Citizens Agenda Week 2: The Size of City Events, Restoring the Council Deputy System and Entitlements for Developers

Earlier this month WEHOville asked West Hollywood residents what issues they wanted candidates in the March 7 City Council election to address. We received hundreds of responses and boiled them down to 11 key issues. We have asked each of the ten candidates in the election to offer his or her positions on these issues. On each Monday over the next few weeks we will publish one or two of the questions and the candidates’ responses.

3) Have events such as the annual Halloween Carnaval and L.A. Pride become too large for West Hollywood, given that they bring large amounts of traffic and noise to the city? Given the controversy of the management of L.A. Pride in recent years, which depends heavily on the city’s largess, should the city demand more transparency in how it raises and spends its money?

CYNTHIA BLATT

Cynthia J. Blatt (Photo by Dennis Trantham)

I believe that the city should conduct much more extensive and robust outreach to solicit community input about both the Halloween Carnaval and LA Pride as well as other major events that impact our streets and our neighborhoods. I think Halloween and Pride represent deeply important matters. They serve as powerful catalysts for people to come out safely. As a strong LGBT ally, I hope that Pride returns to its roots. I hope that Pride remains inclusive. And I believe that both of these festivals belong here…in West Hollywood.

Because these issues speak to the fundamental culture of our city, I feel compelled to ask why the city council has not been more proactive in engaging with the community in a dialogue about what type of events we want, how much traffic and noise is too much, and how the events we host address our values, our culture, and our vision for the future of West Hollywood. The city has historically been reluctant to have a meaningful and comprehensive conversation about the volume, the value and the cost of the events that are co-sponsored or hosted by the city and how our quality of life is enhanced or affected by these events. I think that everyone will agree that all non-profit entities that seek to enter into partnerships with the city should be required to be transparent in how the funds generated by city-sponsored or co-sponsored events are allocated.

MICHAEL CAUTILLO

I do not believe that events such as the annual Halloween Carnaval and L.A. Pride have become too large. Although they do bring noise and traffic to our city, the excitement, revenue, publicity, marketing, tourism, etc. far outweigh the less desirable aspects of these events. Moreover, L.A. Pride is much more than an event. There is a source of pride and sense of belonging that is steeped in the culture and history of our city. It is essential that we keep our history alive as LGBTQ people. Pride events were born of acts of civil disobedience like the Stonewall Riots in cases where we were forced to assert ourselves in order to be given our civil rights.

Although the Pride event has become largely one of celebration, as it should, we must continue with at least some of the political or activist character as well. Having said this, I think it is right to question the management of these events and demand true transparency with regard to financial accounting.

NATE CLARK

I do not believe that Halloween or Pride have become “too large” for West Hollywood, and I believe that the Sheriff’s Department does a great job of maintaining safety at each event (particularly at the Halloween Carnival this past year).

Both events generate significant revenue for area businesses, and I believe they should continue as long as they are maintained safely.

However, I’ve been increasingly disappointed by the offerings at Pride for several years. It’s become less of a celebration, and more of an opportunity for corporate sponsors to shill their products to our community. I would advocate for more transparency from event planners, and carefully consider more extensive input from the LGBTQ community.

JOHN DURAN

Both Halloween and L.A. Pride are very important to the branding of West Hollywood as an LGBT community. The city has a brand of being colorful, outrageous, trendy, exciting, fabulous and entertaining. Both of these events enhance that brand which leads to increased tourism and hotel/sales taxes which provides the necessary revenues for us to take better care of our residents.

The city is not run “like a business.” The city produces no profits itself. It has a symbiotic relationship with our business community to prosper in order to give us the taxes to support our residential services. Both Halloween and L.A. Pride are very important to our businesses and provide them with two of the busiest weekends of the year. CSW/L.A. Pride is like any other non profit 501©(3) organization, which is required to provide its 990 Statements to the public showing its income and expenses.

AMANDA GOODWIN

Amanda Goodwin

The Pride Parade and Halloween have thrived in West Hollywood. Living a block off the boulevard, I have no complaints, feeling the city, the Sheriff’s Department and Fire Department have done an excellent job in controlling traffic and providing safety to the revelers. There are some areas where gridlock occurs, i.e. in West Hollywood West. I would recommend better traffic management. Also, it would be helpful if Charles Cohen would be more supportive opening the PDC parking structure during these events.

Transparency is ALWAYS needed and the city has a right to know that money is being properly raised and spent with all businesses the city partners with, ensuring ethics.

JOHN HEILMAN

John Heilman

The Halloween Carnaval and L.A. Pride events are important events for West Hollywood. Both events have a positive impact on our business community. While the events are large, we need to remember that for many people in the region, attending an LGBT Pride event is an important political statement.

