OPINION: Let’s Pull the Plug on Pride and Halloween and Focus on COVID-19

The crowd gathers on Santa Monica Boulevard for WeHo’s 2015 Halloween Carnaval. (Photo by Jon Viscott, courtesy of the City of West Hollywood)

It’s raining on Vladimir Putin’s parade. This May 9th is V-E Day, the 75th anniversary of the Red Army’s storming of Hitler’s Berlin bunker and the end of WWII.

Putin had planned a huge celebration with a massive military review, the kind that makes Donald Trump green with envy. Putin would be basking in the reflected glory of Stalin’s victory in the “Great Patriotic War.” But with COVID-19 rearing its toxic head in Russia, Putin is being pressured, even from Russian veterans’ groups, to call off his parade.

Maybe we should call off ours. After all, West Hollywood is likely to be hit hard by COVID and its economic after shocks.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has projected that slightly over 50% of all Californians will be infected. As the virus hits older individuals disproportionately, in West Hollywood, with a population heavily weighted toward those over 60, we could see 20,000 COVID infections.

Fortunately, a large portion of those infected will be asymptomatic while many others will only experience mild symptoms. But 10 to 20% of those infected will be hit hard. With Los Angeles County having a 1.8% mortality rate, the math is not in West Hollywood’s favor.

Windows being boarded up at the Real Real on Melrose (Photo by Steve Martin)

But that is only part of the tsunami hitting West Hollywood. Hotel occupancy nationally is down 70%; but in West Hollywood, with our overabundance of hotels, our local occupancy rate could be below 20%. As West Hollywood’s municipal budget is heavily dependent upon Transient Occupancy tax, (hotel room tax), for about a fourth of our budget, City Hall will feel the pain. Parking meter income must have been down 90% in March and will be approximately the same in April. But that is only part of the story. If meter use is down, the infamous amount of revenue the city reaps from parking tickets will take a huge hit. Shops along Melrose are literally boarded up. Sales tax revenues will be dismal for months to come. Historically, city coffers have experienced a windfall of property tax increases due to home sales; home sales are now at a standstill. The only bright spot will be in recreational marijuana sales. So City Hall’s rosy economic forecast of a few weeks ago has turned out to be delusional. Yet West Hollywood will weather the storm better than most cities.

But, as Larry Block told the Los Angeles Times, the economic aspects of the COVID crisis will be an engine for gentrification, creating devastating impacts to West Hollywood’s treasured diversity. Although the City Council has prudentially placed a 60-day moratorium on residential evictions, that does not necessarily provide a safety net for the unemployed. At some future date, months of back rent will need to be paid.

This brings us to the dilemma of celebrating Pride. Last month the City Council postponed our annual Gay Pride festivities until “later in the summer.” But with what we know about COVID now, it hardly makes sense to invite a couple hundred thousand people into West Hollywood any time this year. In short, the city needs to cancel Gay Pride and Halloween and do it now.

Lululemon, windows boarded up, on Melrose (Photo by Steve Martin)

Los Angeles may not see a peak in hospitalizations until late May or even June. Unfortunately, the media’s focus on predicting local “peaks” is misleading. Ideally social distancing will create lower peaks which are then followed by plateaus. That will prevent our health care system from being overwhelmed. But a plateau is not a decline. It simply means transmissions will no longer rise and only eventually ease. Some models have projected that it may be October before we reach a national plateau. Dr. Anthony Fauci has even expressed fear of a “second wave” ricocheting across the country this fall. So even if West Hollywood reaches a peak in infections within six weeks, it could be months before we are approaching normality.

We need to pull the plug on Pride and Halloween. First, it would be sound public health policy. Second, it actually shows leadership. Third, the city might save a couple of million dollars that could be better spent providing assistance to West Hollywood’s sick and unemployed.

There are scores of Christopher Street West volunteers who will continue putting in hours of hard work for an event that probably shouldn’t happen. It is not fair to let them foster false hopes if, in fact, holding the event is not the right thing to do. Although this is the 50th anniversary of the first Pride parade, we can’t let sentimentality interfere with common sense.

Alice & Olivia closed on Melrose (Photo by Steve Martin)

As for Halloween, if the City Council delays making a decision, city staff inevitably will have to start working on the event. That is a nice way of saying City Hall will be spending money. Given that we know that most attendees will be dressing up as rolls of toilet paper, Halloween seems pretty irrelevant in light of current events. In light of the infection rate in Louisiana, Mardi Gras looks irresponsible in retrospect. I doubt if Dr. Fauci would think that bringing hundreds of thousands of people into town for a party is good public policy even if our bars and restaurants are open by then.

While Pride and Halloween are signature events that many feel are essential to West Hollywood’s identity, at the end of the day, they are just parties. West Hollywood will survive and be no worse for wear. It was like the year we did the Resist March instead of a parade; the next year people appreciated the Pride parade even more.

But we do need to re-allocate our municipal resources. If we can save a couple of million by not holding Pride and Halloween, we can use those funds to help those most impacted by COVID 19. Given that unemployment benefits hardly cover rent and other essentials, West Hollywood should be giving out $200 or $300 gift cards from Ralphs or Target each month to anyone who is unemployed. That is a lot more effective that relying on SOVA food bank and cuts administrative costs. While we may only be able to afford to do this for three or four months, every little bit helps. Furthermore, we need to create some sort of rental assistance in the form of grants or loans to those facing eviction six months from now. Rents are so high that few people will be able to easily absorb paying two or three months of missed rent even if they only had a few months of unemployment. Without help we will see hundreds of our friends and neighbors being forced from their affordable units, accelerating West Hollywood’s march toward gentrification.

