Citizens Agenda: June Council Candidates Address Preservation, Development Issues

June-Election-Candidates

In early December, WEHOville asked West Hollywood residents what issues they wanted candidates in the upcoming City Council election to address. We received hundreds of responses and boiled them down to 13 key issues. We have asked each of the four candidates in the June 2 special City Council election to offer his or her positions on these issues. On each Monday through May 4 we will publish one or two of the questions and the candidates’ responses. On March 23, candidates addressed traffic issues. On March 30 candidates answered questions about parking. On April 6 they talked about pedestrian safety issues and the City Council deputy system. Today candidates discuss historic preservation and development issues, the fate of Plummer Park and the disparity between housing costs and income on the city’s Eastside.

1.) Given its compact size, and that it’s the most densely developed city west of the Mississippi, there will always be a struggle between the desire for new construction and preservation of historic buildings. How would you, as a Council member, address that inherent conflict? Are there special standards that you think an historic property should meet to be spared the wrecking ball? Are there special standards a proposed development should meet if it requires tearing down an historic building?

LARRY BLOCK

The question is presented as a conflict between new construction and the preservation of historic buildings. Both of these issues should be viewed separately. True historic buildings have to meet city, state and federal standards. For our small city we need a higher threshold to preserve what is historic to us. Great Hall/Long Hall and the Factory are good examples of local treasures. New construction on the other hand is the driving force behind most economies. We just need to make sure our new development is sensible and compatible.

I’ve advocated that the West Hollywood Preservation Alliance get more active in seeking and promoting historic status for those buildings we recognize today. We were late to the table on 8899 Santa Monica Blvd., the Streamline Moderne building. Certainly some of that could have been incorporated into the Melrose Triangle project. In addition we should consider adaptive reuse of older buildings.

COLE ETTMAN

I disagree with the notion that there is inherent conflict between preserving historic properties and the desire/need for new construction. Each issue is distinct. Preserving historic properties in West Hollywood is a necessity. In West Hollywood we constantly use the expression, “our unique way of life”. Our history is the foundation for our “unique way of life”. It is vital to the future of West Hollywood that we honor and respect our past.  

The problem in West Hollywood has been 30 years of bigger, louder, faster and a Planning Commission that has time and again green-lit every project that comes before it. It is about time that we have elected officials in West Hollywood who represent the residents and not the out-of-town developers.

JOHN HEILMAN

Truly historic buildings need to be protected and preserved. I was one of the council members who initiated and adopted our Historic Preservation Ordinance. We have already designated and protected numerous historic buildings, and we will continue to do so. But not every building in West Hollywood will meet the standard for preservation. Some buildings have been significantly altered over the years so there is nothing left of the original structure. When a building meets the standard for historic preservation, we need to do everything possible to protect the building from demolition.

HEIDI SHINK

Preserving our historic properties is one of my main priorities for West Hollywood, and quite frankly, I do not see any conflict between preservation and meeting the need for new buildings. By maintaining or restoring existing properties— especially those which are historic— we not only help to retain the character of our neighborhoods, but we reduce the environmental impact of construction. Every time a building is torn down and then re-built, it not only creates an enormous amount of particulate matter in the air, but long construction time causes more inconvenience for neighbors. By rehabbing, updating, and greening existing buildings— as well as exploring the possibilities for adaptive reuse in some of our older commercial buildings— we can save structures which are significant in the community (whether or not they have achieved an “official” historic designation) while still meeting our need for housing.

2) The City Council approved an “overlay” that sets standards for new houses and reconstructed houses in the West Hollywood West neighborhood, where residents have complained that new houses are out of scale with the neighborhood. Should that overlay be expanded to other neighborhoods such as the Norma Triangle or the Eastside?

LARRY BLOCK

Each neighborhood has different sets of standards and needs but I believe that if we have an overlay zone in an R1B zone against big boxes, that overlay zone should exist for all R1B zones throughout the city. I stood up for this concept when it was introduced for West Hollywood West and today this question is being asked because it was voted to only for West Hollywood West. Yes, overlay zones should be expanded to all city areas with like zoning.

COLE ETTMAN

Each neighborhood is unique in West Hollywood. This “one size fits all” mentality is a recipe for disaster. I support the implementation of overlay zones for each neighborhood. The resident’s input is vital to keep cohesion in planning and development, and necessary to protect against the whims of the Planning Commission and City Council.   