The Pride event also serves as an important place for members of the community to connect with organizations and obtain information about HIV/AIDS and issues impacting the LGBT community.

Halloween is an event which draws regional, national and international visitors to the community. We always need to look at these large scale events and do our best to minimize the impact on our community.

The city should demand more transparency with respect to the Pride festival. The community is entitled to know how the organization is conducting its business as well as knowing what money is generated and how it is spent.

STEVE MARTIN

I have been attending Pride in West Hollywood since the late 70’s so I have an emotional attachment to Christopher Street West. But unless CSW wants to become irrelevant, it needs to be transparent and reflective of Los Angeles’ diversity.

West Hollywood City Council candidate Steve Martin
Steve Martin

It pains me to say this, but perhaps CSW would be revitalized if the venue was moved out of West Hollywood. West Hollywood can always invent our own Pride event. But this conversation belongs to the wider community, not just the city council.

Halloween is on the verge of becoming unmanageable; it is expensive and becoming a potentially dangerous target. Each year the event is less about West Hollywood and more of an event for outsiders. Maybe the community would benefit from a smaller, locally oriented event.

We should be more imaginative and create smaller scale events that focus on bringing West Hollywood folks together rather than events that are designed to be expensive regional draws. We can do more in our parks, particularly at night, to bring out residents for low-key concerts, dancing or dining events. Our parks could feature events such as weekly food trucks, art festivals featuring local artists, Shakespeare readings, occasional summer beer garden. Drag shows or dance floors for outdoor ball room or square dancing might bring more local residents out to enjoy community camaraderie. Locally focused events can foster a greater sense of community.

JOEL QUARESIMO

I have very strong feelings on both these issues. The annual Halloween Carnival has become a joke. Originally it was just for West Hollywood residents and all of the local businesses were able to profit from food and alcohol.

The city has sold us out. Today it is all food vendors from out of the city, and that takes away business locally. Not one local business has a food stand.

It is advertised citywide and attended by people from all over the Los Angeles. It has become so crowded and dangerous most locals won’t even go. It has become a huge security issue.

I believe Halloween needs to be re-evaluated and cut back in size and take in the city businesses only.

CARLA ROMO

West Hollywood is known for its iconic L.A. Pride celebrations and Halloween Carnaval. I was drawn to WeHo and love my neighborhood for its vibrant, inclusive celebrations. While large crowds and traffic delays are not desirable for every weekend, the exposure that these celebrations bring to our city and its businesses greatly outweighs any temporary overcrowding.

It is never too late for WeHo to create policies that provide increasing transparency regarding finances. Better transparency in our dealings can provide a better sense of trust in our city’s leadership.

REED STILLWELL

Reed Stilwell

I’m in favor of continuing these two events, which are important to many segments of the West Hollywood community. However, it’s clear that these events can cause hardships on some residents and businesses in the area.

We need to get ahead of the curve in developing appropriate limits on how these events are run by aggressively studying other cities and how they handle events equivalent to ours, such as the Pride festivals in Portland, Austin,or St. Paul and Minneapolis. We should apply their best practices and work to strike a better balance for everyone.

As for transparency, I favor more transparency with all operations of any organization doing business with or requiring permits from the city. Any organization receiving money or support from the city should be completely transparent in its actions.

4) At least one member of the current WeHo City Council laments the elimination of the council deputy system, and some residents have said that elimination has made it harder for them to reach city officials. If elected, would you advocate for recreating the former system or some version of it And if so, why and how?

CYNTHIA BLATT

The elimination of the council deputy system consisted of the summary dissolution of a Union Bargaining Unit. As such the action itself was illegal. As a current member of the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE), Local 1450, I was stunned by this blatant act of union busting, and as a former union steward, had this been attempted in my union I would have fought it tooth and nail, regardless of the excuses for attempting such an action. There was no warning, there was no progressive discipline, there was no respect for all unions everywhere and it was, in my opinion disgraceful. What I witnessed was blatant victim blaming in its lowest form, a disregard for the facts of what had happened, and a series of emotional attacks that were both vicious and undeserved against union members. So yes, I believe the deputy system should be reinstated as it was illegally dissolved.

To counter the false and ultimately irrelevant accusation that the deputies were overpaid, I draw your attention to the salary and benefit levels of our city manager and our directors and managers in the City of West Hollywood that you can see for yourselves at: www.transparentcalifornia.com. I am sure you will see that among the $450,000, $382,000, and $250,000 compensation levels, the deputies at $150,000 were at the very low end of the pay scale for the level of their positions.

