Proposal to Rescind WeHo’s Approval of the Arts Club on Sunset Will Be on March 2019 Ballot

Illustration of the Sunset Strip facade of the Arts Club during daylight hourse (Gensler architects)

Unite Here Local 11, a union representing hotel and restaurant workers, has obtained enough signatures to put on the March 5, 2019, ballot a measure that would require the West Hollywood City Council to rescind its approval of the Arts Club project on Sunset Boulevard.

The City Council on Sept. 4 gave final approval of a plan to build a local outpost of the London-based Arts Club, a project that is being backed by Gwyneth Paltrow. The council’s approval was necessary because the proposed building will be substantially higher and more dense that what is permitted under the city’s zoning ordinance and the Sunset Specific Plan.

“We feel like this is a historic in a lot of ways,” said Danielle Wilson of United Here. “In less than 30 days there was a coalition of over 60 people including residents and hotel workers and students who knocked on over 10,000 doors throughout the city.”

“The residents and voters of West Hollywood have spoken and sent a powerful message to the city’s leadership asking them to say ‘no’ to this luxury development project.”

The Arts Club will be housed in a 120,000-square-foot building on the lot where the Hustler sex accessories store now sites. It will include a restaurant, a lounge, a supper club, guest rooms for club members and a rooftop pool area as well as retail space and a public art gallery and performance rehearsal space. Ten of the guest rooms will be rented out as hotel rooms. The building is designed by architect Andy Cohen of Gensler.

The Arts Club has agreed to provide $13.5 million in benefits to the city. That includes the art gallery and rehearsal space and a staff to maintain it, which it values at $10.1 million, a contribution to city arts programs of $1.25 million over 10 years and an additional $1 million contribution to the city. The development will be located on the southeast corner of Sunset Boulevard and Hilldale Avenue, which now is occupied by a building that houses the Hustler porn and sex toy store.

As of publication, Unite Here has not responded to a request from WEHOville for comment on its petition.  In similar campaigns, including an unsuccessful one to block the Robertson Lane project, the union has said it is fighting to ensure that hotel and restaurant workers are paid fair wages and given appropriate benefits and protection. On Nov. 19 the West Hollywood City Council will have the matter on its agenda and may vote to rescind approval of the Arts Club or to proceed with letting it go on the March 2019 ballot, which is the expected result.

“We are very, very confident that the council will stand by their decision to approve the project,” said   Steve Afriat, the lobbyist representing the Arts Club. “And we are very confident we will prevail in the election.”

Afriat said he believed that random people approached by United Here signature gathers may not have understood what they were signing, but that would be clear when the item goes on the ballot.

The City Council approved the project in a four-to-one vote, with Councilmember John Heilman opposing it. Heilman said the Arts Club would be a “wonderful addition to West Hollywood and the Sunset Strip,” but he said the proposal would be “an outright repudiation of the Sunset Specific Plan” which limits the density of a project to a floor-area ratio of 1.5 and a height of 40 feet. The project as proposed has a floor-area ratio of 5.89 and 141 feet in height.

An option proposed by Heilman at a City Council meeting in August was to eliminate the 45,000 of office space proposed for the building, which he argued was included only to generate a profit for the developer and not to support the Arts Club. Heilman also said the Arts Club, which would be open only to its members, is adding to the “privatization” of the Sunset Strip. He cited the private SoHo House club and 1OAK, an exclusive night club, as other examples. Membership in the London Arts Club costs the equivalent of $2,547 in British pounds.

Heilman said he also was concerned that, if the Arts Club should leave the property, the new occupant of the property would not be required to fulfill requirements that the Arts Club had agreed to.

The Arts Club has agreed to provide $13.5 million in benefits to the city. That includes the art gallery and rehearsal space and a staff to maintain it, which it values at $10.1 million, a contribution to city arts programs of $1.25 million over 10 years and an additional $1 million contribution to the city.

Unite Here was required to obtain signatures of 10% of West Hollywood’s registered voters to put the proposal to rescind approval of the Arts Club on the ballot, which will include candidates for three City Council seats up for re-election and a proposal for a 7.5% local tax on recreational cannabis sales.

A group called the Committee to Preserve the Sunset Strip was formed to campaign against the Unite Here effort. As part of that campaign, registered voters received robocalls with the recorded voice of City Councilmember John D’Amico urging them not to sign the Unite Here petition. Genevieve Morrill, CEO of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, sent an email message to chamber members and supporters making the same request.

In an earlier story about the petition effort, D’Amico explained his support for the project. “I am very excited about this use on our famous boulevard,” he said. “It feels like a new beginning for entertainment on Sunset. And in a new world class building by a world class architect. And I am very excited about a portion of the public benefit, the 25-year commitment to the arts … and yearly funds to the arts commission grants budget.

“That’s why I agreed to speak up on behalf of the project, because it does deliver on all the things that WeHo promises – to be a place that takes care of residents, workers and visitors. And invents the culture other cities consume.”


