Opinion: A Review of West Hollywood’s 2018

As West Hollywood barrels into 2019, we might take a quick look in the rear view mirror to get a quick glimpse of the events of 2018. The potholes of 2018 will undoubtedly be revisited in 2019.

Back in March I was downtown with my friends for the March Against Gun Violence. While there was something of a festive air reflecting the crowd’s solidarity, there was no doubt about our grim purpose. We joined a horde of newly minted youthful activists whose infectious enthusiasm was inspiring. Parents with children in strollers, old progressive foot soldiers and bright rainbow flags flashed color among the banners and Donald Trump effigies. While nobody was foolish enough to think a couple of marches would make a difference, it felt good to take the first steps in a long journey.

But this was soon followed by a cringe worthy event, the circus-like presentation of the key to the city to Stormy Daniels.

Sponsored by Mayor John Duran and Councilmember John D’Amico, with support of the City Manager’s office, this event represented the difference between principled Resistance to the Trump Administration and the opportunistic “resistance” by people trying to exploit our anger and frustration over the disaster in D.C. Many residents did not see the basis for proclaiming Daniels a “hero of the Resistance,” much less giving her sleazy attorney a platform. Embracing questionable figures simply because they are plaguing Donald Trump is similar to Trump’s embrace of authoritarian dictators who demean American values simply because it suits his agenda. Watching our elected officials fawning over Daniels, I could only imagine the consternation of local parents explaining to their children why West Hollywood thinks Daniels is some sort of a role model.

Ivy Bottini, the lesbian activist and a founder of NOW, lambasted the Daniels presentation at the next City Council meeting, saying she was embarrassed that Duran and D’Amico were “giddy” to be sharing the stage with a porn star. As she spoke Mayor Duran tried to interrupt her and finally called up the Sheriff to remove her from the podium. This high-handed attempt to limit a historic figure’s First Amendment rights by a self-proclaimed “civil rights” attorney sparked outrage in the community.

In 2018 the City Council accepted that its estimates regarding the bike share program were totally unrealistic, and it finally decided to revamp the program that was running at a deficit of over $400,000 annually.

After much posturing, the city announced that we would be banking with Wells Fargo for a while longer despite the bank’s history of predatory behavior. It appeared that the city placed so many politically correct conditions upon whom we would bank with that more credible institutions such as Bank of America or Chase decided they were not interested in our business.
Instead of voting to send out a new proposal to banks, the City Council tabled the matter, leaving a subcommittee made up of Duran and D’Amico to discuss how to proceed. So far they haven’t come back with a suggestion.

This was a victory for Wells Fargo and its strategic corporate giving and its ability to find people in the community who are willing to give legitimacy to bad corporate players. In this case it was our mayor, John Duran, who praised Wells Fargo for its giving to LGBT causes, which just happen to include the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles. Coincidentally, Duran is chair of the GMCLA board of directors. While it was documented that Wells Fargo had defrauded over 1.1 million Americans, apparently the fact that at least 10% of these victims of corporate malfeasance would be gay or lesbian never occurred to our mayor. Once again West Hollywood proudly leads the progressive charge. As community activist Jeanne Dobrin once famously told the L.A .Weekly; “This city is for sale!”

2018 was also the year in which we lost Ed’s Café, a beloved institution on Robertson Blvd. If there was one constant in West Hollywood, it was change.

The Sunset Strip continued to be the focus of attention in 2018. The city approved the “Sunset Spectacular” whose only obvious reason to exist was to profit billboard companies. While the project will generate revenue for the city, it is not clear if residents will see any actual benefits such as lowering of parking meter rates or cleaner sidewalks.

In September the city confronted “AKA West Hollywood” over its conversion of 110 units of housing on Sunset and La Cienega boulevards into an “extended stay” hotel. By a 3 to 2 vote the city decided to enforce the development agreement that called for these units to be used as “residential house”. This led Councilmember John D’Amico to quip that West Hollywood has no shortage of luxury housing. Of course the same can be said about luxury hotel space. This vote was as much about honoring our development agreements with developers as it was about housing. It was an issue of keeping a semblance of integrity in our development process.

