WeHo City Council Candidates Offer Their Opinions at Public Forum

Candidates at last night’s WeHo City Council election forum (Photo by Joseph Daniels, JosephDanielsPhotography.com)

The major issue raised at last night’s forum for candidates in the March 7 West Hollywood City Council race was development.

It dominated the discussion in the two-hour forum, which was sponsored by the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and the L.A. League of Women Voters. However, given that nine of the 10 candidates were present, there was little time for any of them to offer more than fleeting thoughts — the limit was 45 seconds each. Carla Romo was the only candidate who didn’t participate.

Some challengers in the race, notably Cynthia Blatt, a local activist who works for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said that new development is important for the growth of the community but that it must be better managed. “Planned development is okay. Unplanned development is not,” she said. “We have not planned our development and that is a problem, it is why we have so much traffic.”

Blatt was joined in that view by challengers Nate Clark, Amanda Goodwin and Reed Stillwell. Each of them runs his or her own business in the entertainment industry.

“Development is inevitable,” Goodwin said. “We have to have development to thrive as a city, to grow… but I think we need to put a moratorium on height and setbacks… For any of us to say we have to stop development would be disingenuous”

Clark, referencing complaints about a shortage of affordable housing, argued that the only way to “solve a housing crisis in a metro area is by increasing the inventory.” He, like others, said that shouldn’t be done at the risk of losing existing affordable housing.

Steve Martin, an attorney and former city council member, criticized what he called a “pay to play” culture in West Hollywood, alluding to the fact that real estate developers are major sources of contributions to the election campaigns of incumbents. Martin said an example of that is exceptions the city allows developers to its General Plan, which is an overall guide to city development. “We spent eight years putting together the general plan, and four years taking it apart,” he said.

Incumbent John Duran said that development is an issue in every city. He noted that when West Hollywood was first incorporated in 1984 many predicted it didn’t have a big enough tax base to generate the revenue required to run a city and provide social services. The growth of the city in terms of development did generate that revenue he said. “Overall I think development is beneficial to a community, it’s just important that it be responsible development,” he said.

Incumbent John Heilman, who has served on the city council since it was formed in 1984, noted: “We all live here because of development. Somebody developed the buildings we live in.” Heilman noted that not all proposed developments are good. But he cited as a positive example the soon-to-open Domain project at 7141 Santa Monica Blvd. which features apartments and shops and will replace the Faith Plating building, which sat on toxic soil.

Several candidates contended that new real estate development has taken a lot of affordable housing off the market in West Hollywood. Under the state Ellis Act, an apartment building owner can evict the tenants from his rent-stabilized building if he plans to take it off the rental market, perhaps by erecting a condo building.

“We have so many of our residents being forced out by irresponsible development,” Martin said.

However Duran, apparently citing a recent city study, noted that only 764 rent-stabilized apartment units have been removed from the market since 1986, which represents about 5% of all rent-stabilized units in the city. About 70 of them later were put back on the rent-stabilized apartment market. He and Heilman also noted that the city requires developers of buildings with 10 or more units to add affordable apartment units.

Candidate Michael Cautillo, who is division manager for Bloomingdale’s, said the city needs to do a better job of protecting rent-stabilized housing from those who want to develop other properties such as hotels.

Heilman noted that a challenge faced by West Hollywood is a state law that allows only residential buildings constructed in 1978 and earlier to be covered by local rent-stabilization laws.

Another issue that emerged in the illegal renting of apartments and homes on a short-term basis through services such as Airbnb. Goodwin said that Airbnb clearly is taking available apartments off the market as owners of them realize they can make more money renting to tourists.

Martin criticized the city’s enforcement of its ban on renting an apartment for few than 31 days. “The city’s ban is just a joke, and there’s no real enforcement,” he said. Martin said he supported allowing homeowners to rent out a room on a short term, as did Duran. But Duran noted that renting out a room in one’s apartment makes the apartment tenant vulnerable to eviction for violating his or her lease.

Michael Cautillo said he is opposed to such short-term rentals because they create safety issues with strangers in the building and rob the city of tax revenue that is generated by hotel room rentals.

Other topics raised by Robert Kovacic, the forum moderator, and by residents included how to deal with homelessness, what to do about the lack of parking in WeHo and whether the city poses too many restrictions on the opening of new businesses.

Most of the candidates argued that building more housing is essential from getting homeless people off the streets. However Blatt, a former social worker, said that alone won’t work. She suggested temporary solutions such as offering a warming center for the homeless in the West Hollywood Park Auditorium. Candidate Joel Quaresimo, who runs his own tech firm, agreed. “Homeless people do not want to live together,” he said. “We need micro units”

Council members Duran and Heilman and challenger Cautillo all stressed the importance of mental health and drug addiction services to deal with the issues that leave many homeless. The city has contracted with several agencies that currently provide those services to people on the streets.

In the discussion about parking several challengers said the city hadn’t required enough spaces for new hotels. The complexity of the city’s process for approving new businesses is a result of its concern about the impact businesses might have on nearby residential areas, Heilman said.

Blatt argued that the city should offer grants to support small business start-ups. And Clark noted that any incorporated business, whether large or small, is subject to city taxes. Martin recommended creating a task force with half of its members from the chamber of commerce to develop solutions.


