The developer of the proposed Robertson Lane hotel, restaurant and retail project has launched a street campaign to counter an effort by the hotel and restaurant workers union to block the project.
The union, United Here Local 11, announced in April that it would attempt to put on the Nov. 8 ballot an item that would force the West Hollywood City Council to rescind its approval of Robertson Lane, if the Council actually agreed to let the project move forward. The City Council did approve the Robertson Lane project on June 4 in a four-to-one vote. City Councilmember Lauren Meister was the only one who opposed it.
To get a measure rescinding the decision on the general election ballot, United Here will have to obtain signatures of 10% of the city’s 26,000 registered voters, and a majority of the voters on Nov. 8 would have to approve it.
Faring, the developer of Robertson Lane, has engaged Scott Schmidt, a local political consultant, to organize the counter campaign. As of yesterday, people have begun appearing on the sidewalks in West Hollywood asking people not to sign the union petition or if they have to sign a document rescinding their support for that petition. The campaign also has purchased ads on WEHOville.
The Faring campaign is called “Save the Factory.” That is a reference to The Factory building, an historical and cultural landmark that sits on the site of the Robertson Lane project, which extends from Robertson Boulevard west to LaPeer Drive just south of Santa Monica Boulevard.
Faring, whose CEO is local developer Jason Illoulian, faced opposition to its initial plan for Robertson Lane when it proposed to demolish the building. Erected in 1929, The Factory building has connections to both motion picture history and LGBT history. Between 1929 and 1946, the building was the home of the Mitchell Motion Picture Camera factory, one of the early makers of motion picture cameras. Between 1974 and 1992, the building was the site of the large Studio One nightclub, a famous dance club which catered primarily to gay patrons.
Faring responded to the complaints by agreeing to repurpose The Factory. Its revised plans will include most of The Factory building, which will be turned at an angle so that it parallels Robertson Boulevard. Faring also has agreed to commemorate the gay history of Studio One. While that garnered support for the project from the L.A. Conservancy and the West Hollywood Preservation Alliance, Faring’s plans were still opposed by Kate Eggert and Krisey Gosney, who formed the Dead History Project.
United Here’s opposition to the project emerged relatively late in the several year period in which Faring pushed it through the city’s approval process. In an announcement of its petition drive in April, the union said it opposes the recognition of Studio One because the gay club discriminated against women and African-American men. The union noted that Don Kilhefner, an LGBT historian, has been critical of the project and how it portrays the history of Studio One.
“Kilhefner and other activists have criticized the project for ‘whitewashing’ the nightclub’s more controversial history and failing to take a proactive role in combating ongoing racism and sexism in the hospitality industry,” said the announcement.
However, Faring has said that it actually does plan to call out both the positive and negative aspects of the Factory’s history. In an environmental impact report submitted to the city as part of its application for approval of Robertson Lane, Faring states its intention to put together an oral history project “addressing the history and varied experiences of visiting the nightclub.” It also plans an “on-site interpretation and commemoration of the building’s significant association with LGBTQ history, culture and equality in West Hollywood.”
Faring has gotten support for its plans from Charles Stewart, the first co-chair of the National Association of Black & White Men Together (BWMT), which was founded in 1980, and Wes Joe, a gay activist with the Asian-American Pacific Islanders group. “I’m thankful Studio One’s complicated history, including its discriminatory admissions policies, have been explicitly addressed in the [Robertson Lane] mitigations,” Joe said in a document submitted to the city Historical Preservation Commission.
Supporters of Robertson Lane view United Here’s petition drive as an effort to force Faring to require the developer of the hotel on the property to accept an employee union. United Here also has come under criticism for lobbying to exempt hotels with a unionized staff from having to pay the minimum wages for hotel workers established in cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland and Santa Monica. Such union exemptions do not have to meet state and federal pay standards and are alleged to make hotel owners more receptive to unionization of their employees.