Questions You Might Want to Put to WeHo City Council Candidates

Candidates (from top to bottom, left to right) Larry Block, John Duran, Marco Colantonio, John Heilman, Sepi Shyne, Noemi Torres and John Erickson

COVID-19 has altered everything including the economy of West Hollywood.  An estimate of lost revenues for the fiscal year just ended was $15 million and the projected revenue loss for the coming fiscal year is $20 million. In response, the City Council has voted to put on the Nov. 3 ballot a proposal to increase the sales tax to 10.25%, the highest level allowed by the state.  This situation should certainly bring forth questions about the city’s finances, some of which I detail below.

Challenges that provide opportunities for the dedicated candidates to respond:

  • City expenses. Can you suggest other methods to  balance the city’s books and reduce operating costs?
  • City events. Which city sponsored events (which means those where the city is sharing or wholly providing the funding) do you think should be curtailed or dropped entirely?
  • City staff. Not enough? Too many? Too expensive? Kudos? Complaints?
  • The Sheriff. In the past, alternatives have been discussed to provide police services. Putting aside heated rhetoric about police methods, what is your opinion of this contract with Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department?
  • Housing. Affordable or not, pressures outside the city boundaries, and some within, will soon present us with the need to make decisions that only Solomon could have made previously.  The world is aging, many countries (including the U.S.A.) are experiencing population declines. There are more seniors in WeHo. There will be fewer in the next generations able to pay for their keep.
  • Vacancy tax. It has been proposed in several cities to pressure people to use or sell their  vacant houses.
  • SB50. What will be the effects of bills like SB50 and other bills meant to increase urban density. Workers with good paying jobs want to live closer to their work.
  • Residential development. Are we in a housing bubble?  Right now only the relatively wealthy can afford to buy in WeHo.  Increasingly, traditional families, a growing part of our demographic,  require smaller dwellings.  Big box houses will be less attractive to them. The aging LGBTQ community must consider aging issues and how to stay in WeHo.
  • Commercial/mixed use development. Like it or not, we are a resort town.  Our industry is entertainment, nifty hotels, clubs and restaurants.  These elements must eventually be more integrated into the city’s life, rather than apart as single entities.  How about Il Piccolino on the ground floor of a retail/apartment building?  Or a neighborhood pharmacy, bakery, barber???
  • More city owned apartments, ??
  • Our demographic. What will it look like in ten years?  I think we will have to become a far less elite town in order to prosper and survive the changes being forced upon us by global warning, as it changes the entire world. Changing demographics mean changing demands and needs.
  • Employee housing. This is an issue being grappled with in a number of other resort cities — how to keep good people in a really tight, expensive housing market.  The Chamber of Commerce needs to get more involved in this.
  • Traffic. Elements beyond our control send thousands of cars and trucks through our city because it sits on a few of the major transit streets.  Can we redesign our streets in a way to reduce the traffic impact?  Create cul-de-sacs and other restrictive measures to also protect pedestrian movement?  It is a regional problem due mostly to a very thin transit system not yet designed to carry the potential number of riders in the county.
  • Infrastructure. We inherited an aging utility network which has caused the city to expend lots simply to keep up with the repairs and replacements. Owning our streetlights is one step toward better control. Utility corridors under some of our busiest avenues are of particular concern because their maintenance impacts residential and commercial buildings as well as traffic.
  • Green building. These rules greatly enhance new construction throughout the city. Solar roofs will increase in number and efficiency. Grey water systems can be established for individual blocks.  (Side note: the brochure used when Green Building rules first appeared featured me on the cover. I was unaware that the photo was taken until I was shown the brochure.) We have to be careful that the rules don’t stifle construction.
  • Transportation. It will take a generation before there is a truly viable transit system in Los Angeles county.  West Hollywood’s City Line and other small transit enterprises will have to increase in service for residents and visitors when restrictive traffic measures are installed.
  • Crime. The Neighborhood Watch program needs a big boost from homeowner groups.  More people on the streets, though assaults seem to take place at all hours and just about anywhere.  Cops on bikes have been a great way to patrol residential streets.  But, as long as criminal elements continue to think of West Hollywood as a candy store, easy pickings, we’ll have to deal more closely with crime and its effects.
  •  Our City Council. Only a truly engaged person would take on this full-time part-time job.  In my mind it’s almost a monastic calling, a venture far into ] the wilds of process – which is what government is anyhow.  Feeling that way about it, I’d certainly press anyone desiring the work to tell me just what he or she wants to do, expects to do and how he or she would engage others.  Whose work on the present Council do you like, dislike?  Which of the above issues I offer for discussion would you handle first, prioritize?  Lots of questions expecting real, hard answers.
  • Homelessness. This is a national problem with local consequences and no easy answers as long as lawmakers refuse to take firm measures and even change laws regarding the handling of the mentally ill on the streets.  West Hollywood is a welcoming city for these people, but just how far can we go in caring for them?
  • Term Limits. this is the lazy citizen’s way out.  Voters should do the heavy lifting and exercise their franchise – you know, the right to vote, the privilege to vote, the item I and a few million others risked our lives to protect.  Term limits are limits imposed on people who should be allowed to continue their good work.  Bad actors should lose at the polls, not because time has run out.   First off, of course, any elected official should have had to run the gauntlet of public scrutiny  through severe questioning and monitoring.  Remember, “all politics is local,” and if we do a good job electing the right people, well, it might just flow out to our county, state and national governments.  Supposed to work that way.

