Opinion: West Hollywood City Council, It’s Time to Fold ‘Em

8500 Sunset Blvd.

As I have watched the events surrounding the City of West Hollywood’s court battle over the AKA 8500 Sunset Boulevard buildings unfold recently, I am reminded of that old Kenny Rodgers song “The Gambler.” There are a few lines in particular that seem to apply to the West Hollywood City Council: “every gambler knows that the secret to survivin’ is knowin’ what to throw away and knowin’ what to keep. You’ve got to know when to hold ’em. Know when to fold ’em. Know when to walk away. And know when to run.”

Well, following the latest setback for the city in the courts, it sure seems like it’s a good time to fold’em and walk away – or perhaps even run. The problem here is that the City Council is not playing with its own money.

They are gambling with our taxpayer dollars.

The city’s hand is weak and its lawsuit expensive.

At a meeting in October of last year, the City Council approved a measure that would increase by $425,000 the $75,000 already allocated to legal action against AKA 8500 Sunset. At a subsequent meeting on May 6 of this year, the City Council agreed to appropriate an additional $150,000 and capped its spending on the lawsuit at $650,000. Truthfully, the city cannot cap the spending at $650,000, because if the city loses, and it appears the city may be headed in that direction, it could be on the hook for 8500 Sunset’s costs and attorney’s fees.

If the City of West Hollywood’s administrators want to be transparent and honest, they need to tell the public that it appears the outside law firm hired by the city has already blown through most or all of the money allocated to date. The law firm will not work for free and will have to come back to the city for more money. Add in the legal fees and costs of experts expended to date by both sides, and I’m fairly certain costs are currently well north of $1 million. Who can honestly say how much more money the city may be on the hook for when this is all concluded?

In addition to the expensive litigation, 8500 Sunset is seeking $40 million in damages. I personally do not see how 8500 Sunset can calculate $40 million in damages, but if the city loses and 8500 Sunset was awarded just half that amount, that’s tens of millions of dollars spent on lawyers and litigation. Those are millions of dollars not being spent on West Hollywood’s growing homeless problem, drug and alcohol treatment programs, or other worthy public services.

So why am I so gloom and doom about the prospect of West Hollywood facing millions of dollars in costs? Well, if we take a look at the court’s orders in two 8500 Sunset v. West Hollywood cases, the findings are very problematic for the city and very encouraging for property owners and supportive of their rights. In a May 17 hearing, the city was denied a request for a preliminary injunction, and the court held that the City did not establish that it was likely to prevail on the merits of its breach of contract claim and stated that the city cannot re-write its own contracts to add in new terms post hoc – meaning that the city cannot change the deal agreed to with the developer(s) when the development agreement was signed.

The court also found that the city’s proposed definition of the term “long-term” as meaning 365 days or longer was contradicted by a city staff report and short term rental ordinance showing that rentals of 31 days were permissible. The Development Agreement prohibited the city from applying any new ordinance, regulation, etc. that would prevent or adversely affect any contractually-permitted use of the property.

Further, in a June 19 order, the judge overseeing the case overruled the city’s demurrer and held that 8500 Sunset’s case should go forward and be heard on the merits:

  • 8500 Sunset claims that the city’s tactics violated a federal law preventing government entities from committing civil rights violations; the city’s issuance of the zoning interpretation and proposed zone text amendment potentially deprived 8500 Sunset of a federally-protected right, and the city’s act of singling out 8500 Sunset may have violated the constitutional right to equal protection.
  • The city’s attempt to adopt an ordinance that severely restricts a landowner’s use of its property may result in a violation of the constitutional protection against takings.
  • 8500 Sunset’s allegations suggest that the city breached its contractual obligation to not pass rules interfering with 8500 Sunset’s use of the property.
  • 8500 Sunset claims that the city violated the covenant of good faith and fair dealing inherent in every contract by interfering with 8500 Sunset’s contractual rights.
A rendering of the 8500 Sunset Blvd project

The City Council is gambling with more than the taxpayer’s money—they are also gambling with the rights of property owners and renters.  If they get their way, tenants will no longer have the right to rent on a month-to-month basis in West Hollywood and property owners here will have their hands tied by a law that would be more restrictive than any other city in the state.  That’s bad for property values.  And for renters who are looking to call West Hollywood home for any period less than a year, our Council will be putting out a big “Not Welcome” sign.   This certainly does not seem to fulfill the promises of inclusivity, creativity, and compassion that are among the core values that were to set West Hollywood apart.

West Hollywood is world-renowned as a mecca for actors, writers, producers and directors and the arts world. Why do we want to shut out so many interesting and vibrant individuals who need flexible leases in West Hollywood during pilot season, music and film award times, during film production, and for extended gallery presentations? Having flexible leases allows West Hollywood to be a home away from home for the creative community. I know that our businesses benefit by making our city available for flexible leases and so too do our residents. And what about the need for housing for visiting doctors at Cedars-Sinai? Or families who want to be near Cedars-Sinai while loved ones are here for long-term treatment. In the wake of the recent fires let’s not forget members of our own community and neighboring cities who may need a temporary home while their home is being remodeled or repaired from flood or fire damage. What happened to our compassion?

While I have largely focused on the cost to the city and taxpayers and the issues facing property owners and renters, I hope readers take a moment to think about where all of the money the city is wasting on these legal costs could go. These dollars could be used to address the serious problems plaguing West Hollywood. I put the duel scourge of drug dependency and the associated condition of homelessness at the top of my list. Money not wasted could go towards providing solutions for these issues that would benefit the poor folks who are suffering and the small businesses and residents that are also suffering.