Furthermore, it is stunning to me that no one looked at what was done to them by a Human Services Department whose fundamental job it was to protect the union employees of West Hollywood from the harassment and discriminatory behavior of their superiors in the hierarchy or that no one considered amidst all the name calling and criticism, exactly what the deputies did for the citizens of West Hollywood.

Who do you think controlled the size of the city council agendas? Who do you suppose provided access and constituent attention to the problems that citizens bring to City Hall every day? Who do you suppose worked directly with the Sheriff to bring to their attention crime spikes of which they may not have been aware? Who do you suppose worked directly with their council members to research and help bring forth their initiatives and provided you access to your council member?

I ask you to think about it carefully. And with whom were the deputies replaced? Was this a more efficient and cost effective solution? Take a look for yourselves at the city’s budget and employee raises this year. It looks to me like the system used to replace the deputies is more expensive, less effective and anything but a solution. These new employees were wittingly or unwittingly brought under the heading of union busters themselves and given what happened to their predecessors have good reason to live in fear if they annoy or fail to please (in the most salacious of meanings) anyone above them in the hierarchy. But again and finally, summarily dissolving a bargaining unit and firing union employees protected by that bargaining unit is illegal. I ask all union members everywhere to think about that.

MICHAEL CAUTILLO

Michael Cautillo

I am advocating now to recreate the former council deputy system, regardless of whether I am elected or not. This is a necessity, not just for council members, but for the entire city to run at its peak. I feel comfortable saying this as a non-incumbent who, seeing this from the outside, understands the great work all of the city’s staff bring to the council. These are experienced knowledgeable advisers who are needed for the city council to make the best and most informed decisions for West Hollywood.

Years ago, it surprised me to learn that council members are not meant to be full-time civil servants. The original intention was to have neighbors, who have other careers and other interests, serve on the council to make decisions that would direct this community down the right path. While I disagree that it has become harder to reach city officials, the council is earning a reputation as being too insular and out of touch with the 35,000 people who live in this small city.

Council members were never intended to be lifelong politicians with a full-time job and careers in government. This is exactly why West Hollywood voted for term limits three years ago by a margin of 2 to 1. We want a fresh perspective and we want change in our council. Deputies are a vital part of this process in order for us to have positive change.

NATE CLARK

No. The previous deputy system — and the politics that came with it — were an embarrassment to the city.

I believe that council should share a dedicated support staff of administrative personnel. Ideally, there will be three administrative positions: one administrtor to cover the mayor, and four to cover the remaining four council members. The entire team will be hired with joint input from all council members, and the team will work together in an open office environment.

JOHN DURAN

John Duran
John Duran

West Hollywood is a small town where elected and city officials are generally available to any member of the public. Given the current litigation of former deputy Ms. Rex against the city, I am not free to comment further about the former system or a successor system. I can only say generally that West Hollywood is highly responsive to our residents in every department.

I would welcome a comparison to individuals in other neighboring cities and the lack of response they experience from other local governments compared to our very hard working city employees. We have been trying the new system for just over one year. If it doesn’t work, we can make changes in the future.

Additionally, I am not aware of any resident stating they have difficulty in reaching me whether by telephone, email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or the shopping aisles at Pavillion’s!

AMANDA GOODWIN

I have never had an issue getting in touch with any council member, via email, nor receiving a response; however, that does not mean the system at present is 100% functional. A leaner deputy system may prove to be more effective and less bias. Three deputies per five council people sounds sufficient, leaving money for other budgetary necessities.

Many factors are at play and it would be based on the individual deputies, their execution and collaboration; able to work efficiently, provided that the leadership is clear from the council members and no one deputy showing favoritism.

JOHN HEILMAN

The former council deputy system was eliminated for a variety of legitimate reasons. Council members have full time jobs outside of the City so they were not able to adequately supervise the deputies. Having five council deputies also resulted in frequent duplication and inefficiency.

I do not support restoring the council deputy system. Instead, we need to continue to review our current system to make sure it is responding to the needs of the community. We always need to look at making sure we are accessible and responsive to the community.

STEVE MARTIN

West Hollywood City Council candidate Steve Martin
Steve Martin

I have heard countless complaints that council members are not as accessible and that the public’s ability to communicate issues to the third floor (of City Hall) are stifled due to the lack of a system that insures open lines of communication. That does not make for good governance.

I think council members should have individualized support staff. That could take the form of use of interns whose position might only last a year or part-time aides. The personnel should come from a pool that is advertised and interviewed and approved by the city manager or human resources rather than being based upon the whim of the council member. I am not tied to any single approach; we don’t have to replicate the exact same program or the same salaries.

