City Council Candidates Forum Covers Eastside Issues

With ten of the eleven candidates for the three City Council seats up for election on March 5present, Wednesday night’s Eastside Candidates Forum covered a wide range of topics, including affordable housing, homelessness, public safety, Plummer Park renovations,andbringing new businesses to the city,plus increasing information about crime.

Click here to watch the live stream from the Forum

Sponsored by the South of Fountain Neighborhood Watch group, WEHOville publisher and editor Henry (Hank) Scott moderated the forum where about 50 people gathered in the Plummer Park Community Center to hear the candidates’ ideas.

On the issue of increasing affordable housing and tying rents to a tenant’s income, several candidates including Tom Demille, Duke Mason and Eric Schmidt favored allowing micro-units (units of 300 square feet or less), currently banned in the city,to be built.

Schmidt also recommended adopting a moratorium on allnew housing units unlessthey arebuildings made up entirely of“affordable”units(units aimed at low, very low or moderate income residents).

The city currently requires all new residentialbuildings of greater than 10 units todedicate20% of those units for low or moderate income residents, but candidate Sepi Shyne said that percentage should be higher. However, incumbent candidate John D’Amico said that 20% seems to be the sweet spot that developers can live with, noting that the city of Santa Monica increased its percentage to 30% but no developerswere interested inthat high a number.

Incumbent candidate Lindsey Horvath said the city should push Los Angeles County, which currently does not requireanyunits to be set aside for low income residents,to adopt such a requirement in all new buildings tohelp spread the number of affordable units throughout the county.

Meanwhile, incumbent Lauren Meister, noting the many high-rent luxury units being built in the city, suggested finding ways to incentivize non-profit developers to build in the citythe same way it offers incentives to for-profit developers.

Candidate Brendan Hood recommended changing the zoning in the city to allowfor taller and denser residential buildings,something withwhichMason concurred.

Finally, candidate Jack Cline suggested rather that allowing for yearly rent increases, the city’s Rent Stabilization Commission should consider looking at rent decreases.

Crime andPublic Safety

Publicsafety on the Eastside of the city was a major concern with virtually every candidate favoring building a sheriff’s department sub-station inor nearPlummer Park, something that would not only increase sheriff’s visibility on the city’s Eastside, but alsoallow for easier accessto sheriff’s deputies forEastside residents.However, D’Amico reported the City Council hasalready approved building an Eastside satellite sheriff’s station, but itis taking a long time to get it up and running.

Horvath recommended increasing recruitment fortheLos AngelesCounty Sheriff’s Department, whichcurrentlyhas a shortage of deputies. She also favored hiring more code enforcement officers. Meanwhile Meister favored installing more security cameras in the city.

Schmidt said he would push forinstallation ofmore emergency telephonesandimproved street lighting on major streets as well as residential streets.

Shyneand Demillealso favored improvingthestreet lighting. Shynefurtherrecommended that the light bulbs in city-owned restrooms be switched to blue tinted lights which make it harder for people wanting to inject drugs to see their veins for shooting up, noting that would help get bathrooms back to being used for “what they were intended for.”

Candidate MarquitaThomas urged finding ways to increase job opportunities for people who are released from jail/prison to help them avoid falling back into crime, a sentiment which Horvath shared.

Thomas and Hood also suggested better data collection about crimes, Hood saying, “Youcan’t tell the problem if you’re not measuring it.”

On the related issue of homelessness in the city, Hood said a homeless shelter within the city limitsis needed, while Shyne, noting the city contracts with the Ascencia homeless shelter in Glendale, recommended contracting with homeless agencies closer to West Hollywood. Shyne also recommended doing great outreach about the services that are available for the homeless.

Meanwhile Thomas said there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to the homeless crisis and that providing individualized services to address each homeless person’s situation was needed, including mental health services.

Mason noted that homeless crisisis strongly connected to the lack of affordable housing in the region, saying the “housing crisis is the civil rights issue of our time” and recommending that as the city addresseshousing needs, itwouldalso addressmuch ofthe homeless situation at the same time.

Schmidt recommended the city partner with private companies to provide services for the homeless. He further urged making the city staffers more accountable for helping homeless people and recommended that Kristin Cook, the city’s director of Public Safety, be replaced.

Plummer Park Renovations

Seven years ago, in 2012, the city was about to embark on a major renovation of Plummer Parkwhen the state of California, in the midst of a recession-fueled budget crisis,snatchedredevelopment money from cities across the state (including the money WeHo earmarked for park renovations). Now some of that money is coming back to the city and Plummer Park renovations are being discussed again. How would the candidates use that money for park renovations?

Several favored building a dog parkare in Plummer Park, including Shyne, Thomas, Mason and Cline.

Noting that the previous park renovation plans wereapprovedwith minimalresidentialinput, Hoodurged getting greater community input this time. Mason,Thomas,Horvath and Meister all said they would renovate the existing buildings in the park.

The three incumbents all want to see the city increase the amount of green space in the park.Meisterrecommended doing that by removingsome of thesevenground-level tennis courts and building a parking structure with tennis courts on top (like in West Hollywood Park). Meanwhile D’Amico favored moving parking to the Fountain Avenue side of the park and creating moreparkspace where the Santa Monica Boulevard side parking lot now sits.