There are other challenges to be sure. Let’s hear from the hopeful candidates about items they pose individually. This city has some great talent in terms of discussing the bumps in our municipal road. Let’s hear from these people.

It’s a duty and a privilege to be able to express one’s opinion and desires at the polling station.  There are some changes in how we get to that place in California.  A little effort this time could bring out a more inclusive vote and raise the turnout to more than a piddly 20%.  My jumpmaster at Fort Benning in 1951 was really fixated on the reasons he was training us for war: “To protect all our freedoms, especially the right to freely cast a vote.”  Not a complicated view of America, is it?  VOTE!

Tomorrow: Russian as a second language? Da nyet, navernoe!

  1. WH has to be the worst run city in the country. All we want are basic services to work……no parades, no special interest events, no graffiti in the streets and no events with porn stars.
    Look at how BH functions. Things work. No meaningless drama.

    1. Exactly, and the example of BH is right next door. Is our city administration too busy to look or do they have foggy glasses?

      Simplicity and action and easily motivated by will.

  2. Folks should do their own individual, research and make rational decisions. Listening to a chattering human flock replicating the wild green parrots flying around is useless.

    We are a free country however, that only exists if we, the citizens/residents of West Hollywood, don’t take it for granted and endeavor to take our responsibilities seriously.

  3. There are no miracles, but there are realistic solutions for actionable issues. In other words, measures that can be implemented in real-time to offer immediate relief. Endorsing raising the sales tax is a bad idea for all concerned. It will hurt small businesses, and once again, residents will bare the burden of a City Council out of touch with the electorate. Vote “No” on this ballot item on November 3rd.

    As far as Fiscal Responsibility, City Hall salaries are a good place to start.

    The City Manager estimates that this fiscal year, which started July 1, the city will see a $20 million (15%) decline in revenue.

    The city is seeing a greater need for many of the critical services, such as social and senior services, the cleaning and upkeep of public areas, assistance in retaining businesses and jobs in the city who have been hard hit by the economic impacts for COVID-19.

    There are currently over 115 City employees in administrative positions with annual base salaries ranging from $120,000. to over $400,000. for a total exceeding $20 Million dollars . A minimum 10% pay cut for all employees with salaries over $120,000 per year, deferred for at least one year could move more than $2 Million towards essential City services and social programs.

    Link for Citywide Salary Schedule:

  4. No way do we raise sales tax
    10.25% is ridiculous
    It will make retail store like mine un competitive
    Lower the taxes and revenue will rise
    Cut expensive staff and stop spending so much on stupid programs.

