Opinion: The Optics Aren’t Good for West Hollywood and We Need to Fix That

The City of West Hollywood has an issue with optics. Things just don’t look the way we want them to. 

There are those accusations of racism sparked by the deaths of young black men in Ed Buck’s apartment. There’s the perception that we have evolved from a city where one could live comfortably without being rich into what some are calling East Brentwood, with a growing number of expensive private clubs, that proposed $85 million condo at 8899 Beverly Blvd., and sky-high rents in new apartment buildings. And there’s the perception that the #MeToo movement somehow didn’t catch the attention of our gay community, given that we have a still-sitting City Council member who has faced multiple accusations of sexually inappropriate conduct with young men and seems to see it as normal for what he calls a “sex-based city.”

And now there are the recommendations from the city’s Ethics Reform Task Force, which has been looking at the political process through a very blurry lens.

The report it is delivering to the City Council tonight sums up its past ethics reform proposals and addresses the question of whether Council members’ election campaign consultants should be barred from lobbying those they got elected on behalf of others trying to make a buck out of doing business with the city.

There is a simple answer to that: Yes.

That’s what the City Council requested in November 2016, when it asked the City Attorney to come back before it with a draft of an ordinance implementing such a ban. However, in its July 2019 meeting, the Ethics Task Force said it needed evidence of corruption or perceived corruption before it would make a recommendation to restrict campaign consultants from serving as lobbyists.

So, instead of simply barring a campaign consultant from lobbying the City Council or one of its members, which San Francisco has done, the Ethics Task Force now has come forward with a list of recommendations that are essentially unenforceable.

It says that a lobbyist shall not:

— “Do any act with the purpose and intent of placing any official under personal obligation to the lobbyist, the lobbying firm, or to the lobbyist’ s or firm’ s employer or client.”

So how would one prove that a campaign consultant/lobbyist didn’t tell the guy he got elected that a city vendor would donate to the non-profit that the Council member chairs, but only if a certain vote goes its way?

— “Fraudulently deceive or attempt to deceive any city official with regard to any material fact pertinent to any pending or purposed municipal legislation.”

That apparently means that a former campaign consultant now working for a real estate developer shouldn’t lie to a city official. But shouldn’t that be a stipulation for anyone presenting a project to the city?

— “Cause or influence the introduction of any municipal legislation for the purpose of thereafter being employed or retained to secure its passage or defeat.”

You convince the guy you got elected to push to put a moratorium on new hotel construction on the upcoming election ballot. And then the local hotel and restaurant workers union, which wants that moratorium, hires you to get the votes out to support it. Who’s going to know that you influenced the Council member you got elected to bring the moratorium forward? Is he or she going to be dumb enough to confess that?

— “Cause any communication to be sent to any city official in the name of any nonexistent person or in the name of any existing person without the consent of such person.”

And just how, in this age of the Internet, would one prove that you did that? The only thing that got Ian Owens, Councilmember John Duran’s deputy, busted for such behavior was his failure to remove his name from the “properties” section of the document that he emailed out under a fake name accusing a fellow Council deputy of misbehavior.

The Ethics Task Force also has recommended sticking with a City Council decision in 2008 to revoke its 1994 ban on giving city money to any nonprofit whose board includes a City Council member, the City Manager or city department head. It will only recommend that city leaders serving on non-profit boards officially report that they are doing that. And it doesn’t recommend that City Council members be banned from serving on nonprofit boards.

Knowing which City Council members serve on what non-profit boards is more of a benefit to those who want to buy the influence of those Council members than it is to the citizens of West Hollywood.

It was widely known that Councilmember John Duran served for a long time as chair of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles, resigning after allegations of sexual misconduct. GMCLA was what some called the cash dump for anyone wanting to do business with the City of West Hollywood. A look at GMCLA’s website saw money flowing its way from Athens, the trash pickup company that got its contract extended for 15 years without putting it out to bid (and donated tens of thousands of dollars to Duran’s election campaigns.) That contract is worth an estimated $150 million to Athens, which pays the city less than $600,000 a year to serve as its exclusive trash collector. Other GMCLA donors have included Combined Properties, the real estate developer, and several cannabis businesses that had applied for licenses to operate in West Hollywood.