2018 was also the year when we saw developers engage in aggressive community outreach to build public support for projects that far exceed the General Plan. Faring led the way with its 11-story hotel project at the old Studio One site. It sold the project as a “preservation” of the architectural history of the site and found allies in the preservation community. That gave Unite Here Local 11 an opening to launch a campaign to “Save the Factory” to force the developer to actually preserve the structure rather than provide “homage” to it.

But that bush war was nothing compared to huge sales pitch made by the Arts Club, which intends to develop a club house for the 1% on the Hustler store site on the Strip. The Arts Club spent nearly a quarter of a million dollars doing outreach to generate support for this over-the-top, nine-story project. Nearly 40% of the project is being built on a residentially zoned area on the south side of the parcel that should have been developed as housing. We are losing both housing and the mandatory affordable housing units. John Heilman denounced the vote as a betrayal of the General Plan and a perversion of the Sunset Specific Plan. You know that when John Heilman and I both agree on an issue, something has to be wrong with the project.

Much of the support for the Arts Club was based upon disinformation, particularly about its supposed $13 million public benefit. Aside from a million in cash to the city and a $125,000 annual contribution to our public arts program for a decade, most of the rest of the value is based upon imaginary numbers concocted by the developer. This development, with its 11 luxury “guest” units, does little to help West Hollywood’s long term economic goals and demonstrates just how much deep pockets can skewer the city’s planning process. Fortunately sufficient signatures in opposition to this project were collected, so we will be voting on it in the upcoming March election.

As the year wound up, the two -ear effort by the city to develop a plan to deal with earthquake retro-fitting for rent-stabilized units by having tenants pay for half the costs came to a sudden end when the council voted not to allow a pass through of any of the costs to tenants.
This vote does not put low-income tenants in the clear; landlords can still apply to the city for rent increases which, if founded warranted, will be paid by tenants. This could actually put long term, low-income tenants at greater risk.

The year ended with Larry Block reciting his annual holiday poem where he tactlessly brought up the issue of John D’Amico’s promise not to run for a third term.

Aside from our March City Council election, in 2019 we can look forward to a spectacular celebration to commemorate the 35th anniversary of John Heilman’s accession to the Council dais. Incidentally it will also be the 35th anniversary of the incorporation of the City of West Hollywood.

But whatever happens in 2019 it is always easy to predict we live in interesting times in a very interesting city.

  1. I must point out that my commentary gave an incomplete and unfair description of the City’s relationship with Wells Fargo Bank. This issue is not over and Council members Meister, Horvath and D’Amico are on record as having objections about a continued relationship with Wells Fargo. I feel bad that this aspect of the issue was not made clear.

    Thank you for all your comments; as always I appreciate the fact that we have an opinionated community and that we are not bashful about expressing our views.
    Have a wonderful and Happy 2019!

    Steve Martin

    PS I was poking fun of John Heilman but many of you will note that I have made several statements in 2018 regarding his positive leadership particularly in regard to AKA West Hollywood and the Art’s Club.

  2. I approve this honest lambaste of the creative little city that isn’t any more.

    Baksheesh has been a well-used word globally (at least by me in a couple of countries). It is an eternal concept and practice that is guaranteed to endure. Monetary Ebola; a very contagious plague. Our nation uses it more and more often (2018 has been a banner year nationwide). No cure in sight. It is a better word than networking – but of course, networking is PC – therefore we must use it instead. Residents should take note. WeHo has been exposed to the plague.

    Relentless construction of crappy, faux modern apt. buildings infest the East Side. Cui bono? Certainly not renters. Our much lamented and much ignored homeless are scattered throughout the city. Too many people, too little interest. Retrofitting. Landlords hardly make repairs. Red tagged buildings are write-offs. We have free retrofit ads posted on our digs. I suppose this is a ploy to regard an owner with favor.

    Thank you Mr. Martin. I support Lauren Meister, who gets it. And John D’Amico. I suggest Mr. Heilmann receive – for his 35 years of dedication and devotion to his city – The Strom Thurman Award.

    Ad copy on this same page made me chuckle – “Many Hollywood elites and future stars have lived here throughout the years. You can be next!” Happy New Year.

  3. It is well known that Steve Martin doesn’t like Heilman, but at least John Heilman doesn’t make a spectacle of himself, unlike the other current members of the Council, especially our current Mayor.