40 Comments
  1. Democracy get’s a chance in #weho! Why not let residents vote on such massive density! On The Robertson Lane Project the developer paid the petition away ….Even more money – $150,515 – was spent by the “Save the Factory” committee established by Faring Property Group, the developer of Robertson Lane, to counter the union’s effort.Faring’s largest single expenditure was $49,529 to General Strategies of Burbank for canvassers who stood on city sidewalks asking residents to sign a “Save the Factory” petition and to agree to rescind their signature on the Unite Here petition if they had signed it earlier. Its second biggest expenditure was $17,500 paid to Scott Schmidt, who managed Faring’s “Save the Factory Campaign. Faring also spent $6,250 on advertising with various media, including WEHOville.

  2. Democracy gets a chance! Why not let the residents vote on a project of such massive density! Lets remember in the Robertson Lane Project the Developer Spent Even more money – $150,515 – was spent by the “Save the Factory” committee established by Faring Property Group, the developer of Robertson Lane, to counter the union’s effort.Faring’s largest single expenditure was $49,529 to General Strategies of Burbank for canvassers who stood on city sidewalks asking residents to sign a “Save the Factory” petition and to agree to rescind their signature on the Unite Here petition if they had signed it earlier. Its second biggest expenditure was $17,500 paid to Scott Schmidt, who managed Faring’s “Save the Factory Campaign. Faring also spent $6,250 on advertising with various media, including WEHOville.

    1. Democracy was alive and well during the whole process. All reports were made public. The Design Review Committee was a public forum. The Planning Commission was a public forum where the residents had a chance to speak their mind on the project. Same with the City Council Meeting. The vast majority that showed up and participated in the process this project went through voiced their support for approval and the Commission and the Council gave the people what they wanted – final approval of the Arts Club. Democracy worked well. The system worked. The union didn’t get their way and now their trying to undermine the people’s desire to have this built.

      1. Didn’t see you there during the public process. This was an “artfully” conceived project that seemingly made its way through the channels. Why was John Heilman the only one to pick up on the overreach? Dont ook a gift horse in the mouth for this well timed snag. If it was properly vetted it will proceed if not it will need adjustment.

  3. While not sympathetic to Unite Here in its campaign against Robertson Lane, perhaps their time has come to allow us to reevaluate The Arts Club. John Heilman clearly saw the problematic overreach of WeHo’s land use regulations. Members of the Planning Commission and other Council Members appeared lost perspective in the details amongst exaggerated public benefits, celebrity connections and questionable architectural value.

    Thanks for the possible redo.

    1. The time to evaluate is during the process not after the final decision has been made. Everyone was informed (if they chose to be). Everyone had a chance to speak. The commission and the council both made a decision in favor of the project. Everything was made public. To take spend more time, money and resources to second guess this is ridiculous. It’s only occurring now because the union didn’t get their way and they did everything they could to undermine the approval.

  4. There was no “coalition of 60 people” working on this, there were paid signature gatherers who had no knowledge of what they were asking people to sign & totally misrepresented themselves. They came to our house & I asked what it was & he said there were West Hollywood residents asking for this. I asked if he was a resident,. “No” How many Planning Commission meetings did you attend. “None”. How many City Council meetings did you attend “None” Are you being paid per signature. “Yes”. So it’s not ‘ a group of West Hollywood residents, it’s a union that was miffed that it won’t be a union property. Sleazy misrepresentation. If they’d talked to the public about any issues they had, that would have been one thing, would have given residents the information they needed before they signed or declined to sign. Same sleazy tactics they tried for the Factory project, and their efforts failed there. I’ll be doing everything in my power to make sure the outcome for this project remains the same.

  5. Unite Here is a very underhanded group. I asked them to leave my condo building, and they fought me, every time. Whether the project is liked or not, this union is evil.

  6. Democracy in action…something we have never seen in West Hollywood. Hopefully, it’s a start of something new. Old school politics by elected officials who bend the rules based upon campaign contributions are not effective. People are sick of it. Time to throw the bums out!

  7. The vast majority of residents that attended all the meetings this project went through were in favor of this project. The council voted in favor of this project. This project will be built! How dare the union come into our city and try to dictate to us what should be built. They didn’t get their way so they’re trying every trick in the book to stop it. Won’t happen!

    1. Once ALL of West Hollywood residents find out how ENORMOUS this project is, they will vote it down. There’s too much traffic in the city already!

      1. The project’s size has been made public time and time again every step of the approval process – the same process all projects go through. The public was no less informed about this project than they have been about any project before it. The overwhelming voice of the residents in this city was in support of this project and I’m confident that the voters will support the council’s final decision. This is not a case of the council going against the will of the people. This is a case of the council giving the residents what they wanted and the union not getting its way and trying to undermine the fair and thorough process the city has in place.

        1. I completely disagree. The residents had already agreed to the Sunset Specific Plan. Why give them so much more FAR? Why allow for so much height? Most importantly, why change part of the land that’s zoned for housing to commercial? This project has too many flaws.