Many of the recent criticisms of the deputy program are legitimate and it may be impossible to resurrect them as non-political public servants. Ideally we can learn from our mistakes and put together a program that works. But if elected, I am not counting on having a deputy.

I will hold regular office hours at City Hall to insure that residents can meet me and that I can be responsive to the needs of the public. Fortunately I am self-employed, and I can dictate my own schedule. My concern is that city government is as open, transparent and accessible as possible.

JOEL QUARESIMO

Joel Quaresimo

The deputy system was broken. The deputies received large pay and were not really doing the job for the public.

There were several lawsuits against the city by the deputies that should never have happened and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I would never recreate the system that was in place. These people were more like political operatives then assistants.

I feel the correct organization is for the council itself to hire, at reasonable pay, assistants to the council who would work for all of the members. They would need to show up at regular hours unlike the previous deputies and would not be working for just one council member but for the council as a whole.

Instead of a one-on-one we could have three assistants who do the work for the entire council.

This would better serve the public and be cost effective. It would eliminate the danger of personal one on one relationship since everyone on the council should know what the other members are doing.

CARLA ROMO

Carla Romo

The deputy program was previously unsuccessful because of its scandalous relationships and chaotic organization. If it were to be reintroduced, its primary objective would need to be creating consistent and easy communication between residents and council members. The job description, hiring process, and salary would all need to be restructured to serve the city not the personal needs of council members.

REED STILLWELL

It would be my preference, as a city council member, to directly interact with the people I represent. However, I am in favor of restructuring the current system in place so that it provides more efficiency and accessibility for the residents.

I think one of the main issues we really need to resolve, as a community, is the apparent lack of connection between the residents and their representatives. I truly believe if the community doesn’t feel heard, they don’t engage in civic action. And, if they don’t engage in civic action, we don’t grow as community.

I think everyone suffers from the lack of structure and engagement with the current system, council members included. I feel the most effective approach would be to focus on the City Manager’s office, ensuring that it’s appropriately supported and staffed, functioning in an efficient way in conjunction with the council members.

I see the benefits of the deputy system, but my doubts of overcoming the negatives that ultimately led to the dismantling of that system outweigh the positives.

5) Currently developers can negotiate specific entitlements or special privileges for a particular project and then turn around and sell that project, enabling them to make a larger profit without actually working to complete the project. Should the city require new owners of a project to reapply for entitlements?

CYNTHIA BLATT

The issue here is that when a developer’s project is approved, the entitlements become the permit for the structure(s); they run with the land and thus belong to any new owners automatically. What becomes problematic is that when a developer decides to sell to a new developer, that new developer can go to the city and request amendments to the original permit (entitlements). These amendments can be and often are approved by the city at the staff level and the permit is changed administratively with no public information or input. The amendments can make the original permit completely unrecognizable and an entirely different building project is then approved with no public input whatsoever.

In order to maintain the city’s requirement to hold public hearings and solicit public comment on new projects, there are changes to our municipal code that I think would bring this process into compliance with the requirements of our General Plan. The city should prevent or limit the number of amendments to a project and state that projects cannot be amended administratively. This would prevent the original design that was accepted and permitted from morphing into a project unrecognizable from the original development on which there were public hearings and public comment. An additional remedy to the problem would be to limit the time that the entitlements last to a very finite period. State and national building codes change every three years. Recognizing this fact, I think it would make sense to require time limits on entitlements.

So I would consider a two-year limit to getting all funding in place and a five-year maximum limit to build. This would bring the permits/entitlements into alignment with the state and national building codes.

MICHAEL CAUTILLO

Absolutely. The city should require new owners of a project to reapply for entitlements and I would go a couple of steps further. I believe we must narrow or eliminate the ability of developers to negotiate entitlements and privileges. In the rare case that one is approved, the city must ensure that there is an overwhelming public benefit from which all residents will be advantaged.

In addition, we must do a more thorough job investigating and enforcing every developer’s performance during and after construction. There should be stiff penalties, including monetary fines, as well as other penalties to discourage violations of approved plans. Additionally, the city should base its approvals, at least in part, on past performance by developers with regard to agreements with West Hollywood as well as other municipalities.

NATE CLARK

Nate Clark

I believe that entitlements and variances granted by the city should be tied to a specific project, i.e. the scope and intent of the development. If a project is sold in its entirety — plans, purpose, etc. — I believe entitlements should go with it.

But this question is skirting around the bigger question: should we do something to prevent developers from unfair access to entitlements? YES.