Meanwhile, Schmidt said Plummer Park needed improved security with more sheriff’s patrols, improved lighting and cameras installed. “We needcameras,lightsand action in Plummer Park,” he said.

Cline suggested a weekly soup dinner for homeless in the area.

Attracting New Businesses

On the question of how to bring new businesses to the city, Meister noted the city had recently taken a major step in that direction by reduced the parking requirements for commercial businesses, something that in the past has proven a major impediment for opening a small business in the city.

Meanwhile, Horvath felt the city should aim to attract more creative businesses by increasing the 5G wireless capabilities in the city.Similarly, D’Amico said the city needed to attract more content creation businesses such as Oprah Winfrey Network and Funny or Die, both housed at the Lot movie studio.

Mason saidzoning changes would helpbring small businesses to town, while Shyne encouraged building a “small business navigator” to help guide people through the oftenarduoustask of complying with all the city’s rulesrelating to opening a business.

Meanwhile Cline suggesteda West Hollywood Convention Center was needed to draw more people to the city, although he did not specify where such a convention center would be built.

Schmidt said the city should eliminate incentives toattractlarge businesses(i.e., chain stores)since it doesn’t give similar incentives to small businesses.

Finally Thomas recommended establishing grants for WeHo residents who have home-based businesses they want to move into commercial businesses.

Improving Information About Crime

With lots of questions about the investigation into the second overdose death at resident Ed Buck’s apartment and little information being released, the candidates were asked about how to increase the information being made available about criminalinvestigations.

Meister recommended the city do a better job with its crisis management communication in mattersthat draw a lot of attention, like the two deaths at Buck’s apartment. Along similar lines, Shyne said an overhaul of city communication protocols was needed, including the city’s websiteandsocial media postings.

Horvath said thecity mustpush the sheriff’s department to regularly update residents to avoid misinformation spreading.Thomas andHood concurred,with Hood addingthe sheriff’s department needed to be educated about the marginalized groups in the city, beyond just gay white males.

Demille said rather than meet every two weeks, the City Council should meet on a weekly basis to stay on top of matters.

D’Amico recommended doing greater public outreach, especially to youngergay menabout health concerns like safer sex and drug overdoses.

Specifically addressing the Buck situation, Shyne said the City Council should push for it to be a homicide investigation, while Schmidt said a special prosecutor should be hiredsince “everyone else is on the take.”

Candidates’Votes

In one of the most revealing portions of the forum,candidates were asked who else they were going to vote for in the March 5 election.

Lauren Meister got the most votes from the other candidates. Schmidt, Cline, D’Amico and Shyne all said they would vote for Meister. Schmidt and Cline bothexplained thatMeister is the one whoconsistentlyseems to do her homework before Council meetings.

The next top vote getter wasLindseyHorvath, with Shyne, D’Amico and Mason giving their support to her. Masonexplainedhe and Horvath share similar ideas since they are both millennials.

Coming in third wasJohnD’Amico, which his fellow councilmembers,Horvath and Meister,saying he had their votes.

Candidate Shawn Davis Mooney was not present at the debate. Meanwhile, Tom Demille left without explanation about halfway through the debate.

At the end of the two hour forum there were a number of questions submitted by those who attended that hadn’t been posed to the candidates. Those questions, as written, were shared by Rob Bergstein, who with John Erickson organized the forum. They are listed below. Readers are invited to reach out to candidates for answers.

1) How would council work to stem the proliferation of customers bringing animals that don’t meet ADA requirements into grocery stores?

2) How would you work to beautify the city?

3) Will each candidate pledge not to accept any money from developers or if you do accept money from developers, will you recuse yourself from their projects?

4) Tell us something you like about the other candidates.

5) Would you support Beverly Hills’ example of painting bicycle lanes green to make them more visible? And how would you enforce “no parking” in these lanes?

6) To assist the homeless, do you support safe parking? Building a shelter?

7) Do you support Assemblyman Scott Wiener’s SB50 to increase housing near transit?

8) Many of you have virtually no chance of being elected. Will you ask your supporters to vote for a truly viable candidate or will you allow your ego to overshadow the greater good?

9) Should council adopt a ban on donations to council members and commissioners from developers?

10) Should West Hollywood have an ethics commission?

11) Do you support the extending the scooter/bike lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard from Kings Road to LaBrea?

11) Do you support filling in the gap in the Santa Monica bike lane between Almont and Beverly Hills?

12) What are your thoughts on policing of poor people, drug users or transient community members?

13) Several candidates have mentioned the need to re-evaluate our zoning laws as a necessary step to address the homeless and affordable housing crisis. Can you elaborate, with specifics, what parts of our current zoning you would like to change and how this will lead to increased housing opportunities?

14) There is no longer a community garden on the Eastside and we need a permanent community garden. What do you intend to do about this?

15) Would you propose to install security cameras throughout the cities main streets to mitigate crime?