Given the various scandals that the City of West Hollywood has had to deal with in recent years – Deputygate, the Ed Buck deaths, the illicit Asian massage parlors, Stormy Daniels day, Councilmember Duran’s sexually inappropriate behavior and very inappropriate comments about his fellow Council member sex lives – it’s time for the city to realize that the image of West Hollywood as a progressive city is an optical illusion.

The good news is that we can fix that. Maybe we need to elect an optician in the 2020 City Council election.


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Joshua88
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Joshua88

I listened to Ray Metcalfe on The Ralph Nader Radio Hour speak about ethics. Read the “Honest Services Act.”
He wrote this about a broader issue, but his language might be worth incorporating into any ethics rules. Scroll down: https://bribestop.us/

Chris Sanger
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Chris Sanger

By above comment I mean the one by Michael Grace to clarify.

Michael
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Michael

Great article. Anyone who’s lived here for even a month knows there’s a lot of corruption in our City Council. It’s time for WeHo’s residents to reclaim their city.

Ham
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Ham

I use Los Angeles instead of W. Hollywood as my address. The city has a terrible image problem nationally.

carleton cronin
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A few old-fashioned realities: One – Ethics are learned at home and practiced in daily life. Two – nearly everybody knows right from wrong, but many shy from any distinction. Three – It is reputed have been stated by Henry Ford that “the business of America is business” – and that view, if applied, simply sweeps all other issues under the rug. Four – political ethics (!) are maintained at the polling place and resident’s comments at Council meetings. The vanity of politicians is polished by the ignorance of their constituents; the virtues of politicians must be drawn out by… Read more »

Vigilant
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Vigilant

Agree with Carl Cronin, that ethics are learned at home and practiced in daily life. My personal experience was introduced by my parents and reinforced by my private schools. Eventually it was difficult to leave the top sorority in college when the leaders did not handle ethical issues well but it was the correct decision. In business, it became important to avoid engagement with clients that appeared ethically challenged despite their exalted reputations. Paying attention to one’s barometer can be tough but it rarely fails. The ethics commission in West Hollywood needs to undertake some serious endeavors but with a… Read more »

Jose
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Jose

A political cesspool of corruption in a mircro form of Washington, D.C. Very few of these current politicians were around when the core issues of WHY this city was formed were front and center. It is an embarrassment how the current ethics have been in lockstep with Third World banana republics, while self-enrichment via campaign donations rule the day. I mean, 35 years and they still can’t get proper tree and shade coverage over Santa Monica blvd. Our city is over run with crime and homelessness and a “oh, humm?” Transfer in and out, contract police force. …and they spend… Read more »

WEHO réalité politique
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WEHO réalité politique

So true. And this group of WEHO political hacks believe they are a immune from accusations of corruption. Unfortunately, we are in the 21st century of social media. Two years ago the Los Angeles Times endorsed John Duran for LA County Supervisor. The Times failed to fact check Duran because he had over hundred thousand dollars in Federal and State tax liens. Any lawyer will tell you that the FBI immediately looks at any politician with tax liens. Because that means bribes and pay to play. And looking at the other four members of the West Hollywood City Council it… Read more »

Jose
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Jose

Hehe! Truth!

Michael Grace
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Michael Grace

Thanks to WEHOVille for a great article.

The only answer for cleaning up WEHO and the political hacks is for the FBI to come in and start investigating the entire set up at City Hall.

I helped and saw this done In Palm Springs. An old time major developer and the former Mayor of Palm Springs are facing major criminal charges. As for West Hollywood, Palm Springs is small potatoes.

WEHO has a laundry list of possible corruption areas… it’s time to act. And for the citizens to investigate. And demand the FBI investigate!

The Real Zam
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Given your history perhaps you could provide more information as to how this was accomplished, what actions it triggered, the results, and how things in the city have changed. If you want to make a real world difference, you are in a unique position to translate the complaints currently going nowhere beyond the WeHoVille echo chamber into real world actions.

Chris Sanger
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Chris Sanger

The comment above is nonsense. I’ve lived in PS and WeHo. The situation in PS – for which no one has yet been convicted, it’s important to point out – has zero to do with anything in WeHo. And if anyone wants to claim it, cite the evidence. Not suspicions about payoffs or bribes. The PS situation involves a specific project much larger than anything that is being done in WeHo. Yes WeHo has some image clean up to do, but to allege criminal activity in our government without any proof is reckless and irresponsible.