JOHN HEILMAN

Each neighborhood should be treated individually. The overlay was established in West Hollywood West based on development activity within that neighborhood. Standards that work in one location may not be consistent with the needs of the residents in another location. We need to address each neighborhood based on its unique circumstances. We also haven’t seen the same issue in the Norma Triangle and on the Eastside of developers tearing down houses and rebuilding much larger houses.

HEIDI SHINK

As a Planning Commissioner, I am proud to say that I helped to implement West Hollywood West’s Neighborhood Overlay Zone, and it has been an enormous success. Not only has it protected against mansionization and reckless development, but it has given power back to residents to decide how they want their neighborhoods to evolve over time. I would like to see Neighborhood Overlay Zones implemented in every neighborhood throughout the City as a way to help mitigate the effects of a City Council which, for many years, has simply rubber-stamped developments whether they fit into a neighborhood or not. The Overlay Zones have the advantage of being tied to the desires of residents, regardless of who is on the Council, which is important for keeping a cohesive philosophy of development through changing administrations in City Hall.

3) The City Council often is asked to enact exceptions to the existing General Plan and to the existing zoning ordinance for specific developments. If the city is going to waive rules and regulations meant to apply to everyone to help out a specific developer, what should it expect that developer to give back in return?

LARRY BLOCK

Waive rules? An exception to the General Plan does not mean that rules are being waived. Changes to the General Plan are allowed up to four times a year. Changes do not equate to waiving of rules. In many cases the zoning code might need to be updated so we do not need changes to the General Plan. In any case when there is an exception to the General Plan it usually comes with a “public benefit” . Meetings are open to the public, your voice should be heard.

COLE ETTMAN

The long standing practice of issuing “statements of overriding consideration”to approve ill-conceived projects that violate CEQA and other important regulations must end. . The City Council is in cahoots with the Planning Commission to change the rules when they see fit. I propose a moratorium on the approval of new projects until the city can develop policies that prevent large commercial and luxury residential projects that are destroying our city and draining our water supply. We are in the middle of a drought. The City Council has not done its job of preparing for the water shortage. Until we put together a real plan for our future taking into consideration the current drought we are not in a position to consider new developments.

JOHN HEILMAN

The General Plan was developed with a great deal of community input. We should be very reluctant to deviate from it and should only do so when there is an exceptional benefit to the community such as additional parkland or additional public parking. The zoning ordinance is designed to implement the general plan. The zoning ordinance also contemplates that minor exceptions and deviations will occur to promote exceptional design.

HEIDI SHINK

Exceptions to the General Plan should ONLY be made when the residents gain the two things that we lack most in West Hollywood: affordable housing units and parking spaces. And even then we should tread carefully.

4) What is your position on issues involving the city’s Eastside, including:

a) The disparity between rents (they are rising) and household income (it’s relatively low).

LARRY BLOCK

This is a problem on all over the Westside and in many areas throughout the country. A few years ago when the housing market was soft it was a “buyers market,” and many people opted to buy versus rent. In today’s market, where purchase prices are at record levels and new rules require larger down payments, many cannot afford to buy anymore. Banking regulations that have affected down payments and credit eligibility do not allow many buyers to purchase and force many of these buyers into the rental market. The supply of available rental units is low, and thus new units coming back on market are set at new market rates that are higher due to low supply. There are many market forces at work, and this problem is not unique to West Hollywood. I’m believe we can find new ways to encourage public/ private partnerships and create more affordable housing.

COLE ETTMAN

The growing disparity between rents and household income is real problem not just for us on the east side or West Hollywood but throughout L.A. County. How do we curb the problem here in West Hollywood? First we need to de-incentivize demolition of our existing rental stock. The City Council needs to enact policies that will protect renters and encourage landlords by offering low cost loans to upgrade existing properties. These are steps the Council must take to prevent the continuing development of these high-priced residential properties.

JOHN HEILMAN

I have been a long-time advocate of rent control. I don’t want to see long-term residents priced out of the community, and our strong rent control laws provides a degree of protection for residents who have lived in West Hollywood for some time. I’m also a supporter of inclusionary housing. As new developments occur, we need to make sure we remain an economically diverse community. The new buildings on the Eastside all contain units for low- and moderate-income residents. At the former Movie Town Plaza, we will be getting approximately 75 new senior housing units.

