Starting Up the New City of West Hollywood Was Anything but Easy

city of west hollywood
Three of five newly elected West Hollywood city council members meet with residents Nov. 26, 1984 to celebrate the city’s formation. (Photo by Mike Sergieff, Los Angeles Herald Examiner Collection, Los Angeles Public Library)

(Editor’s Note: This is another in an occasional series of articles about the early days of cityhood, based on records kept by Robert Conrich, a founding member and research director of the West Hollywood Incorporation Committee. His extensive files are housed at UCLA’s Anderson Research Library).

Too bad the mechanics of creating the new city of West Hollywood in 1984 didn’t sync nearly as well as the gears of “Start Me Up,” The Rolling Stones’ hit song from their “Tattoo You” album a few years earlier. The tune is a staple on their current tour and an appropriate theme for these episodes from the days before, during and after the city’s incorporation.

Dilbert Moments Galore

West Hollywood needed all hands on deck to create processes and procedures for forming Los Angeles County’s 84th city. Instead it got Valerie Terrigno, who spent much of her year in the ceremonial position as the city’s first mayor gallivanting around the country, giving speeches about gay rights and soaking up all publicity possible as the first openly lesbian mayor of an incorporated municipality in the United States. The first City Council also had a majority of gay members.

These were a few of the rough spots in the road, not necessarily because of her frequent absences, but Conrich’s files indicate all resources were needed for responding to local residents’ many calls to City Hall and organizing city functions. These are several examples of the bumps along the way.

First example: In an Oct. 25, 1985, memo to City Manager Paul Brotzman, City Councilmember John Heilman states, “I didn’t realize we had to read your newsletter. I thought you were providing it to us so we would have additional paper to color on.” (Irony, perhaps?)

The next bullet that immediately follows reads, “I think holding the Team Building workshop off until after the first of the year is very wise. We have so much going on right now that I don’t think we can even begin to assess how we’ve been working together.”

As if his first point didn’t say it all …

Second example: Brotzman, by the way, was named the city’s first, official, full-time city manager in April 1985. He had a great deal of mopping up to do following the disastrous appointment of an interim city manager, Fred Bein. The hiring, documented in a resolution adopted by the City Council on Nov. 29, 1984, wasn’t simply “mistaken,” Conrich writes, but showed outright “incompetence.”

Not given to putting in long hours at the office, Bein rarely showed up at City Hall before 10 a.m. One morning, he called in particularly late, saying his car was out of gas, according to a political column Conrich penned for The West Hollywood Post, a weekly newspaper.

Third example: Conrich was particularly outraged over the city’s initial lack of code enforcement. He discovered that three months after West Hollywood hired its first code enforcement officer, the employee hadn’t done anything.

“How, I thought, could a key city employee not show up for work for three months and no one notice?” he wrote in a letter to the employee. The reply: The code enforcement officer was waiting for instructions from the interim city manager, who wasn’t around enough to manage anything.

Cover of the souvenir program for the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce’s ill-fated First Annual Celebration, which turned out to be its Last Annual such event too.

The Chamber’s First and Last Annual Celebration

The West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce took one look around at the successful Christopher Street West (Gay Pride) festivals and decided it also should start its own festival with an eye towards boosting its financial coffers, as board member Tony Melia recalls. So it decided to hold a 1st Annual Celebration, a generic gathering that actually celebrated nothing in particular, according to Conrich’s files.

The celebration was held Sept. 8-9, 1984, prior to the vote on incorporation the following November. Chamber officials contracted with more than 20 vendors to set up in the parking lot of the Pacific Design Center offering food, drinks and other goods typically sold at such events, Melia says.

Those two days turned out to be the hottest of the year in Los Angeles, with temperatures reaching 100 degrees, National Weather Service records show. Very, very few people attended,and the chamber lost $45,000 on the celebration, or the equivalent of $111,600 today. Melia spent the next year paying off the chamber’s debts, primarily by getting vendors to treat their celebration expenses as a contribution to the chamber, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, on their income taxes.

“After that, we stuck with what we knew,” Melia said recently. It’s like Jack Welch, former chairman of General Electric, once said: “If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete.”

West Hollywood’s First 5K/10K Walk/Run

The new City of West Hollywood also went down a similar path, starting a 5K/10K walk/run in 1985 that was surrounded in controversy from the start. There were obvious financial problems, according to an article in the Post newspaper on Feb. 13, 1986. The city responded by considering a second larger and even more expensive event.

“”Even as controversy bubbled about the first 5K/10K walk/run the city was involved in, the council voted to investigate the possibility of a second race. This time, the plan is to combine it with a community-wide street fair,” the article states. “Passing reference came to the problems of the previous attempt when it was emphasized that the project is planned to be self-financing at the very least, a major money-maker at best. The proposed budget anticipates $100,000 being raised, with $65,000 going to the city-designated charities.”

It continues, “A greater effort is to be put into getting corporate sponsors and soliciting more in-kind contributions. These two areas were both cited as major causes for expenses on the first run being much higher than anticipated.” Conrich’s files don’t indicate whether a second run/walk happened.


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BillnJay McMahon
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BillnJay McMahon

On July 19, 1985, myself, Bill McMahon, and my partner, Jay McMahon, went to the New City of West Hollywood’s office and filed for a “Domestic Partner Agreement”. We filled out the paperwork and paid $15 to the City of West Hollywood, and became the 43rd couple to do so. We have been together as a domestic partners since July 19, 1983. We lived in South Gate, California at the time. I was a nuclear startup engineer working at Bechtel Corporation in Downey at the time, working on writing the startup procedures for the largest nuclear power plant in the… Read more »

Art Scotti
Guest
Art Scotti

Congratulations!

Constituent
Guest
Constituent

I see nothing has changed in 30 years. All you have to do is see visit City Hall and see how many employees don’t come into work before 10am

Code Enforcement
Guest
Code Enforcement

After 30 years Code Enforcement appears to be the weak link.
Haven’t even been able to get ahead of the leaf blowers.

Alan Strasburg
Guest
Alan Strasburg

ahhhh, WeHo, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!

Manny
Guest
Manny

More importantly, is there any, anything, something, other than that one black and white picture we keep seeing over and over again. Someone please ask John Heilman to look through his photo albums for something else.

Henry (Hank) Scott
Admin

It was the pre-selfie era 🙂

Eric Jon Schmidt
Guest
Eric Jon Schmidt

Very interesting historical review. Thank you Bob Bishop. However, as the saying goes: “history repeats itself “. Our current Council and Management sounds very similar to our first. Still grandstanding for their own personal promotion, not much getting done for the Residents. It seems that our City leadership has made the full cycle and is back at being as ineffective as the original leadership.