16) When the former redevelopment agency and the Planning Commission approved The Lot’s expansion well over a decade ago, the owners agreed to clean up the Santa Monica Blvd. part of their property by removing the hanging air conditioning units, painting and generally beautifying that part of their property. To date they have not done so and it remains a full block, the most blighted on the Eastside. How would you work to get The Lot to hold up to their end of this agreement?

17) What do you see as the future of 1343 Laurel Avenue?

18) Would you support safe injection sites in West Hollywood?

19) Would you create new policy as Beverly Hills did last year to ban all pot and tobacco smoking and vaping in multiple unit buildings?

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About James F. Mills
James F. Mills has reported on West Hollywood extensively for over a decade, notably serving as the editor of AOL’s West Hollywood Patch website. His journalism has also appeared in LA Weekly, Backstage West, Notes From Hollywood, Gay Star News and Frontiers magazine, among others. A North Carolina native, he moved to California as soon as he finished graduate school at UNC-Chapel Hill and has never looked back.

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Tom Smart
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Tom Smart

Meister and Shyne get my votes. Nobody else.

MelisaC
Guest
MelisaC

-5G has been proven to cause health issues, agitation. Research it. A San Fran. fire house removed it after employees reported headaches, depression and lack of sleep. Many youtube videos on the dangers, but it seems inevitable. I suppose we have to adapt to it. -Plummer park should not lose it’s santa monica parking unless the parking by Fountain is underground parking. In other words, don’t remove the parking unless we don’t lose park space on either side. Also, I think we should expand on the outdoor gym area. It seems to be very popular and they have such limited… Read more »

Michael G
Guest
Michael G

What about their attitudes toward John Duran?

He is the elephant in the room!

Randy
Guest
Randy

Didn’t we get enough of that on Tuesday? On consent, they reversed the mayor position to end in May (meaning his position as mayor is almost over, regardless), spoke out against him in Council member comment, devoted most of the public comment to the issue, and had a rally. None of these candidates can force him to resign, and most have made their opinion heard, some, multiple times, including at the last forum, and for the incumbents, through their social media pages, and the Council meeting on Tuesday. There are other things going on in this city besides this drama,… Read more »

Michael G.
Guest
Michael G.

The city business seems to be tourism since that’s where most of the tax bucks come from. And that’s city business! Forbes just did some travel pitch on visiting West Hollywood. So the media or muckrakers aren’t going to vanish for “healing” – Duran is too good a target until he’s out of public office. If this were some isolated village in the sticks, Duran soliciting on Grindr, etc., bragging about hooking up with the mayor, wouldn’t make any difference. But Duran’s anti #metoo bent can’t be buried with his 1980s bathhouse humor. He is still the elephant in the… Read more »

Karen O'Keefe
Guest
Karen O'Keefe

Thanks to the South of Fountain Neighborhood Watch group for hosting, and to Hank for MC’ing! It was very informative. While of course we would all have liked for our questions to be answered, I think the hosts did a great job of asking questions that are important to our community and keeping responses relatively succinct to keep it moving and cover more ground. With 10 (or 9) candidates present, it’s to be expected that not every question could be asked. That said, I do hope WeHoville will send the participants all the questions that weren’t asked, and publish any… Read more »

Karen O'Keefe
Guest
Karen O'Keefe

Oh and for anyone who didn’t watch, I should note that it was not the hosts’ decision about letting the interrupting man ask his question: Councilmember D’Amico invited the man making the outburst to ask his question during what was supposed to be the time for closing statements.

Randy
Guest
Randy

I was there. Good for D’Amico for inviting him. It was a public forum, and a very important question. Hank, thank you for participating in this, but I think more time should have been devoted to public questions. Only two got in, and this was the third.

Karen O'Keefe
Guest
Karen O'Keefe

You think it’s a good thing to indulge someone who decides to interrupt and demand that their question be asked? There was a stack of more than a dozen questions that there wasn’t time for. Maybe we should’ve all shouted out and had a fit because our question didn’t get asked. This was a debate with hosts that organized and decided on the format, to include closing statements. While it was open to the public, it doesn’t mean whoever shouts loudest should get to change the format. As Rob explains below, most questions Hank asked were submitted by Eastside stakeholders… Read more »

Rob Bergstein
Guest
Rob Bergstein

Yes, it was very gracious of Councilmembers D’Amico and Horvath to offer to address his issue during what was going to be time for their closing statements. We had 8 pre-prepared questions for all candidates. 5 of which had come directly from various Eastside stakeholders and the public at large. As I mentioned at the beginning of the forum, if time allowed, we’d bring additional questions from the public that were in attendance and that the candidates were available to talk with the public after the event. Over the course of the two hour event, I think we covered some… Read more »

Rob Bergstein
Guest
Rob Bergstein

Thanks Hank for moderating! 10 out of 11 candidates showed, and 9 of those stayed for the entire event. Unfortunately, we were only able to cover 3 questions that came from the public during the event…..there just wasn’t enough time left. Below is a summary (and please, don’t shoot the messenger, I’m passing them on virtually verbatim) of the questions that weren’t presented to the candidates. I’d encourage anyone who wants to hear the candidates positions on any or all of them to reach out to all the candidates or perhaps Hank will want to pose some of them here… Read more »