(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).
A confidential survey by the West Hollywood Incorporation Committee (WHIC) in June 1984 – five months before the cityhood vote later that year – found that ”the issue of local government control was expressed as the most frequent reason for those in favor.” The survey’s results offer a different take on the long-stated narrative that rent control was the driving force behind incorporation.
Without local government control, chances are extremely small that Santa Monica Boulevard would have been rebuilt into the model main street that it is today, or that the community of West Hollywood would have been able to give millions of dollars annually to social services and AIDS healthcare organizations, as various writers have documented.
“Surprisingly, the issue of rent control came in a distant third” as the reason those surveyed were in favor of cityhood, notes a memo in the files of committee Research Director Robert Conrich. “This issue (of rent control) was expressed as the primary concern of only 20% of the total sample. Of those against cityhood, only 8% gave rent control as their primary concern.”
It notes that “support for cityhood is significantly greater among younger people, as would be expected.” As the campaign for cityhood played out affordable housing did become a primary issue within the overall need for local government control.
The WHIC polled 370 residents and counted 313 complete surveys in its analysis, according to Conrich’s files. The survey found:
- 52% in favor of cityhood
- 23% against cityhood
- 25% undecided, with some concerns as those opposed
Those against incorporation “were more against cityhood because they wanted to keep things as they are,” the memo states. “This could be interpreted as a lack of confidence in local government.” Among those against incorporation, “The most frequent reason given was a fear of increased taxes. Although the truth is on our side in this respect, we have done a poor job of communicating it.”
A Dec. 5, 2014, article in WEHOville highlights the importance and background of local control. “It was the construction of a hotel in his neighborhood in 1983, and a (Los Angeles) county decision to limit the hours of the pool at West Hollywood Park, that prompted Ron Stone, then 37, to take a look at the impact of development and the county’s governance of the area.”
The article notes that Stone secured the support of the Coalition for Economic Survival (CES) early on. The group worked to make sure people had access to affordable housing. Its large base of members – and registered voters – enabled it to work with Stone to gather enough signatures on a petition saying the area wanted to become its own city.
The agency that studied the proposition determined West Hollywood had the financial wherewithal to become a city, estimating it would be able to generate at least $5 million annually from local taxes that it could spend in its own neighborhoods, instead of turning the money over to the county for dispersal elsewhere.
Early Russian Collusion?
Residents and businesses seemed to lose interest fairly soon in the new city, according to a political column by Conrich published in the West Hollywood Post on Dec. 5, 1985.
“Councilmember Steve Schulte expressed surprise that only two members of the public showed up to speak at the city’s $19 million budget hearing,” wrote Conrich, who became the city’s first unofficial watchdog. “Maybe it was because you had to have a friend at City Hall who was willing to steal a copy of the budget proposal if you wanted to study the document in advance of the hearing. I was given a copy by someone who said, ‘You’re not supposed to have this.’ Who was this being kept secret from – the Soviet Union?”
The column continues, “Maybe it was because the Council seems to see ‘public notice’ as more of a legal requirement than a means of encouraging public involvement. Maybe it was because the city has a public information officer who thinks the new city logo will be the most important decision the Council will make this year.”
Community Outreach at its Finest
Conrich’s files also contain a memo from one of the earliest community outreach employees, Grace Rosales. In a letter to her City Hall colleagues dated Sept. 4, 1986, she asks, “Does West Hollywood have a population of what we used to call ‘bums’?”
A few months later, a member of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors says in another letter that found its way around City Hall, “The Chamber’s assistance has been requested in creating a program utilizing homeless people in cleaning up around the (Sunset) Strip’s nightclub areas on Saturday and Sunday mornings.”
Today, of course, both people would be shipped away to a city re-education camp for political correctness faster than Domino’s can deliver.