Opinion: Let’s Not Shut West Hollywood’s Door

NIMBY is such an ugly word. To say that the focus of all opponents of new development is only that it be “not in my back yard” ignores legitimate concerns about the real issues that growth raises. In a city of only 1.9 square miles, a city whose population density ranks 16th in the nation, those issues include traffic congestion, the availability of parking and changes to the look and feel of some neighborhoods that West Hollywood residents call home.

NIMBYBut while those issues deserve (and do get) consideration, the current debate over new housing in West Hollywood has collapsed into an ugly argument devoid of facts and full of emotion. It is an argument that risks serious damage to the reputation of West Hollywood, which was founded as an all-inclusive and affordable home for everyone.

Planning Commissioner John Altschul summed up the issue brilliantly on Thursday night during the contentious public hearing on a project on Ogden Drive. “The city has created a sensational community where people want to come,” Altschul said. “The people that were here, they welcomed us when we came. Let’s not be the kind of people that say ‘We’ve got ours, let’s close the doors’.”

And yet certain City Council members, City Council candidates, and those residents who already “have theirs” are trying to “close the doors” to new residents and price out those with moderate or low incomes.

There is Councilmember John D’Amico, who at a recent Council meeting lamented the fact that the city has nearly 18,000 residents per square mile. “Our city is too dense by half. We have 18,000 residents per square mile. It is too much. It is just too much,” he said. Given that West Hollywood, as noted by Councilmember John Duran, has always had that population density, we would ask John D’Amico why he moved here in the first place? And we would remind him that more housing will mean a drop in housing costs, opening up West Hollywood to a new generation, to West Hollywood 2.0.

D’Amico also is pushing for the city to allow developers to pay fees that can be used to build low- and moderate-income housing rather than require them to incorporate that housing in their condo and apartment projects. That’s a not-so-subtle way to subvert the city’s longstanding practice of integrating people of all income levels in new buildings rather than creating barriers between the rich and the poor. The “poor door” approach that segregates low-income people from building amenities available to their wealthy neighbors has been controversial in cities such as London, New York and Chicago. Do we want West Hollywood to be known segregating those people in “poor buildings” instead?

There is Cole Ettman, a candidate in the June 2 City Council election who, in a loud outburst at the Thursday Planning Commission meeting, proclaimed “the tide is turning” and that West Hollywood residents don’t want more construction. We’re guessing that the residents Ettman is listening to aren’t renters but are affluent homeowners such as Bill Resnick, the Westside resident who is the son of a man who ranks No. 393 on Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s billionaires. Resnick has hosted a fundraiser for Ettman and contributed $40,000, the largest personal donation in WeHo’s history, to help elect development opponent Lauren Meister to the City Council.

There is Heidi Shink, also a candidate in the June 2 Council race. As a Planning Commissioner, Shink voted for a new housing project on Kings Road only to quickly reverse herself when it became clear that she might get votes from its opponents. Shink, according to her recent campaign mailer, is “committed to stopping … the reckless development of the last 30 years.” That “reckless” development increased West Hollywood’s already strained housing stock by only 1.6 percent last year, according to a study by the state Department of Finance.

There is Cynthia Blatt, the leader of the opposition to the Kings Road project, whose campaign against it includes the argument that it will contribute to the drought and, amazingly, that West Hollywood doesn’t need any more housing for low- and moderate-income people. Blatt should know that more residents, unless they are newly born babies, don’t increase water usage. Thus more housing won’t mean West Hollywood will face tighter restrictions by the state, which monitors usage in cities on a per capita basis not by number of residents.

And there are “the regulars,” that handful of people who show up at to speak at every City Council meeting and most Planning Commission meetings to condemn almost all development projects. They include Cathy Blaivas and Stephanie Harker, who are to be admired for their campaign to preserve Great Hall / Long Hall in Plummer Park. But they must be questioned for taking stands against development that would, in effect, lock the doors to West Hollywood for newcomers.

A major problem West Hollywood faces in the upcoming City Council election and the housing development controversies that are sure to follow is that most of those engaged in the debates offer “facts” that simply aren’t true. That’s an approach the Republican Party has used successfully in its campaign against global warming, the Federal Reserve’s efforts to stimulate the economy and gun control, to name a few. West Hollywood can, and should, do better than that.

An even bigger problem is that the renters and low-income residents who will be hurt by the actions of the anti-development crowd haven’t organized to fight the “we’ve got ours, let’s close the doors” mentality. Where are Larry Gross and his Coalition for Economic Survival, who successfully organized the community and fought such interests to help create West Hollywood as a city, when we need them?