Jose
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Jose

Praise!

The Real Zam
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I really think we need to put these issues into perspective. The argument that these issues have are significantly detrimental to the city’s reputation is extremely exaggerated IMO. Outside of those who read this publication, how many of these issues are actually known to most of the public & even residents? Furthermore, many of these issues cannot be effectively addressed by the city itself. The Ed Buck problem was horrible, but the decision to act was ultimately up to those with little or no accountability to the city. Also, national coverage of this story almost exclusively referred to “Los Angeles”… Read more »

Earl Reason
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Earl Reason

Well, it looks like these issues are known to the more than 7 million people around the world who read the Daily Mail newspaper – in print and online. Take a look (and note that West Hollywood is the city that’s mentioned):

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6573905/I-thought-going-person-die-Ed-Bucks-house-Man-reveals-Democratic-donor-injected-meth-GHB.html

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6717239/West-Hollywood-Mayor-refuses-resign-harassment-claims.html

The Real Zam
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Starting with the first Ed Buck content. This is only one example among a large plethora of content. Herein, LA or Los Angeles is mentioned as the location dozens of times from throughout the article. West Hollywood is only mentioned 4x deep within the article and in which case it is only implied to be a neighborhood within LA. Only once is there any implication that WeHo is a separate political entity from LA ironically when inaccurately referring to LA Sheriffs as WeHo Police, although the prosecutor is accurately referred to as an entity of LA. This doesn’t change the… Read more »

The Real Zam
Guest

I forgot to mention that while DM does have a print version, my research was unable to find any of these or related stories in the print copy of this publication within a month of their online release. Furthermore, publicly available information shows that both of these had an extremely low reach. The Ed Buck story was among the bottom 5% of articles viewed on the site. The Duran article fared so poorly that it is to small to measure which means that almost certainly WeHoVille’s coverage reached more that of the DM. For clarification as to my sources, I… Read more »

The Real Zam
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Moving on to the DM content on Duran specifically, his mention in the commentary to which we are replying, and the greater issues of Duran in general. This includes his political & personal decisions and the nature of the coverage he receives on this site. This is a complicated topic to say the least. I’ve made many comments expressing facts not discussed on WV, and everything else “Duran” on this site. You can view all of my Duran content by searching Google for articles containing The word “Duran” with comments containing “The Real Zam” specifically on this site. If you… Read more »

Randy
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Randy

Zam, I agree with you. Duran hasn’t even done anything recently, and it seems like this publication has to have a negative piece on him at least once a month, no matter what is going on. These stories get picked up, the news perpetuated, and just make us look worse and worse, even when he’s laying low, and not misbehaving. Can we move on from the Duran scandals and let the voters decide? Perhaps they can be discussed as the next election comes up, which is a year away. The negative “optics” of West Hollywood are only perpetuated by repeating… Read more »

Earl Reason
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Earl Reason

I’ve lived in a couple of other cities in the Midwest, so maybe I’m just innocent or naive. But in those cities — St. Louis and Kansas City — a politician accused by four young people (men or women) of sexually inappropriate conduct, who was sued by his assistant for that behavior (and settled with a half-million payout), and who talked on the radio about his fellow council members poor sex lives, and who has hundreds of thousands of dollars in overdue debt, and who told a young guy who turned down his request for sex “What, you won’t suck… Read more »

Randy
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Randy

Maybe you need to have a better understanding of WeHo politics, and the laws we have here. As stated at the time, THE OTHER COUNCIL MEMBERS COULDN’T REMOVE HIM FROM OFFICE, EVEN IF THEY WANTED TO. They motioned to censure him, which they did. They gave their negative opinions of him. They also voted to remove him from the Mayor position early. That is quite seriously all they could do. They chose to settle through insurance to spare the City even more embarrassment. They couldn’t just fire him without a verdict (and I’m not completely sure if they could if… Read more »

Jose
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Jose

A Federal probe with political State ethics laws applied. A certain council member is the Poster boy of #RemoveTheSexAssualtUglyBeast. Useless in every way except pandering to campaign donors.