With ten of the eleven candidates for the three City Council seats up for election on March 5 present, Wednesday night’s Eastside Candidates Forum covered a wide range of topics, including affordable housing, homelessness, public safety, Plummer Park renovations, and bringing new businesses to the city, plus increasing information about crime.
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 all new housing units unless they are buildings made up entirely of “affordable” units (units aimed at low, very low or moderate income residents).
The city currently requires all new residential buildings of greater than 10 units to dedicate 20% 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 developers were interested in that high a number.
Incumbent candidate Lindsey Horvath said the city should push Los Angeles County, which currently does not require any units to be set aside for low income residents, to adopt such a requirement in all new buildings to help 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 city the same way it offers incentives to for-profit developers.
Candidate Brendan Hood recommended changing the zoning in the city to allow for taller and denser residential buildings, something with which Mason 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 and Public Safety
Public safety on the Eastside of the city was a major concern with virtually every candidate favoring building a sheriff’s department sub-station in or near Plummer Park, something that would not only increase sheriff’s visibility on the city’s Eastside, but also allow for easier access to sheriff’s deputies for Eastside residents. However, D’Amico reported the City Council has already approved building an Eastside satellite sheriff’s station, but it is taking a long time to get it up and running.
Horvath recommended increasing recruitment for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which currently has 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 for installation of more emergency telephones and improved street lighting on major streets as well as residential streets.
Shyne and Demille also favored improving the street lighting. Shyne further recommended 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 Marquita Thomas 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, “You can’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 limits is 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 crisis is 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 addresses housing needs, it would also address much of the 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 Park when the state of California, in the midst of a recession-fueled budget crisis, snatched redevelopment 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 park are in Plummer Park, including Shyne, Thomas, Mason and Cline.
Noting that the previous park renovation plans were approved with minimal residential input, Hood urged 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. Meister recommended doing that by removing some of the seven ground-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 more park space 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 need cameras, lights and 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 said zoning changes would help bring small businesses to town, while Shyne encouraged building a “small business navigator” to help guide people through the often arduous task of complying with all the city’s rules relating to opening a business.
Meanwhile Cline suggested a 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 to attract large 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 criminal investigations.
Meister recommended the city do a better job with its crisis management communication in matters that 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 website and social media postings.
Horvath said the city must push the sheriff’s department to regularly update residents to avoid misinformation spreading. Thomas and Hood concurred, with Hood adding the 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 younger gay men about 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 hired since “everyone else is on the take.”
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 both explained that Meister is the one who consistently seems to do her homework before Council meetings.
The next top vote getter was Lindsey Horvath, with Shyne, D’Amico and Mason giving their support to her. Mason explained he and Horvath share similar ideas since they are both millennials.
Coming in third was John D’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?