HEIDI SHINK

I am proud to call the Eastside my home. As the only candidate running who actually lives on the Eastside – and if elected, the only Council member from the Eastside to ever serve on the Council – I feel that it is far past time that the city recognize the importance of the Eastside to the city as a whole. The disparity between rents and household income, while it is especially apparent on the Eastside, is not confined to one part of the city. Rather, this is both part of a legacy of the Great Recession as well as a symptom of having too much new development which doesn’t fit the needs of the community. On the Eastside, we see some of our aging population, many of whom are on fixed incomes, being priced out of the neighborhoods that they have lived in for decades. Additionally, there have been far too many property owners who have abused the Ellis Act as a way to evict rent-controlled residents, leaving them with relocation fees that are not tied in any way to rental prices in West Hollywood and forcing them to find less expensive housing elsewhere. While we cannot control household income levels, as a city we can help to reign in exorbitant rents with more robust rent-stabilization ordinances and an effort to increase the number of affordable units that are on the market.

b) The redevelopment of Plummer Park, and particularly whether Great Hall / Long Hall should be rehabilitated and remain in place or moved or demolished.

LARRY BLOCK

Today’s stakeholders deserve a voice in what is to become the Plummer Park of tomorrow. The old plan was too old. We lost the redevelopment dollars, and we have learned so much from both visioning processes at Tara and West Hollywood Park. We have one major park left in the city, and that’s Plummer Park. I think we should employ the same kind of visioning process for Plummer that allows citywide community input.

COLE ETTMAN

Great Hall/Long Hall should absolutely be refurbished and saved. As a member of the Public Facilities Commission I am on record as standing with the residents who want to save Plummer Park. I introduced a motion asking the City Council to bring the commission an adaptive reuse option for Great Hall / Long Hall. This is not a campaign issue. This is a “soul of West Hollywood” issue. While others may claim to have worked behind the scenes with residents for political purposes, I have a long record of publicly standing with residents over developers. With the exception of Larry Block none of my opponents can make the claim.

JOHN HEILMAN

I support the rehabilitation and retention of Fiesta Hall. It is an incredible building but needs to be renovated. Great Hall and Long Hall need to be removed. They are not fully accessible for disabled residents and in poor condition. The residents of the Eastside deserve more park space. Removing those buildings would significantly increase the amount of park and open space for Eastside residents. We are currently looking at whether the buildings can be moved to a different location, but I’m not sure it will be feasible or cost effective to do so.

HEIDI SHINK

When Plummer Park was originally slated for demolition by the City Council, I worked with a small group of activists and a land-use attorney to come up with an 11th hour stay to save the park. The Council members who had voted for the park’s demolition, some of whom had been serving for a very long time and should have had a much better grasp of the Eastside’s love and need for this park, had voted to demolish the buildings in question, tear down the old-growth trees, and close off parts of the park while their new plans were implemented. Though we were successful in stopping that demolition, the threat of that happening again is very real.

As a Council member, I will continue to fight to protect Long Hall/Great Hall, calling for the buildings to be repaired and refurbished so that the community can enjoy them once again. I stand firmly on the side of the residents and the neighborhood the park serves, and any further actions related to the park should not go forth without extensive community input. Plummer Park is a neighborhood-serving park, and it does so in just the way most who use it regularly want it to. On any day of the week you will see members of our aging community sitting on benches and talking while children play on the swings nearby. You will see people out with their dogs, reading books, or just relaxing beneath the old-growth trees. Generations have gathered in the park, and it is one of the historical jewels of the city. Moreover, Great Hall/Long Hall are some of the best examples of the Spanish style architecture which used to be so prevalent in this area long before it was ever called “West Hollywood,” and we should be proactive in preserving that history.


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Randy
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Randy

Oh, and is Heilman a “flip flopper” too, for changing his mind 3 days after this?

“Heilman told WEHOville on Tuesday that he would not run in that election if he lost Tuesday’s election.”

https://www.wehoville.com/2015/03/05/horvath-takes-slight-lead-over-heilman-in-latest-weho-city-council-vote-count/

Randy
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Randy

Mike, where has Heidi indicated that she was only going to run in the runoff/special election? I’m not saying she hasn’t said that, but could you please provide a source? Even if she withdrew from the general election, and decided to wait until June, who cares? It might have been a strategic decision, and perhaps a wise one, but I think that hardly makes her a “flip flopper.” I seem to remember reading in this very publication that Cole Ettman had an intention of running in the March election as well, originally. Is he a “flip flopper” too? https://www.wehoville.com/2014/09/08/election-2015-cole-ettman-enters-west-hollywood-city-council-race/ On… Read more »