          1. You don’t like the project. You think it’s too high. That’s different from you saying “once ALL of West Hollywood residents find out…” And what I am telling you is that all of the projects details and info has been made public time and time again throughout the public process every project goes through. The public had a chance to voice their approval or disapproval for the project at every meeting. The vast majority that participated in the process were in favor of the project. And then council gave the people what they wanted. For the union to try and undermine this process is not fair. Period. The same residents that participated in the process will be the same ones voting and they will reaffirm their support for the project at that time and this project will be built.

          2. You completely disagree that the public didn’t have a chance at every single meeting to speak their mind? How can you disagree with that? Would you like for me to send you the link to the meetings…you can watch them on the city’s website. You can see what you apparently missed and are only now participating in the discussion…long after the public hearings are over and the decision has been made. Perhaps next time you can make a point to join in the process while it’s actually occurring.

    2. I agree with JJ.

      Can anyone provide a copy of the information Unite Here circulated or used to obtain the alleged signatures? Were residences deceived into signing?

  8. This building is a monstrosity! Too big! Too tall! There is already too much traffic in the city. I’m sure this will get a resounding NO.

  9. This is the same scenario as the Robertson Lane project.
    The site won’t unionize, so the union threatens a petition to shut them down as retaliation.
    I’m generally pro-union, but these sleazy tactics are tarnishing their usefulness and reputation. Clear extortion.

    1. The only that is tarnished is the politicians that voted for this HUGE project. Finally the residents are getting their say-through direct democracy!

      1. So then, where do we draw the line? Does every project go on the ballot? You might not like them, but we have a Planning Commission and City Council for many reasons. If every large development had to be on the ballot, nothing would happen, which I’m sure would please many NIMBY residents.

        1. Randy,

          The only reason this can be sent to the ballot is because the council made changes to existing law. If they would’ve stayed within the confines of the Sunset Specific Plan there would be no referendum. I think the residents need to have a choice when parts of the land that are zoned for housing get changed to commercial.

          Let the residents decide. Do they want more housing or more commercial space.

        2. Exactly Randy. We have a process in place where staff, the public all give their say to the Commission and the Council and then they voted. In this case, staff recommended the project and the public wanted this project. The Planning Commission and the City Council both approved this project because of staff’s recommendation and the public’s overwhelming support of the Arts Club. It will be built.

    2. MarkT – EXACTLY. This whole nonsense about the residents not getting their say is total BS. There are a serious of meetings all projects have to go through and the public has their chance to weigh in every step of the way. I attended each and every meeting – some lasting hours – with the public speaking directly to the commissions and council. The vast majority spoke out (or wrote in) in favor of this project. There was only a small number that opposed it. The union was the main voice of opposition and when they didn’t get what they wanted they tried every trick they could to undo the will of the people. The council gave final approval to this project because the people wanted it. They will have it.

      1. Wake up and smell democracy at work. If the council would’ve stayed within the limits of the Sunset Specific Plan this wouldn’t have happened. Next time, the shouldnt change the zoning from housing to commercial, allow for more FAR and for more height.

        1. Democracy has a system in place. And this project went through the system. You (and the Union) don’t like the outcome and are now trying the last ditch effort to try and circumvent around that. The Specific Plan is a guideline and that guideline can and has been adjusted over the years as needed. Like with every project, there is a give and take and that is how things are done. I’m awake…are you?

          1. Lol. Someone is sure mad about the rights the citizens of West Hollywood have. I’m really happy all the voters will have a say about why the zoning was changed from housing to commercial to approve this project. With such a housing shortage why are we getting rid of housing? Do you think that’s fair JJ?

          2. Jon, you are really happy, that residents are going to have a say, while they get influenced by flyers, commercials, possibly, and lobbying? That is a much different process than people being engaged, and attending public meetings. Do you really think that they are going to be given valid, impartial information, with it being on the ballot? I sincerely doubt that.

            JJ is correct, all of the information was out there, people could have been engaged, and could’ve spoke up if they didn’t like this project. This is just political muscle from the union. We didn’t get their way. They tried the same thing with Robertson Lane, and failed.

            On this project, residents already had a say. Nobody extorted their rights. Now a well-funded group is going to get it on the ballot. Money rules everything.

  10. John Heilman’s comments were right on. This demonstrates that our land use regulations mean nothing when it comes to a deep pocketed developer who has retained a politically connected consultant. Basically the developer promised a rehearsal space for the Gay Men’s Chorus which immediately opened the door to getting around the already generous Sunset Specific Plan. Thanks to Unite Here we may be able to have a community discussion about how land use decisions are being made in our little city.

    1. “the proposed building will be substantially higher and more dense that what is permitted under the city’s zoning ordinance and the Sunset Specific Plan”

      Former Councilmember Martin is correct. The Sunset Specific Plan is already much more generous than the city’s general zoning laws. Considering that there is NO buffer between Sunset (or any commercial district, actually) and the residents who want to sleep at night so they can work during the day, this is a project far too big and far too intrusive for anyplace other than the Vernons and the Cities of Industries.

      The developer’s promise of “rehearsal space for the Gay Men’s Chorus” is a blatant kissing-of-a** of Mayor Duran (who is that organization’s Board President). Duran is now someone directly affected in a second way (the first being the proximity of his residence to the project) that requires him to recuse himself from the vote.

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