What to do about the Sunset Strip?
Members of West Hollywood’s City Council were divided in their discussion last night of the city’s efforts to revitalize that one and a half-mile stretch of asphalt that is known around the world for its rock music history.
The celebration of that era appears to be over however, given the decision in 2015 by the Sunset Strip Business Improvement District to shut down the Sunset Strip Music Festival, which had incurred more than $1 million in debt. The Strip these days is largely known for the hotels that line both sides of it.
The City Council’s divide was largely over who should decide what can be done to revitalize the Strip – local government or independent business owners. The discussion came at a presentation by City Hall of the status of its “Sunset Strip Experience Framework” (SSX), a list or proposals to revive the Strip while preserving its identity.
Those projects include the installation of the Rocky & Bullwinkle statue on the triangle at the intersection of Sunset and Holloway, construction of the Sunset Spectacular billboard, commissioning a music and cultural heritage study of the Strip, making it more walkable, encouraging more outdoor dining and coffee spaces, and creating designated tour bus stops.
Also under consideration is making changes in zoning for the Sunset Specific Plan that would allow amplified music certain days of the week and make it easier for event operators to promote live music on the Strip. City Hall plans a parking occupancy study that would consider alternatives along the Strip from Doheny to Horn avenues and possible widening of sidewalks in front of restaurants and clubs. The city also is looking into how to streamline the process for getting the permit necessary to film a movie or TV show on the Strip and extending high-speed fiber along the Strip.
City Councilmember John Heilman said he sees a “disconnect” between the guests of the hotels that line the Strip and the other businesses on the Strip. “Every time I go up there it is dead,” he said.
Heilman said the types of businesses that have been opening on the Strip don’t seem welcoming to local people walking the sidewalk. He cited the somewhat closed off plaza in front of the 1 Hotel as an example.
“Some of the things that have been approved – private club here, private club there – why do I need to go to the Sunset Strip?” he said. Heilman had cast the sole vote against a zoning change necessary to build the Arts Club, a branch of the exclusive London club, on Sunset Boulevard. It will be one of five private clubs opening in and adjacent to West Hollywood.
Heilman suggested that the city might want to require developers to make the ground floors of their buildings more open to the public. And he argued that revitalizing the Strip required more than a focus on its history. “I don’t want us to be a historic relic,” he said. “I want us to be thriving…. Like on Santa Monica Boulevard.
Councilmember John Duran, who has described himself as a Libertarian, said that one issue businesses face is government regulation. He argued that revival of the Sunset Strip has to come from business, not government.
“It’s got to come from the business community, from the Chamber (of Commerce), from the creative businesses that exist, from the entertainment community,” Duran said.
Duran suggested reaching out to producers of music festivals who might want to use the Strip as a venue. He also noted that the energy of the Strip always has ebbed and flowed. “There are cycles and waves of energy, and then there’s a demise.”
Duran said that he and his fellow City Council members will need to stand up to local residents who have complained about noise associated with music and construction on the Strip and the traffic.
“The five of us are going to have to be prepared to show a little background when people get angry about the traffic,” he said.
City staffers have been reaching out to local businesses and organizations for their input in crafting plans to revitalize the Strip. A draft of its framework was introduced to the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce’s Governmental Affairs Committee, to the West Hollywood Travel + Tourism Board, and to the board of the Sunset Strip Business Improvement District.