Editor’s note: In early December, we asked each of the candidates running in the March 2013 election for West Hollywood City Council to address four key questions that are either on the public agenda or relevant to the city’s future. For each of the next nine weekdays, we will publish answers from the candidates.
A Newton, Mass. native, Sam Borelli reluctantly moved to West Hollywood in 2000 when his then boyfriend was transferred to the city. “I was happy in Boston and really didn’t want to come here, but West Hollywood soon became home,” said Borelli who has been an at-large appointee to the city’s public safety commission since 2003.
A communications consultant who handles media relations and PR campaigns, Borelli also worked four years with Christopher Street West, the group that produces the annual gay pride festival. In a committed relationship with Bernard Rook, Jr. for the past 10 years, Borelli, 45, got his first taste of politics at age 13 when he helped distribute fliers for Barney Frank’s first Congressional campaign.
PRESERVATION VERSUS COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT
Question: This is a very fraught issue, with some residents claiming the city is willing to tear down buildings that they see as an integral part of its past and important to quality of life today in favor of dense development. On the other side are those who argue that “old” doesn’t equal “important,” and that the city must strike a balance between preserving historic West Hollywood and building for the present and future. Does the city’s current process for designating cultural and historic landmarks strike the right balance? And if not, what needs to be changed?
Answer: West Hollywood should never be a “versus” community and, unfortunately, this has become more and more common in our city. For me, this sentence says it all: “the city must strike a balance between preserving historic West Hollywood and building for the present and future.” We must plan for thoughtful development that compliments our historic landmarks while reaching into the future and planning for opportunities aimed at cultivating the next generation of West Hollywood residents and businesses. This is particularly important since West Hollywood has become cost-prohibitive for many people. Young people especially, a core demographic that helped create this city, and has been left out of the affordable housing equation for too long. We must provide opportunities for young people to live in West Hollywood. I will work with stakeholders to generate solutions, such as micro-units, and work toward the incorporation of smaller units within our current and future senior living in order to foster intergenerational interaction. This form of community living builds bonds that offer unlimited opportunities for growth, sharing, learning and companionship.
As for the current process, the historic preservation commission was formed in the late 1980s and has been diligently working to safeguard what must be preserved. It is only when bureaucracy or politics get in the way that the system fails.
URBAN DENSITY VERSUS URBAN VILLAGE
Question: This is another issue that, like most on the political agenda, involves development. Some residents see West Hollywood as an “urban village,” words that evoke an image of moderate density, low-scale buildings, easy walk-ability, and little traffic. People have moved here because of what West Hollywood is, they argue. So why change it? Others see the value of urban density — with an increase in apartment buildings meaning an increase in population and business revenues and, perhaps, a more competitive market for renters. Some also hope that increased use of mass transit and the walk-ability of the city will offset an increase in automobiles. Many press for construction of more parking garages, like those proposed for behind City Hall and underneath Plummer Park. City planners have devoted a lot of attention to this question and have produced some impressive reports. Now we need to know where our council candidates stand. Should we be happy with West Hollywood as it is, in terms of density and population? Or should we be pushing for growth? And if we are going to grow, what are we going to do with all those cars?
Answer: The answer is balance! And while there have been some instances of over-development in our city, most community members recognize the need for sensible growth. We are an urban village but we are also a thriving destination city. We are a walkable city but a vast metropolis surrounds us. I am for measured development. For example, four councilmembers rejected the Sunset Centrum Project at 8801 Sunset Boulevard at the bustling and typically congested intersection of Sunset/Horn/Holloway. That over-sized project did not belong there. Do we need something on that corner that enhances and compliments the Sunset Strip? Yes! Could that project work in another area of the city? Quite possibly. During my time as a member of the Avenues Streetscape Working Group it came to our attention that Beverly Boulevard was actually a quite under-utilized throughway. It’s possible that a project of that magnitude might have been better served there.
Interestingly, even with the past development the number of residents hasn’t drastically changed in 20 years. What we can do better is work on transparency in our government and inspire, not discourage, community participation. Engaging all of the stakeholders allows the opportunity to work TOGETHER on projects to find common ground and reduces the us versus them culture that has unfortunately adversely affected so many in our now divided community.
TERM LIMITS VERSUS CIVIC ENGAGEMENT
Question: Also on the March ballot will be a proposal to limit city council members to three four-year terms. The proposal, which won’t be retroactive, is championed by residents who argue that some council incumbents, having always won their re-election races, aren’t responsive to the community. Another issue is civic engagement. In 1984, 17,000 people voted in the election that gave birth to West Hollywood. Last year, only a little more than a third as many voters turned out for the municipal election. Obviously we’d like to know where the council candidates stand on the term limits issue. But we’d also like to know what they think the city can do to engage more residents in civic life. Should municipal elections be shifted to the same date as national elections, when there’s much larger turnout? Should the city sponsor a campaign on the sidewalks to register voters? There’s little incentive to increase voter turnout for politicians who don’t want voters looking over their shoulders. But it’s the only way to guarantee the good government that West Hollywood deserves.
Answer: I could not wait to turn 18 years old and vote. At 13 years old I passed out flyers in my neighborhood of Newton, MA to help get Barney Frank elected to Congress. Thus began my community service. To see the power of the electorate at that age sparked my long-held belief in the power of the people to elect their representatives to office. In the past six months, however, I have come to believe that term limits could create a more level playing field here in a city like West Hollywood. There are numerous unquestionably qualified commissioners, board members and other actively engaged residents who would make excellent councilmembers. Unfortunately, the current system does nothing to encourage and, in some cases, actively discourages many from even considering the aspiration of what should be a natural part of any progressive community.
The one thing that I would change in the current term limits ballot initiative is the ability to be elected again after a term off. I think that is a more democratic approach.
During the six or so weeks that the team working to get term limits on the ballot were canvassing they also registered 400 voters. That is an enormous and commendable accomplishment. West Hollywood is supposed to be the “Creative City.” We should work harder to encourage our population to vote. Our current system encourages only Election Day turnout. We have to meet the people where they are: their homes, their phones and their computers.
THE CREATIVE CITY
Question: West Hollywood promotes itself as “The Creative City.” Urban development theorists such as Richard Florida argue that fostering a “creative class” of knowledge workers is essential to the economic health and well-being of a city. Should the City of West Hollywood invest in making the city a more attractive place for residents and businesses engaged in the knowledge economy as opposed to the service economy of restaurants, bars and hotels? If so, what can the city do?
Answer: While I believe that we have many creative people who populate our fine city, we have lost our way collectively as the “Creative City.” West Hollywood used to lead as an initiator of original ideas and progressive policies and we need to reclaim that standing. We can and we must lead the way on innovative solutions to transportation and parking. Building more parking structures does nothing to encourage a cultural shift where we leave our cars behind and walk or utilize local transportation options. I will quickly work to develop an environmentally friendly nightlife shuttle that decreases the number of vehicles on our streets but has all of the fun and flair that West Hollywood is revered for. I will also push for the implementation of a user-friendly cycle-share program that is mutually beneficial to both residents and visitors.
West Hollywood is fairly well balanced when it comes to knowledge versus service economy. In addition to being a service-based destination city, West Hollywood also has many individuals and businesses who are sought after for their expertise and wealth of knowledge on subjects ranging from public relations and marketing to the political to cutting edge technology and social media to architecture, design and urban planning.