  4. Gorgeous commentary, Steve! You eloquently and elegantly sum up the highlights. A full telling could fill an encyclopedia!

  5. Wow I made into Steve’s year end review, an honor, although out of context. My light holiday poem poked fun at the obvious- John DAmico said he would not run again, John Heilman said the same thing way back when. Lindsey going to Sacramento and Lady Godiva getting the key- but when I need city hall Lauren’s the first to return the call. Steve’s description of me ‘tactlessly’ bringing up the DAmico’s run is really Steve’s ‘tactlessly’ using an op-ed to selectively air his own issues hits on Duran once again. Glad to say John DAmico is a dear friend and I called him the night before and said I’m gonna bust your chops alittle in the poem and John said go for it, texted me after it was brilliant- but here’s Debbie Downer Steve to tear down rather than lift up. The issues that drove the year and the future of West Hollywood are the Cannabis licenses- the process- one might say this ‘fair’ process would have had the same people winning- city elites- as an unfair process. AAHS serving the community for 25 years did not get a recreational license – – The crosswalks updates were finally installed, and our Santa Monica street median updates have made our city a bit more beautiful. The scooters flooded the city. Steve ignored any and all public safety issues. The losses of community leaders like Rita Norton or others. He failed to recognize the big issues like the decrease in parking credits needed for new businesses to open and increases to parking meter rates. Homelessness and Crime also ignored for a back handed slap at Duran or others. My hope for Steve Martin is that 2019 brings him health and happiness and a positive view of the things that added to the community instead of focusing on small issues. Come on Steve – let this shit go already and bring a positive uplifting view to the city.

    1. I agree mostly with Larry. But this is SM’s style, and we have to read it with that in mind…..It would also be nice to read someone else’s more comprehensive 2018 re-cap of what happened in Weho.

      Was the major crosswalk project in 2018?!! Although some people complained during construction that their bus took too long to get them home, the project when completely transformed public safety and traffic flow in our city.

      The West Hollywood Park Dog Parks opened in January. That was the biggest event for many residents and it continues to serve the community in a way that some never imagined.

      The on-demand e-scooter menace hit Weho. The City Council didn’t buy into the dangerous frivolity of it all and moved to protect residents and our public spaces.

      The marijuana train left the station and so many other things happened 2018.

      Wehoville, start writing.

      Happy New Year Everybody!

      1. Re: The scooters. Due diligence was not done in WeHo or Los Angeles. And I am stunned, because it is quite clear how idiotic they are and how unprepared the average resident is when it comes to the entire concept. I also wonder what drug the companies (that sent this blight) were on? Did they really imagine their “set of rules” would be followed? Recent advances in tech have revealed that the human race is definitely prepared to drink the Kool-Aid first and then groan about the outcome. Scooters included. Policing them is another expense that taxpayers will have to assume. Yowsa.

        1. Chloe, the scooter ban was unnecessary, however I don’t know how much taxpayer expense we are really incurring here. I’ve said it, time and again: force our Sheriff’s Department to enforce our laws, and this won’t be as much of a problem. Provide oversight of the Sheriff’s Department instead of just accepting that they are “doing their job.” These laws includes bicycles, automobiles and jaywalkers. State laws already exist to protect us from this “menace” that some people never seem to let go of.

          We proclaim ourselves as a “progressive city,” and have a younger demographic of residents than many cities in this country, yet the scooters were squashed, partially as a vendetta against the companies who wrongfully dumped them on our streets without city permission. Instead, members of the City Council could have taken a deep breath, and approached this new form of transportation with the same logic and reasoning as did the cities of Los Angeles, Santa Monica and San Francisco, who actually looked at regulation and enforcement as a solution. D’Amico was the only one with any sense regarding this issue.

          If only people could have the same passion about issues that really, truly, matter (homelessness, traffic congestion, etc.,) as they have this one in 2018.

  6. Steve, I appreciate your opinion essays. It helps shape a community perspective and raises flags of concern and caution. For the past several months, I have been fighting the good fight for our country’s future in Washington DC. It is a discombobulating – to state it mildly – to maneuver in the toxic selfish atmosphere of our nation’s Federal Government. We in West Hollywood and in the United States deserve better.

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