Ten candidates will be on the ballot for the March 7 West Hollywood City Council election. One incumbent has raised tens of thousands of dollars for the race and the other already has held at least fundraising event.
So now it’s time for West Hollywood residents (rather than campaign consultants and major donors) to begin setting the agenda for the 2017 race.
As in 2015, WEHOville wants to know what questions you think candidates for the two seats on the City Council should address in their campaigns. What matters to you? What matters to the future of our city?
Please email me at Henry@WEHOville.com with your ideas about what the candidates should be addressing if they want to get your vote. (Next Monday, Jan. 2, we’ll post on WEHOville a list of the most frequently mentioned issues and will begin soliciting responses from council candidates)
Here are a few issues that are clear, given the events of the past year:
Several of the challengers in the upcoming election are likely to focus on the opposition of some residents to the increase in housing density in West Hollywood, with the opening of projects such as the Huxley and Dylan and soon the Avalon West Hollywood and the Domain. Those residents argue that increased development means more traffic and erodes the “urban village” quality of life in WeHo. The other side of the argument is that more housing is needed to slow the large increase in the cost of housing, which is making West Hollywood unaffordable to many. That argument is that an increase in demand without an increase in supply makes costs rise. We West Hollywood residents will want to know where the council candidates stand on this issue.
The City of West Hollywood has a strong rent stabilization program. But the state Ellis Act allows building owners to take rent-stabilized units off the market and evict their tenants. And state law allows a landlord to raise the rent of a rent-stabilized unit to the market level if the current tenant leaves. The result has been a slow erosion of the number of affordable housing units in WeHo. That erosion has been ameliorated somewhat by city requirements that developers of buildings of 10 or more units add affordable units or contribute to a city fund to build such units. But is that enough, especially considering the size of the waiting list for affordable housing? Are there other steps the city should be taking to ensure that current residents can continue to afford their homes and that the city will be able to welcome newcomers who aren’t wealthy?
This is an issue that’s never likely to go away in Los Angeles County, known worldwide for its focus on the automobile. Is the traffic really getting worse in West Hollywood? If so, is it because WeHo is a major pass-through point from commuters moving back and forth from East Los Angeles to Westside cities such as Beverly Hills and Santa Monica? To what degree is new housing development in WeHo a factor? Given that most WeHo residents don’t work here, and most WeHo workers don’t live here, could the city reduce traffic by providing more affordable housing for its service economy workers and/or supporting more creative economy jobs for its residents? Are there other possible solutions?
ETHICS AND OPTICS
West Hollywood has long promoted itself as a progressive city, which is true given its support for LGBT rights and Russian-speaking immigrants and seniors. But consider that a writer for another publication in Los Angeles describes WeHo as “the most progressive city money can buy.”
Whether or not that is true, the city certainly has an optics issue that is provocatively illustrated by that writer’s description. On the positive side, the City Council in the past year has implemented a number of ethics reform measures. But the fact that most of the money donated to City Council members’ election campaigns has come from out-of-town developers and some from city vendors adds to the council’s pay-for-play image.
Consider the decision to grant Townscape Partners, a major donor to the incumbents, permission to nearly double the size of a development at 8899 Beverly Blvd. that already was three times the size currently permitted under the city’s General Plan. Should the City Council have undertaken an overall review of the plan rather than chipped it away on Townscape’s behalf? Should the developer have had to make a stronger case for the City Council to grant such an exception? Perhaps creation of a certain number of new jobs or provision of a certain number of low-income housing units? And should council members who benefited from thousands of dollars in donations from Townscape and its owners and their families have recused themselves from voting on such a major project?
Another optics issue is the involvement of Councilmember John Duran in the Los Angeles Gay Men’s Chorus, whose board he chairs. GMCLA has received huge donations from Athens Services, the city’s trash vendor. And the City Council has extended Athens’ contract with West Hollywood by 15 years, an extension worth an estimated $150 million to Athens, without putting it out to bid to see if it could get a better deal. By all objective accounts, the Athens extension was a smart one. But given the donations to Duran’s favorite charity and to his election campaigns, it doesn’t look good.
Of course there are many other issues candidates should address. We’d like to hear your thoughts, written in the form of a question you’d like to see WEHOville put to a candidate. And please frame that question so the candidate is required to give a “yes” or “no” answer — no “if’s,” “ands,” or “buts.”