I propose that West Hollywood adopt an ordinance that bans campaign contributions from developers (similar to a recent L.A. City Council proposal). Further, I believe that entitlements and variances should be issued very sparingly. The code should be updated, and then enforced.

If elected, I will expedite the distinction of specific “neighborhood overlay” zones (similar to West Hollywood West and the current Norma Triangle proposal). These will be based on the direct input of residents, businesses, and environmental groups, and will lead to zoning requirements that reflect the geographic and structural diversity of our city.

JOHN DURAN

While it is true that occasionally land use entitlements are transferred or sold, the conditions of approval are still mandated and do not change. In the most recent development agreements that we have approved, we have added clauses that if there is a transfer of entitlements, the public will receive additional public benefits under the agreement.

AMANDA GOODWIN

Yes. New owners should re-apply. The whole process needs to be revisited and reviewed. Period.

JOHN HEILMAN

When a property owner gets entitlements to build something new or renovate an existing building those entitlements “run with the land.” This means that when the property is sold, the new owner has the same entitlements.

This is why we should always focus on the pros and cons of a proposed development and not on whether we like the property owner or the architect.

Requiring a new owner to reapply for entitlements is probably not something the city can legally do. Instead, the city has adopted shorter time periods for entitlements. When a project is approved, the owner of the property no longer can get an unlimited number of extensions. This makes it more difficult for a property owner to obtain approvals and then sell the property to someone else.

STEVE MARTIN

“Development agreements,” which allow developers and the city to enter into agreements that allow intensification of development in excess of what is allowed in the General Plan in return for “public benefits” the city receives, are generally done outside of the public purview. I disfavor this process and I would put a moratorium on all new development agreements until the council can craft appropriate guidelines to clearly define “public benefit” and make the process transparent.

In general entitlements need to have shorter shelf lives. An approved development should break ground within two to three years. If a developer sells the entitlements in that period I don’t see that as a major problem. Where a problem arises is that projects often get delayed for several years and by the time ground is broken the traffic studies are probably moot and there may have been significant changes in the area.

Another problem is that as years drag by there are serial requests from subsequent holders of the development rights who return to city council time and again to request for additional entitlements such as increased height or waivers of parking or other code requirements. These requests are generally not noticed to the neighborhood and are not subject to public scrutiny. Furthermore traffic studies do not include realistic projections of future traffic based upon previously developed projects that have not yet been constructed. This ultimately exacerbates issues of traffic circulation.

In short development rights should not be treated as some sort of speculative asset and deadlines for breaking ground will assure that the city can realistically monitor the pace of development.

JOEL QUARESIMO

I completely disagree with this process. We are now a sought after location and we do not need to give incentives out left and right to attract developers.

The last thing we should be doing is allowing speculators to cash in on our city.

Entitlements that are negotiated should remain part of that specific project. If the project is sold then the new developer will need to renegotiate any entitlements or special waivers.

CARLA ROMO

When it comes to development in West Hollywood we need to ensure it is serving the community. It is time to put an end to the loopholes that allow developers to build. The council needs to take their time when approving development to understand all aspects.

If owners need to reapply for entitlements it will cause a backup in moving forward. The goal is to create development in West Hollywood that supports our residents while preserving the integrity of our city.

REED STILLWELL

No, as long as whoever acquires the project is required to comply with all the rules, regulations, and stipulations of the entitlements. Even though developers may be making a larger profit, they are doing a lot of legwork that supports small businesses that may not have the infrastructure, funds, connections or time necessary to obtain entitlements.

Entitlements and permits crush the growth of small business development. If new owners are forced to reapply, more than likely, we will see a lot more Chipotle and Starbucks and a lot fewer Alfred’s. And I personally favor the waffle cone espresso shot!

On Jan. 23 City Council candidates will address questions as to whether it has become more difficult for residents to participate in council meetings.   Last week candidates addressed questions on whether experience matters and how to respond to the election of Donald Trump.


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taiesteban
Guest

Hank you do us a great service by providing this forum, many thanks. Here are my thoughts on all the responses by posed by the 3 questions: 1. Regarding the Halloween Carnival and LA Pride, the one question I’m left with is, “What is the vision for our City with respects to our place in the region?” Without knowing who we want to be, it’s hard to simply state that the events are getting too large or should be outside City boundaries. Like it or not, WeHo is renowned for its festivals. So, do we say, “Ok, let’s be big,… Read more »

JJ
Guest
JJ

John Heilman!! And I have to say that each and every time that I’ve ever contacted a city councilmember they have always responded.

Rudolf Martin
Guest
Rudolf Martin

Yes to Steve Martin and Cynthia Blatt.