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.”