Ace Outdoor Advertising’s proposal to modify its “tall wall” sign at 8730 Sunset Blvd. will present a perfect storm of conflicts of interest when it finally reaches the West Hollywood City Council.
The city Planning Commission on Wednesday rejected a planning staffer’s recommendation that it not approve the modification because it would obscure the building’s iconic sign and amount to a “conditional use permit” — in other words, an exception to the existing billboard law. But the Planning Commission, in a three-to-one vote, instructed the city planners to come back with a motion to approve the Ace proposal, which was presented by Aaron Green of Afriat Consulting, a lobbying firm.
Who voted to reject the professional opinion of a city planner and accept a proposal to make an exception to the law for Ace? That would be Commissioner Roy Huebner, appointed by Councilmember John Duran; Commissioner Donald Deluccio, appointed by Mayor Jeffrey Prang, and Commissioner David Aghaei, appointed by Councilmember John Heilman. Commissioner Marc Yeber, appointed by Councilmember Abbe Land, voted against the proposal. Commission Chair Sue Buckner and Commissioner John Altschul recused themselves because of their proximity to the sign in question.
What do all these people have in common? Steve Afriat, and thousands of dollars in campaign donations from Ace Outdoor. Afriat, whose firm lobbied for approval of the Ace proposal, managed the re-election campaigns this year of Duran and Prang and has worked in the past for Heilman.
Those campaigns were generously funded by Ace and its employees and associates, who, given that they are located 580 miles away in Utah, are likely to have been motivated more by a desire to gain influence than by a passion for West Hollywood’s gay-friendly and progressive political climate.
As we reported earlier, Ace gave $10,000 to the Friends of West Hollywood Committee to Elect John Duran. Ace also contributed $500 to Mayor Jeffrey Prang’s campaign and $3,900 to his unsuccessful 2012 campaign for a state Assembly seat. And in 2011, the company donated $500 each (the maximum allowed to a particular West Hollywood council candidate) to John Heilman, Abbe Land, Lindsay Horvath and John D’Amico, who defeated Horvath.
Was the Planning Commission’s decision influenced by the Afriat/Ace cabal? Was the decision to support Ace’s request a wise one that objectively took into account the interests and needs of WeHo residents and businesses? We don’t profess to know the answer to either question.
What we do know is that as far back as 62 BC smart politicians knew the danger of even the appearance of a conflict of interest. That was the year that Julius Caesar, faced with a rumor of infidelity, divorced poor Pompeia, saying that “my wife ought not even to be under suspicion.” Caesar, astoundingly prescient, didn’t want Rome to be seen by future historians as the Chicago of Europe.
If the City Council doesn’t want West Hollywood to be seen as the Chicago of Southern California, we’d suggest that Councilmember Duran and Mayor Prang announce that they will abstain when the motion to approve Ace’s request comes before them.