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Brian Holt
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Brian Holt

We are 1.9 miles! Where in the heck do you propose we build these new housing developments? Take over every last single family lot and destroy ANY sense of community!? Some of us have worked hard and deserve the ability to own a home (not a condo!) or be forced fo live in disconnected apartment owned by the very few rich developers. We can’t house the world! Get a grip and get a clue. It’s simple math. My God! What don’t you get? And the constant bashing of anyone who has the ability to see the smile truth – we… Read more »

Lou Thomas
Guest
Lou Thomas

Jimmy of Vegas: Making a decision to rent is only a bad decision if rent control is demolished. And while it turns out that buying a property was a good decision for other reasons, that investment was made with full knowledge that your were buying in a rent-controlled city, so if rent control ends up being preserved, that is the down side of the risk that *you* took as an investor. Really, your comments just beg the question of who is going to win in this struggle. You act as if investors had some god-given right to profit at the… Read more »

Warren
Guest
Warren

Hank, you imply that halting development will hurt renters. However, the problem is all the new developments are out pricing us! NMS@La Cienega a 750 square foot 1 bedroom goes for $4,995.00. If you’re on a budget they do also offer a 515 square foot 1 bedroom unit for $2,395.00. However the majority of the 1 bedrooms at NMS are over $3,000.00 a month. Another new community, The Huxley, has one bedrooms starting at $2,229.00; however the average for a 1 Bedroom is $2,500.00. The Huxley’s sister building, The Dylan, also averages $2,500.00 a month for 1 bedroom units. Honestly,… Read more »

Jimmy of Vegas
Guest
Jimmy of Vegas

JimmyP: you want me living anywhere BUT west Hollywood? I thought your west Hollywood was all about inclusion. You’ve now shown your true colors that you want west Hollywood to be made up only of people that agree with you. I regret you don’t understand that the wealthier people that pay taxes, allows the city to help the poor. Your true colors aren’t so bright.

skywatcher888
Guest
skywatcher888

I think the question is, what do we want to be as a city? And are we going to be a city in which citizen input matters, or are we going to be a city that doesn’t care and is open to the highest bidder? I think that’s the issue that most bothers the residents, that so much of what they loved about WeHo is now under the wrecking ball.

Mike
Guest
Mike

Exactly Shink claimed she voted against the poor door, big lie, developer removed the thought of affordable housing access to amenities before it got to planning- and then on the 826 project she advocated the poor door of housing and less affordable units. Did you notice that the complainers are mostly women? Blatt- all for herself, Blavias- preaching community while being the obstructionist who cost out city 26 million dollars- and Harker who does not shut up on every subject she has to have an opinion – get a life – these woman aren’t participating – they are th ones… Read more »

jimmypalmieri
Guest
jimmypalmieri

vegas—Trust me, if I could i’d get you a place to live ANYWHERE else than here. We are in agreement there.

Jimmy of Vegas
Guest
Jimmy of Vegas

To your credit, you acknowledge that you’re living in a naive fantasy world, where you want everyone to live on easy street.

Jimmy of Vegas
Guest
Jimmy of Vegas

I think JimmyP is missing the point, which is about who has some god given right to live anywhere they please, whether they can afford it or not. If I want to live on Park Avenue, who is going to subsidize me? There are lots of cheaper places people can live than West Hollywood. If we really want to help them, let’s buy them one way bus tickets out of town, and maybe give them a little money for first months rent elsewhere. If decades ago people made bad decisions to rent, rather than own property, they were gambling. There… Read more »

jimmypalmieri
Guest
jimmypalmieri

No vegas…no one pays my rent, but there are many vulnerable and near homeless that were here way before anyone else. They deserve to be treated with respect, and not shuffled off to a shelter because one council member has made it clear this is an elitest city. I hope you never have to use the dollars of social services, that we as human service commissioners very carefully maximize to help the most people possible.

Jimmy of Vegas
Guest
Jimmy of Vegas

No jimmyp, Are you disagreeing with me because you are a drain on the city, or because you think there should be free million dollar condos in west Hollywood for everyone?

jimmypalmieri
Guest
jimmypalmieri

@Vegas…….you do know that people can actually see your comments …right?

Jimmy of Vegas
Guest
Jimmy of Vegas

All these nitwits that think West Hollywood needs this phony “affordable housing” are delusional. The city needs people to live in West Hollywood that can actually afford to patronize the restaurants and businesses, rather than bringing in a bunch of poor people to take care of, who are nothing more than a financial drain on the City’s resources. And I love these people that cry for “diversity” in the City, like it would be too boring to live in a city of only rich people. I’ve got news for you: actually it’s not so boring to only be around rich… Read more »