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.
Rusty Wiggs began calling West Hollywood home 15 years ago when he and his partner, psychologist Joel Becker, moved in together. “We celebrate three anniversaries each year,” said Wiggs, 40,”our domestic partnership, our civil union and our wedding.”
A native of Kansas City, Mo., Wiggs studied film production at Cal State Northridge. Today, he is executive director of the Cognitive Behavior Associates in Beverly Hills, a cognitive-behavior therapy practice. He oversees a staff of six doctors, including his husband. Having struggled with dyslexia his entire life, he says he learned to turn it into an advantage. “It forces me to think of things in different ways,” Wiggs said. “It helps me think on my feet.”
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: There always has to be a balance between preservation and development. As a growing city with major growing pains it’s an important issue to address. One of the first steps in preservation is to identify our landmarks. We need to know what’s important so we can take steps to preserve that part of history. Next, land markers with the history of the building have to be erected to keep the history alive. The bigger issue here is development in the city. We are a growing city growing without a plan of who we are as a city. Development is going to happen, but it is our job to plan it out and decide what we are for our future.
My thoughts go far with planning for parks and squares to be added with new infrastructure. I want to create an infrastructure of transportation that does not require cars. I want to plan new buildings that will build up to 60 percent of land value and be limited in height to create an urban feel with space to breathe. But that is talking about our growth and working on development as a city.
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: Nothing stays as is. When you look at how many titled projects are in the pipeline we are going to change in a big way. Grabbing ahold of that change and making it work for us as a city is the challenge. Urban density like mid-town Manhattan would destroy West Hollywood and turn it into urban chaos. Moderate density is a must, but that can have many different interruptions. We need a commercial core for business and an urban village for life. Our main commercial streets can handle more density, but our residential areas need to contain an urban village feel.
Walkability is the core of urban life. Being able to walk out to eat, shop and or work is one of the perks of living in an urban area. Transportation needs to change as cars are not the answer to our transportation issues. Transportation is a bigger issue than just the city of West Hollywood. Most of the cars going through our city everyday are commuters making their way to work. Transportation has to be combined with commuters and our needs as a city. I am a subway (mass transit on its own system) and public transit fan, but getting people out of their cars is an issue we need to start talking about.
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: For me, I want a limited amount of time to be able to make things happen because then people are motivated to work with you in that limited amount of time. As a government, term limits promote the growth of new leaders and new ideas. Also, term limits provide a structure of government instead of incumbents.
The term limit proposal will not work for our current needs as incumbents will still have power for 12 more years. I think what we are looking for is a city council that will communicate to us and not make us use lawyers to communicate.
Term limits is the only power we have as a community to change the system as incumbents always have the power to win. People need a voice and need to feel that they matter and we need a city council that can do that for all of us.
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: When talking about us as a “Creative City” I am at a loss. We survive as a city of restaurants, bars and hotels.
Let’s not forget parking tickets. We have a history (before we became a city) of a place of entertainment of all sorts. I can point to a building that used to be a brothel. We have the place of the first public (not hidden) gay bar in the county of Los Angeles.
We have a lot of creative people who come through our city based on our entertainment venues, which we benefit from with taxes.
I know a city can promote an idea, but the “Creative City” has always eluded me as we are a city of business, be that we have a lot of entertainment business or not.