Helping our neighbors most in need won’t be cheap. But given our hefty budget and large reserves, we need to step up and do what we can. We need to re-think our budget priorities. There are probably a lot of other good ideas out there to cope with this crisis and you should share them with City Council. But we came together as a community during the AIDS pandemic; we need to do it again for COVID-19.

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Ryan in L.A.
Ryan in L.A.
4 months ago

Then wtf am I supposed to do with my big coronavirus costume I’ve been working on

Rodrigo
Rodrigo
5 months ago

Half of the WeHo population will melt faster than the wicked witch from The Wizard of Oz if their Mecca of debauchery is 86’ed!

Awesome Weho
Awesome Weho
5 months ago

Postponing these tax revenue generating events until the state, county and city give the all clear is as good as “canceling” without the pessimistic finality. Obviously, rescheduling Halloween seems stupid, but if Pride can take place in at the end of the year or whatever, why not let it.

Anti-Pride commenters who bolster their argument with “homeowners don’t want it” and “it’s a waste of money” should look up the increases in sales tax revenue, jobs, and public spending at all our local businesses during Pride. It’s significant.

Ham Shipey
Ham Shipey
5 months ago
Reply to  Awesome Weho

The city has plenty of tax revenues……given the ability to buy real estate and fund countless pet projects. This is a quality of life issue for those of us that call this city HOME. Certainly pride could be held downtown….where on weekends it’s impact is far less and the infrastructure is there.

Bill G Skywatcher
Bill G Skywatcher
5 months ago

Let’s not forget that both Pride and Halloween bring in enormous revenue to the city.

This is the worst outcome possible — social activists using the pandemic to serve the interests of their agendas.

It would be far better to postpone pride and wait and see how things shape up for October. If we’re still having issues into late summer, we’ll have a lot more to worry about than a Carnival.

There is no reason whatsoever we can’t be helping out neighbors and continue to enjoy the events that make West Hollywood great.

Ham Shipey
Ham Shipey
5 months ago

If placed to a vote…….home owners would prefer these events were not held period. If it was one day….perhaps.

O.M.G.
O.M.G.
5 months ago

The revenue is not going to be there. Expendable income won’t be there. “Social Activists” is incorrect. Events being postponed or canceled is just facing economic reality.

Halloween is October 31st. Beginning of the Flu season and the new Coronavirus season. Flu has a vaccine and CV doesn’t. Believing swarms of people will come to a Halloween event in October is delusional.

Rick
Rick
5 months ago

I agree Steve, but I’m sure the city council has higher priorities like buying up more real estate around town using the parking meter revenue and exhorbitant fines that it extorted from business patrons. (Or other life-threatening problems like gender pronouns, etc.) Masks, who needs masks?

Ham Shipey
Ham Shipey
5 months ago
Reply to  Rick

good one.

Blueeyedboy
Blueeyedboy
5 months ago

Couldn’t agree more, Steve. Solid, clear, forward thinking and written so well. As much as I enjoy the Halloween Carnival and hope it isn’t axed permanently, I won’t be attending this year even if it is held. This virus isn’t going away anytime soon, although I expect it to be tamed in the foreseeable future … but not by Halloween.

O.M.G.
O.M.G.
5 months ago

Hey, let’s get real. Halloween is October 31st. When everyone will be getting their flu shots. And unless the Pope or Billy Graham Jr. or Marianne Williamson performs a miracle, millions of US Citizens will be facing the coronavirus season without a vaccine! It’s Whistling Dixie to think parents or anyone will be showing up for Halloween in West Hollywood for Trick or Treat celebrating in one gigantic Coronavirus petri dish. So, West Hollywood has to act like a business and Immediately cancel all contracts or any preparation for the Halloween event. So the City won’t lose more money and… Read more »

C.G.
C.G.
5 months ago

Cancelling an event 7 months away is premature.
And if does get cancelled, that doesn’t mean that money automatically gets funneled to your fantasy solution. They city just paid millions for the log cabin. Budgets and funding aren’t determined by popular vote. Take a breath and let’s not cancel things more than a half a year away.

james litz
james litz
5 months ago

Preach, Steve, PREACH! Your thoughts are very well-reasoned and make perfect sense in this time of mass confusion. No one knows when COVID-19 will peak, plateau, decrease, disappear. We need to plan for what is before us at this time, and it’s not getting any better (Easter, Trump, Easter?). You are not saying that we should dump Pride or Halloween, just adjust for our new reality. When the time is appropriate to begin discussing future events, perhaps we can finally focus both as COMMUNITY-BASED events, not regional events, as residents have desired for decades. Steve, you have been a community… Read more »

Brian Holt
Brian Holt
5 months ago

@getreal it’s this kind of smart, forward Community thinking we need in power. Get real. Then Get a Clue.

Get Real
Get Real
5 months ago

There’s a reason your bio says former city councilman and former mayor, the residents of West Hollywood spoke and said we don’t want you leading us.

Cino
Cino
5 months ago

Dear God, I must be coming down with Corona fever, I just imagined I read about an adult decision was made at West Hollywood City Hall. I dreamed they actually put the well being of citzens before kid parties and painted crosswalks.