Fasten your seat belts, fellow citizens of our utopian city, the countdown to Election Day – March 3, 2015 – has begun. With three seats up for grabs, and 12 candidates, the prelude to the big day promises to be a noisy one. At least I hope so.
The essence of democracy is that the collective voice of the people (vox populi for you Latin scholars) must be heard and that those who would represent the public be allowed to speak their minds and debate amongst themselves. I’m hoping for lots of public appearances with applicants presenting their differing opinions on how our city is to be run. We need a “speaker’s corner,” a public place where candidates can hold forth without the threat of a stop-watch limiting them to two minutes. I’m not sure that is allowed in West Hollywood as it is in some other states such as Massachusetts. But it should be. It exists in London and, of all places, Moscow.
I’m also hoping for REAL debates, not the usual arrangement of would-be’s seated in a row facing a selected person, the interlocutor, who lobs softball questions (“what is your vision for our city?”) for a 120-second reply. I want some real challengers, some tough back and forth, some strong opinions, some specific, well-thought out plans. Show us some hair, dammit.
I want to hear answers to questions like: Have you any really good ideas of how to handle all the traffic speeding through residential streets and jamming thoroughfares? Do you believe that every resident should be equally represented in the Council? If so, how about representation by area such as the Eastside, not by an “at large” Council? What will you do with Plummer Park’s historic, irreplaceable buildings? What can you do about the ficus trees that are tearing up sidewalks and residents’ sewer lines? Should the West Hollywood West new conservation building ordinance be made citywide? Are you happy with the city’s attempts to provide better pedestrian safety? What do you think of our current grand General Plan? What are your views on historic preservation? Where are we going to put all the cars coming here to visit our many attraction? Do you know that housing in WeHo is becoming unaffordable to a great many who work here? Is the city available only to the “elite”? Are you familiar with the city’s pension and healthcare obligations for its employees? Any ideas about better public transit, etc., etc. ???? What is your agenda, your plan should you be elected?
Who should promote and sponsor these open forums and debates? Not the city (except to make public venues available at no cost), for it is the citizens who need to control the events. Residents associations, for example, could get together on this. In days gone by such groups were able to use the auditorium at West Hollywood Park. Candidates should be able to debate each other and use city facilities to do so – without cost. The Chamber of Commerce is another possible sponsor. Let’s hear what its concerns are. A number of local businesses are owned and operated by WeHo residents, and they should have a voice. How about religious and non-profit institutions? What’s their play in the city? The political clubs surely should step up and offer space for forums and debates – Democratic and Republican and any other political bent.
We need discussion, public comment and true debates among those who would represent our interests on the Council. Anything less would be an affront to our political system and an insult to our intelligence – which most politicians rate lower than that of an amoeba. (Who can blame them when one views the ridiculously low voter turnout of previous elections? They think we don’t care.)
The entire planet seems to be at a pivotal point as change rears up and confronts us, most of us unprepared. Change is inevitable, but it must be managed as much as possible and monitored for effect. Anyone aspiring to elected political office must both have a plan and be flexible to bend when necessary. It’s a job not for the faint of heart.
My oldest friend on this planet, once as radical as I was (both of us on the left — ah, youth!) is now a “convert” to an ideology he once would have taken to the streets to spurn. I use him as an example of hewing to the easiest way of viewing the world and one’s i responsibilities in it. When one is isolated from open-minded discourse and decides that it is simpler to get in line than to question, then he has forfeited his citizenship. The daily chaos we now call “our life” often throws up roadblocks to thinking past the next little triumphs of pleasure and considering the real value of democracy. For most of us, just getting through the day is wearying and trying. “Please don’t ask me to complicate my life by pondering such things as a City Council election!” If that’s it for you, then do not bother anybody about the outcome in March.
And the thought just came to me that if I were a city employee at any level, I’d be following this coming race quite .closely. Sure as shootin’ change is in the air, and I’d want a front row seat when it comes. I’d want to be ready for change and to survive it.
Carlton Cronin and his wife, Toby Ann, have lived in West Hollywood since 1974. They have raised four sons here, and Cronin, now 82, has long been an astute observer of civic life.