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.