The city’s actions in regards to the 8500 Sunset matter are ill-conceived and contradictory to the very core values on which our cityhood was founded. With so many problematic issues being raised by the court in the 8500 Sunset matter and costs that could soar into the millions perhaps the wisest course is to know that now is the time to “fold ‘em” and settle this case to avoid the loss of significant funds to the city and its residents.


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Anonymous
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Anonymous

There are many ways to skin a cat… Allow TALL projects to GROW VERTICALLY on the parcels that can BLOCK their VIEWS. Then the value of their properties will plummet.

Manny
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Manny

As the Lenny Kravitz song suggests, “It ain’t over til it’s over”. This lawsuit is worthwhile and winnable. It attempts to protect the meaning and importance of residential housing for people that actually want to live here……..Onward!

Dr. MeowMeow
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Dr. MeowMeow

The buildings are a visual blight, and the planning was sophomoric. It’s a mix of modern and brutalist architecture that is best suited for Eastern Europe, but it’s here now. That’s not the biggest problem. The problems that go beyond the ugliness of the design or the lawsuit are: A) It is something we, as residents, are forced to see but doesn’t offer long term housing. B) The city could have gotten over its obsessive hatred of short term rentals and required half of the units be long term rentals priced at market rate minus 25% in exchange for allowing… Read more »

Vigilant
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Vigilant

Hear, hear! Many things appear to lack vision in city policy. With an eye perpetually on the $$$$$ ball, it is difficult to discriminate between the subtleties and intricacies which invariably trip one up. The unfortunate aspect is that the residents always pay the bill for this poor policy which is not offset by trotting out the favorite pony called City Services.

Steve Martin
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Steve Martin

Perhaps one way of trying to resolve this case is to see if the State would accept AKA “extended stay” housing as part of our RENA numbers, the number of units the State mandates each California community generate every decade. If the State would consider these units to be “housing” it would be hard for the City to maintain its’ position. I know the majority of the City Council is concerned about how this project may undermine our housing priorities and I agree with them; but we need to be practical at some point. The problem with watching City Hall… Read more »

Constituent
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Constituent

Accountability begins at the voting booth

Michael Grace
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Michael Grace

I believe there should be a West Hollywood enemy list. Developers should be at the top of it.

Enoch Miller
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Enoch Miller

I don’t think this is the right attitude or approach to have with this situation and with developers. When you think about it the house or apartment you live in was once a development, the grocery store, retail space, restaurant, coffee shop…etc. were all once developments created by a developer. However, there definitely needs to be a better conversation about smarter development that benefits the surrounding community. This negative and hostile attitude toward developers does not help move the conversation forward and does not help future discussion about the progression of the City’s landscape. We all need to do our… Read more »

WEHO corruption politique
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WEHO corruption politique

I agree. The West Hollywood enemy list should be the five members of the City Council.

Constituent
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Constituent

City of West Hollywood and City of Santa Monica are two of the most corrupt cities in America and not coincidentally, two of its biggest bullies. They write their own laws and then when said law(s) do not comport to their whimsical sensibilities they pretend said laws don’t exist and/or mean something completely different, and if anybody challenges them they vindictively prosecute that challenger, utilizing taxpayer funds. It is deliciously refreshing to see the City of West Hollywood, bully that it is, getting the crap kicked out of it because it picked on someone too big. They say absolute power… Read more »

R. Harrelson
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R. Harrelson

AGREED!!!!

Steve Martin
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Steve Martin

If the City loses this lawsuit how will we be able to afford John Duran?

Mario Monroe
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Mario Monroe

I am a former resident and registered voter of West Hollywood. Not only has it become unaffordable for single gay males like myself. I lived a total of 20 years now I’m in a S. R. O. in downtown LA.a half block from Skid Row, not very LGBTQ friendly not safe. I’m approaching 53 years old and currently in school to upgrade my skill because it look like I won’t be able to retire until I’m 70. I currently have a Section 8 voucher that pays uu that WeHo & Big Developers laugh at. Greed over human beings it’s not… Read more »

Constituent
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Constituent

WeHo should institute price caps on other things like alcoholic beverages, like a $5 per cocktail price cap so martinis at the Abbey are permanently more affordable

Stephen Beebe
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Stephen Beebe

I agree, the city has become greedy and lost its way. Take for instants its stance on air b&b, they simply don’t want to lose out on there 18% hotel tax. meanwhile people like myself who are struggling with the ever rising costs of living are losing out on an easy source of additional income. I agree with with me. Me Kaplan city needs to re-evaluate it’s priorities and do what’s best for the people of West Hollywood and not What’s best for the council!

David
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David

Slightly off subject but I’m struck by the disconnect between the renderings and the built structure. The gray panels and tinted glazing on that project look awful in the daytime (note renderings are at night) and the current lack of retail tenants make the whole thing look dead. I’m guessing the architect knew this during design and so chose the nighttime renderings. Going forward, Council should REQUIRE renderings during daylight.

Zanni
Guest

Leave the iconic historical land, buildings & businesses. Put the money into SOVA West to give the underprivileged locals some support!! Put the money where it’s needed and drop the destructive notion that knocking down our History will create a bigger revenue. For decades this place is specifically a hub for up & coming as well as celebrity artists, musicians and performers to congregate. I for one would much rather socialize over a fresh hot pizza at Rainbow Bar & Grill while I remember Mario (RIP) and other fallen Soldiers of the industry like Lemme Kilmeister from Motorhead who’s chair… Read more »

Craig
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Craig

I agree! This is stupid all all the way around.