One of Cassandra's Snakes
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One of Cassandra's Snakes

Mr. Heilman seems to be laboring under the misconception that he is STILL in office when he states “We are currently looking at whether the buildings can be moved to a different location…”., unless that is the royal “We” he had become accustomed to. When he WAS in office, WE, the people, on the Historic Preservation Commission and the Public Facilities Commission BOTH voted NOT to relocate the buildings after reviewing the $30,000.00 study. The commissions both voted and requested that the initial study should be extended to determine what the cost would be to preserve the nationally designated, historic,… Read more »

Mike Dolan
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Mike Dolan

What does the arborist report say about the trees in Plummer Park? Everything that’s alive has a life cycle as do diseased trees. I was at Tongva Park, highly populated and many areas of shade on Friday, so where is the shade form Great Hall/Long Hall?

Rudolf, please re-read your volumes of comments where you state, suggest or otherwise say the majority… re: Plummer Park. Fiesta Hall and its remodel is the compromise, in my opinion, that will make the remodel of Plummer Park someday fit the spirit that John Heilman suggests.

Rudolf Martin
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Rudolf Martin

Mike Dolan, LOL! Those are some explosive allegations against Heidi Shink. If indeed she flip flopped on which seat to run for since February 2014 the electorate surely will be merciless! But wasn’t the June election only scheduled just last December? Where in my comment do I purport to “speak for all eastside residents” as you suggest I do? And where do I mislabel my opinion as anything other than just that? I certainly do not add pomposities like “..and you cannot question this” to my opinions. But just in case you feel mislead, here is a disclaimer for you:… Read more »

Manny
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Manny

Wow that park looks great….thanks for sharing Mike.

All these years later it’s really tragic that nothing has happened at Plummer Park or 1343 Laurel, aka “Tara”.

Both became political hostages and missed opportunities…..Too bad.

Mike Dolan
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Mike Dolan

Now Cathy, Rudolf, and Alison: There you go again! Now write on the blackboard 100 times ‘in my opinion,’ and stop speaking for all eastside residents. I believe, in my opinion, John Heilman is absolutely correct on Plummer Park. In Santa Monica, Tongva Park is an excellent example of what potential Plummer Park could be. All drought tolerant plants, native trees, open space with meandering paths, state of the art children’s play area and tables, chairs, benches, and recycled-reused water in there several fountains. Truly a gem to behold. So get out and see what a park can be for… Read more »

Mike Dolan
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Mike Dolan

On Feb. 14, 2014, in Heidi Shink’s original ‘Candidate Intention Statement-Form 501,’ Ms. Shink indicates that she is running in the primary/general election. Not the special/runoff election. Then, on March 2, 2015, a full year later, Ms. Shink refills ‘Candidate Intention Statement-Form 501,’ and now states she is running for the Special/runoff election. Heidi, since this date has stated she had always and only planned to run in the Special/runoff election. Not true! Heidi’s original intention was to run in the Primary/general election of March 3, 2015. Heidi was the first to actively campaign in 2014 for the Primary-General election… Read more »

Manny
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Manny

“if elected, the only Councilmember from the Eastside to ever serve on the Council”……Heidi, come on!…..really?

Steve
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Steve

First off, Larry Block sounds surprisingly intelligent in this interview. He seems to be getting a stronger grasp on what a council person can and can’t control. @Heidi….you don’t speak for the east side just because you live on the east side. Not everyone wants to preserve Great Hall/Long Hall. It’s fine to have your opinion but don’t make it sound as if the “mean old City Council” plowed their plans through without any public debate. I don’t recall seeing you at any PAC meetings when we spent years reviewing projects including Plummer Park. In fact I don’t recall seeing… Read more »

Rob Bergstein
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Rob Bergstein

just a quick FYI Heidi….Sal Guarello (I know I’m mis-spelling his last name, he was always Sal to me) was a long time Councilmember who lived on the Eastside…..

Alison
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Alison

John Heilman is out of touch with the reality on the Eastside. “The new buildings on the Eastside all contain units for low- and moderate-income residents. At the former Movie Town Plaza, we will be getting approximately 75 new senior housing units.” Big Deal! Those new buildings are not doing so well. I’ve heard that the one on Fountain/La Brea has put a large number of their units up on Air BnB, which I thought was illegal in WeHo. Also, it seems that since those buildings went up, rents in the whole Eastside have gone up, whether landlords have upgraded… Read more »