The West Hollywood City Council both tightened and loosened its ban on the sale of fur apparel last night. The Council tightened the ban in an unanimous vote by extending it to include the physical display of fur clothing items by merchants who intend to actually sell them online or at a location outside of West Hollywood. But its amendment to the fur ban, adopted 2011, also acknowledged that it is legal to sell products made from fur taken from animals whose hunters have a state trapping license.
The ban on the display of fur for sale was prompted by an independent hearing examiner’s refusal, to support a fine levied against Mayfair House, a West Hollywood clothing and design accessory boutique, for selling uggs. Uggs are boots made from the skin of sheep. But the amendment acknowledged that a state Superior Court judge has ruled that the ordinance conflicts with a state law that permits the sale of fur from animals taken under a state trapping license. That is an interpretation of the law that the city doesn’t agree with according to City Attorney Mike Jenkins.
The amended ordinance means that local retailers can sell mink coats but not ugg boots, said Genevieve Morrill, president of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which joined a number of local retailers in opposing the amendment passed by the Council.
California residents can purchase a trapping license for $117.16 ($39.40 for those younger than 16) that permits them to trap badgers, beavers, bobcats, coyotes, gray foxs, minks, muskrats, opossums, raccoons, spotted skunk, striped skunk and weasels for commercial or recreation purposes. However, as Councilmember John D’Amico noted in an interview with WEHOville, minks are not native to California and, D’Amico said, it’s unlikely that a local hunter with a trapping license will create a line of fur apparel.
“This evenings vote to support the redraft of the fur ban ordinance is a victory for the apparel retailers for whom the exemption provides an open door to display and sell a wide range of furs,” said Chamber Chair Keith Kaplan, referring to the trapping license exemption. “At the same time, the city’s unwillingness to consider requests for a meaningful consumer information campaign rather than a forced ban is a loss for those who hoped for a meaningful dialogue about animal welfare.”
Also speaking against the amendment was Liz Solomon of Mayfair House, which has challenged the fur ban unsuccessfully in federal court and continues to challenge it in state court. Solomon, who said Mayfair sells lots of uggs and similar products, has noted that the boots are made from the skin of sheep that are killed for their meat, not to manufacture the boots.
The Council’s vote was applauded by animal rights activists. The ban, which took effect in September 2013, was the first in the nation when it was adopted in 2011. It was promoted by John D’Amico, who was running for election to the City Council that year. Among D’Amico’s supporters were Animal Alliance California and Ed Buck, a local fur ban advocate.
West Hollywood also has banned the retail sale of cats and dogs, and it recognizes their human companions as “guardians” rather than owners. The city has banned “pet rentals,” cat de-clawing and also performances by exotic animals.
The fur sales ban has been especially controversial, with local businesses saying the city has no right to tell them what products they can or cannot sell. West Hollywood’s Design District, which encompasses Beverly and Robertson boulevards and Melrose Avenue, is a fashion hub with boutiques that historically have offered fur products for sale. A 2012 study commissioned by the city found that 16 of 27 businesses responding to a survey said the ordinance would have a negative impact on them.
Several clothing retailers, including John Varvatos, Kitson, and Alberta Ferretti, sent letters to the Council opposing the amendment. “When we made the decision to open here there was no issue with fur apparel,” said Dean LeDuc, general manager of Alberta Ferretti, in one such letter. “Fur has played a significant role in our collections for many seasons, as it has in the majority of the designer collections presented in New York, Milan, London and Paris. It is an integral part of our vision as well as an important contributor to our profitability. The city’s arbitrary fur ban for apparel stores has had a significant negative impact on our bottom line. And now, as you consider redrafting this ordinance to prohibit even the display of fur you are essentially taking away our ability to present our full collection for marketing and editorial purposes as well.
“As you can imagine, we have made a substantial investment in both a long term lease and a custom build-out for our store. Moving would be costly for us, and a considerable loss for the city in terms of revenue and jobs. But lacking the ability to sell or even present or display such a significant part of our collection, a West Hollywood location may no longer make sense for us.”