congestion. He mentioned the opposing needs of speeding up traffic to help get people through the city quickly and slowing down traffic for public safety concerns.

In other matters, Borelli criticized City Hall for failing to implement a nighttime shuttle to take residents to Boystown and the Sunset Strip. Landavazo said better signage directing drivers to the city’s parking structures is needed.

The issue of public safety was raised by several challengers, with Landavazo advocating having deputies walk a beat to get to know the community better. Challenger Rusty Wiggs asked for more foot patrols and an increased sheriff’s budget. Challenger Tom DeMille pushed for better lighting on residential streets and increased bike patrols by deputies. Martin also suggested more law enforcement in residential areas. In perhaps the most surprising proposal by a candidate running for office in a famously liberal city, Garzilli advocated “conceal carry groups,” essentially citizens authorized to carry concealed guns, to improve public safety.

Prang and Duran both said the city is incredibly safe, Duran pointing out the sheriff’s response time is significantly better than that of the Los Angeles Police Department.

For more scenes from the debate, see below:

Council debate

sam borelli at the council debate
Council candidate Sam Borelli
Tristan Schukraft at the council debate
Candidate Tristan Schukraft
Tom DeMille at the council debate
At right, candidate Tom DeMille
Steve Martin at the council debate
At left, Tristan Schukraft watches as candidate Steve Martin answers a question.

city council crowd crowd at the council debate

John Duran and Tom DeMille at the council debate
Tom DeMille, at right, hands a mic over to councilmember John Duran.
Mayor Jeff Prang at the council debate
Mayor Jeff Prang

timing at the council debate council debate council debate crowd

  1. I was disappointed by the lack of vision and big ideas presented by either the challengers that seemed to rely on petty talking points or the incumbents whom were listless and bored with the proceedings.
    Nick Garzilli: I commend Nick for trying to be innovative by having a platform based on technology and transportation, his “one trick pony” strategy was embarrassing and not effective. He also made a full of himself suggesting that WeHo have a “conceal and carry” vigilante group roam the streets even though this liberal city has strict anti-gun laws. He is obviously out of touch with the community and only using the platform to hawk his own business ventures. He should have been excused from the debate early on when it became clear that he had nothing to add of substance beyond marketing a “pie in the sky” monorail-esque transport system.
    Tristan Schukraft: An attractive challenger was heavy on style and light on substance. Tristan had a few canned lines about technology and “public work tickets” but hardly showed any knowledge of public administration or a vision for the community. I was disappointed that he did not try to use his personal story, which is impressive, to create a narrative about the City and what the future may hold with him in a leadership position. It was a missed opportunity and he showed he was in over his head.
    Steve Martin: Steve relied on his old tricks of pandering to the entrenched voters of West Hollywood using false statistics and conjecture to scare the audience into voting for him. He lacks credibility when he claims that West Hollywood’s development has “exploded” however the population has actually decreased. He comes across as bitter and having an ax to grind with the current council but does not focus on what the future of West Hollywood is. He is stuck in the past.
    Sam Borelli: I had high hopes for Sam, as he is the most likely candidate to follow D’Amico’s stunning victory of the previous election. However, Sam could not help but pander to the anti-development crowd in the office, throwing out some low blows to attack the current council. He should have relied on keeping his message positive. However, he did provide measured responses on development and the need for the City to be more “creative” which was a refreshing thing to hear.
    Mayor Jeffrey Prang: The mayor came prepared with statistics and a litany of accomplishments that can be easy to rattle off since he has sat on the council for so many years. However, compared to the other characters in the debate he looked professional, poised and confident. I wish he would have spent time on discussing the future and his vision for the City and I was horrified that he attacked special events in his final answer. All things considered, he gave a strong argument as to why he should be reelected, even if I am weary of the lifetime council members that West Hollywood seems to attract.
    Christopher Landavazo: Chris came across are serious, attractive and compassionate. I was most impressed by Landavazo even though he did get tripped up several times on simplistic questions on basic City services and responsibility. However he came across as passionate and open-minded. He was the only challenger to really embrace the role as representative and not put his ego first. I did wish there was more substance behind his proposals. If Chris were smart, he would engage seriously with the Democratic Party machine as he could be a star at the local, county or state level. This will not be the last we hear from him, I hope.
    Councilman John Duran: Duran predictable was listless and cocky throughout the debate. However, I am constantly impressed with his larger vision of the community and compassion for the residents. I wish Duran would be more ambitious as he has the skill but he did a reasonable job laying out why he should be reelected.
    Tom Demille: Tom was unhinged at one point cursing Mayor Prang in a bizarre outburst over Plummer Park. I’m not sure if he is a Republican or a Democrat even though he scolded the audience to “be more like Democrats,” while in the same breath claiming the City needed to be focused on tax cuts. He also claimed that pregnant women were at risk crossing the streets of the City, one out of his many questionable tirades. He should have been asked to leave early on.
    Rusty Wiggs: Rusty was not prepared to discuss the issues nor did he provide any sense of a future for West Hollywood. I’m sure he is a nice man but he is not a serious contender and showed that within minutes of the forum.

  2. Sam Borelli is a man for our time. Even if we pass Measure C on Term Limits – the “old timers” that are in there now (some with 7 terms under their belt – 21 years!) they’ll get to start as if it was their first Term. WE need to still vote them out of office. Even if they’ve done some good – we need new blood. We need fresh ideas and representation for all the city. Not people who have learned to use it as their own tool or vehicle.

  3. @Jen I’m with you on both counts. It would be nice to aim big with the kind of transportation ideas put forth by Nick Garzilli. I also have believed for years that the crime statistics are deliberately under-counted. I can’t tell you how many times police, fire and ambulances rush though the streets yet when you check the published crime events for any given day, nothing appears.

  4. Candidate Forum Replay Schedule
    Posted Date: 2/7/2013
    The February 6th Candidate Forum will replay on WehoTV Channel 10 at the following times:

    Thursday, 2/7 @ 10:00am
    Sunday, 2/10 @ 10:00am
    Sunday, 2/10 @ 9:00pm
    Wednesday, 2/13 @ 9:00am
    Monday, 2/18 @ 7:00pm
    Friday, 3/1 @ 6pm
    For a DVD of the broadcast, please contact Kent Egenberger, CATV Supervisor at (323) 848-6593.

  5. Great debate. Love Nick Garzilli’s innovative transportation ideas – modern ideas for a modern city. As for public safety I question the stats put forward by the incumbents. In my condo building sheriffs have been called three times in the past several months, twice regarding burglary in progress, and once for an assault in progress. They never showed, hence no police report. Lack of police reports skews the statistics.

  6. Wish I’d been able to watch this on TV. Unfortunately, like most City Council meetings, the broadcast was riddled with tiling and pixelation rendering any viewing the live broadcast impossible. I thought this was just a problem with the cameras in the new Council chambers, but it was even worse with the broadcast from the old auditorium.

    There is nothing wrong with my TV or my Time Warner HD-DVR box. I only have this problem if I try to watch a live broadcast on channel 10. I really wanted to watch, but thanks to the technical problems, I couldn’t.

  7. Steve Martin and Sam Borelli really did a great job tonight and they both have my vote!!!! It’s very clear, that Prang and Duran must be sent a’packin!!! Guys, perhaps one of yur developer friends will hire you….although, ha, without a council position, yur utterly useless to them now….bye, bye now

    …..and poor Nick and his pods….really dude???….weren’t you aware that you were the laughing stock all night?

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