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J Simmons
Guest
J Simmons

I don’t see the real weho from your general suggestions. 1. Homelessness is a local problem. We, the city, is small, and is actually the only government that knows the very particulars of our street layout, where problems are, and where problems hide. 2. UBER as your suggestion to solve the parking shortage is absurd. Some people actually need a car, and couldn’t possibly afford to be left with no option to parking their car because they have to rely on uber. 3. “greenspace” I have never heatd weho having “miles” of anything, let alone unused land covered by concrete.… Read more »

Reed Stillwell
Guest
Reed Stillwell

Larry, I agree with you haha. However, I found Amanda’s answers more satisfying on many of the issues and I could not be more enthusiastic and inspired by Nate. I think he’s a true grassroots candidate with a good balance of knowing how the system works and creativity to come up with new solutions for what doesn’t. Probably weird to say, as a candidate, but that’s how I roll. Tai, I’ll write an op-ed on your question. I would also love to hear your answer! 45 seconds while battling nerves was not so dreamy. Robert, I could not agree with… Read more »

David Reid
Guest

Why do so few vote in West Hollywood local elections? Absentee is EASY.
The council just committed the residents to $100,000,000 plus in bonds for the new Pride Park. Your local vote counts more than on national votes. Use your power.

J Simmons
Guest
J Simmons

I think the election of our new president explains it. It is not unique to weho. It is part of learned american psyche.

In Economics, they refer to it. It is long and boring but in sum, each person thinks their one vote won’t make a difference either way, so why bother.

I believe 180 poor democrats in one detroit underserved district didn’t vote, and those 180 votes would have changed the outcome for the president of over 350,000,000 people living in the US

Robert Muniz
Guest

If we’re going to solve the homeless problem in our city, we first must recognize and accept that what we are doing isn’t working. In part, the problem is much bigger than just West Hollywood and that makes the needed solution to be bigger than just WeHo. Some of the homeless are mentally ill and yet we as a society seem to think that allowing a person to live in squalor, covered in their own filth is the humane thing to do, the idea that they are entitled to their mental illness. I disagree with that point of view. There… Read more »

Geoffrey Buck
Guest
Geoffrey Buck

Thank you wehoville.com providing information about the March 7 City Council election. We are very lucky to live in West Hollywood. People from all over the country and world come to visit. As a forward looking city, my vision for the city would include: 1.Weho is too small and cannot alone ever solve the homeless problem. The city should look for regional solutions. 2. Parking may not a problem in the future as people use Uber and public transportation. 3. More greenspace. We have miles of city parkways along sidewalks that can be landscaped and concrete removed. 4. Weho should… Read more »

J Simmons
Guest
J Simmons

I don’t see the real weho from your general suggestions. 1. Homelessness is a local problem. We, the city, is small, and is actually the only government that knows the very particulars of our street layout, where problems are, and where problems hide. 2. UBER as your suggestion to solve the parking shortage is absurd. Some people actually need a car, and couldn’t possibly afford to be left with no option to parking their car because they have to rely on uber. 3. “greenspace” I have never heatd weho having “miles” of anything, let alone unused land covered by concrete.… Read more »

What about us?
Guest
What about us?

Affordable housing is nice, but is NOT going to help the wasted homeless guy who just relieved his bowels on the side of 24 Hour Fitness. We’ve all seen them, walked around them, avoided them- the ranters, the filthy, the mentally ill. West Hollywood has more of those than ever. Left unchecked, the number will continue to grow. I’d like to hear what the candidates plan to do for the property owners and residents. Money was taken from the unused sheriff budget and spent on the homeless. Why can’t the rest be used for the safety and quality of life… Read more »

Mike
Guest
Mike

Why is it important to go low and ask Tom to name the candidates. J – you said it yourself. “each educated vote…” So, don’t expect someone to be pressured in naming name and call that educating yourself!

Pick who you like, based on your knowledge, and vote for them.

Tom Smart
Guest
Tom Smart

I emailed 2 of the candidates that night and neither could be bothered to respond yet.

J Simmons
Guest
J Simmons

Surprised?

Why not name the two candidates so people will know who ignored your attempt to communicate.

weho is so small, each educated vote cast really can get a counsel eager to hear from the people who voted for a candidate to represent the people of weho and not only the big developers?

taiesteban
Guest

Great debate last night. I ate up (almost) every word that the candidates spoke. However, here’s the problem. We only get sound bites. There’s no way around it unless we had a 4-hour forum. Now that I think of it, I wish City Council meetings were required to keep responses to sound bites! But I digress…. If you were witty, could condense your response to 45-seconds, and/or had a joke or two, you could sail through a forum. But this City has deeper issues that haven’t been resolved (Eastside development, crime, cross walk safety, etc.) and require much more attention… Read more »

J Simmons
Guest
J Simmons

45 Seconds? What a farce.

Larry Block
Guest
Larry Block

Heilman and Duran showed a much deeper grasp on all the issues but it was nice to see a new generation coming up through the ranks.

Melissa Lipon
Guest
Melissa Lipon

Cynthia Blatt. What a welcome change. Someone who knows how to work with government and who is not in the pocket of the developers.