    1. I watched the last City Council meeting, and they did surveys, and most residents support an increase in sales tax. I think it is because they don’t want our government to suffer with so much revenue loss, already. Our city government provides essential services. I think another way to save money, is to look at efficiency, how much people are paid, etc., within city hall. Our city manager is one of the very highest paid city managers in the country. Why can’t he take a little bit of a pay cut during this pandemic, when we have a city full of people who have had to do that? His compensation package is around $400,000 a year. I understand that the city has an outstanding medical insurance program, and he probably has an absolutely huge pension. I think some of the higher paid city staffers should have to take some sort of a pay cut. Even if it’s only 10 or 20%

  5. Let’s maybe ask John Duran why he refuses to step down even after hundreds of people have called for his resignation over sexual harassment allegations and his complacency in the delayed arrest of Ed Buck, resulting in the death of another black man?

  6. Thank you Carl for such a thoughtful series. I’d like to see the candidates answer these questions, perhaps as part of a series like Hank has done in past elections.

  7. We fought hard to finally achieve term limits. Politicians must realize this is not a life time appointment. It’s difficult to remove an incumbent, especially those who have been in office for far too long. Term limits should also apply to members of Boards and Commissions. New blood, new perspectives and new approaches are needed to keep West Hollywood as vibrant as possible.

    1. To (semi-)quote the late, great Jeanne Dobrin as she was often heard to say prior to the election that had the term limits issue on the ballot . . . “we already have term limits . . . they are called elections”. Residents need to wake up, educate themselves, make their own decisions, and get out and exercise their civic right and duty of voting.

      1. This will never happen, because this city is filled with a lot of young people, who often don’t stay here very long. Maybe 2 to 4 years? Some of them are straight, they get married, they move to the suburbs and have kids. Gay couples do the same. My point is, people don’t invest themselves in a community, if they don’t have an intention in staying there very long. And renters invest less time than homeowners. Especially renters who are not here long term. I’ll bet you could handpick people in our bars, who live here, and don’t even know who the city council members are, and have never seen a meeting, or followed a public issue.

  8. This is a great list of questions and there are more, of course. I agree that Mr. Cronin should be given a perch befitting his intellect and rigor. I am always anxious, however, when I read or hear references to the “full time, part time” status of council members and commissioners. I fear that is too often a ruse (especially when uttered by the members themselves) to call for less harsh questioning and critiquing of these part-timers doing the yeoman’s work of representative governance. Question everything. Always. Forever.

  9. While I am no longer a Resident of West Hollywood, I am still a stakeholder. This is a real good article. I agree with all the points the Author has made. I, however, feel that there is a bias in the article (probably not because of the Author). In our culture we are trained from a very young age to read from left to right and to start at the top. The placement of the photos is suggestive and subliminal. Larry Block is on the top left and the Woman Candidate who, in my opinion should be elected is at the bottom and the other Woman is on the right side of the group of pictures. In addition to that, Larry Block is allowed to post a comment which will benefit his campaign. In my opinion, Larry Block and John Erickson are part of the old school. If West Hollywood is going to navigate into the future progressively It needs to “hire new management”, that is to say: fresh faces, new ideas, a willingness to let go of the old way of doing things and embrace change.

    I do not believe that a West Hollywood business owner should be on the City Council. He will have to recuse himself from many votes which will make him less effective than the others. I also believe that John Erickson brings too much political baggage which will continue the policies, opinions and actions of the old school. I don’t say this as a personal comment about either one. I believe that any objective observer would agree.

    1. I can’t get over how horribly compressed the photos are. They make all of the candidates look like they have fat faces. Somebody adjusted the width of the photos to be off scale from the height.

  10. This is a great list of questions. What about including schools and education as a topic? It’s probably the most important topic in most local elections, but it’s an afterthought in West Hollywood. Any interest in WeHo creating its own unified school district, separate and apart from LAUSD?

  11. Let’s nominate Carl Cronin at Honorary City Manager. Carl certainly exemplifies the qualities of scope, general awareness, diligence, specific knowledge, communication, integrity, fortitude and humility.

    The question is….. Is their a potential candidate that embraces these qualities?

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