The first City Council debate of 2015 somehow seemed to miss the mark. While the event served its purpose of defining the front-runners, John D’Amico, John Heilman and Lauren Meister, this was undoubtedly the least informative debate in city history. That was not the fault of the dozen participants; I thought each of them brought some interesting observations and ideas to the table
John D’Amico was there with his usual intelligence and originality, but the passion and focus of his 2011 campaign was barely present. While perhaps not a stellar speaker, Lauren Meister demonstrated a journeyman’s grasp of the most complicated issues and was clearly able to articulate why the city needs new leadership and fresh ideas. Meister successfully conveyed why we love West Hollywood and why we view the future of our city with a sense of trepidation.
In 2011 John Heilman spent every debate hunkered down and besieged; this time he was all smiles and even flirted with the emcee. Heilman made it clear that he believes he created West Hollywood and virtually everything that has happened since 1984 is directly attributable to him. “L’etat c’est moi” as it were. Heilman seemed blissfully disconnected from any sense of discontent or malaise within the electorate, and I suspect he fears that acknowledging any problems at City Hall would be an admission of personal failure.
The format of the debate was particularly unhelpful. The first question asked for a definition of “adaptive reuse,” the latest buzzword within the world of urban planning. That issue is only vaguely relevant to the most pressing issues facing the city. But even the candidates who knew the definition seemed only to be able to apply it in predicable and unimaginative ways. As a voter, I am not going to dismiss anyone from consideration for not knowing the term. Shouldn’t we be more interested in figuring out who shares our community values and appears to be willing to learn?
Unfortunately, the debate got side-tracked on a number of similarly framed questions, and the limited time forced candidates to resort to buzzwords in place of well thought out responses. The final indignity was when the moderator decided that 15-second responses would be in order. That insured that no candidate had a chance to shine.
The debate format seemed largely disconnected from what is actually going on in the community and the residents’ concerns about our future.
We drive down Santa Monica and see massive developments in the works. But if people were aware of other projects that are already approved but have yet to break ground, the public would be shocked. There are at least three major projects that will soon be breaking ground on the Westside of Santa Monica Boulevard. That is not counting the massive project that Charles Cohen of Pacific Design Center is proposing for the MTA bus site, which includes a hotel and twin 12-story towers at San Vicente.
One of the 12-story buildings is being proposed for a new City Hall, although everyone at City Hall denies any knowledge of such plans. The fact that the lobbyist for the project is Steve Afriat, who also runs some of the incumbents’ election campaigns, makes those denials seem a bit disingenuous. While this over the top project would guarantee gridlock and would be one of the largest in our history, it was never the focus of a debate question.
As residents we face a future of over development, gridlock, skyrocketing rents and the demolition of rent controlled housing. But most of the candidates simply responded with well-worn politically correct answers and platitudes. Indeed, when asked how to deal with traffic and over development, John Heilman insisted his plan was to have the MTA change its mind about a subway spur to West Hollywood. Nice plan if we can wait 35 years for it to be built. This is the kind of cop-out response we have come to expect from our entrenched incumbents.
John D’Amico said we have a $100 million surplus; John Heilman described it as a $100 million reserve. Of course, a “reserve” is not the same a “surplus,” but the fact is the city is quite flush. But that should raise the question as to why we keep approving mega developments and grant developers breaks by reducing parking requirements. If we have such a lucrative tax base, what is the point of approving developments that will inevitably change the nature of the community?
Why do we believe we can pack an unlimited number of super-sized developments along Santa Monica Boulevard without impacting traffic? Why are we gouging visitors with high meter rates and outlandishly punitive parking tickets when we rely upon the same visitors to keep our local business viable? Are we destroying West Hollywood in order to pay for it?
The tenants at the low income housing on Detroit Street have become a scary parable for what the future will hold. The West Hollywood Housing Corporation wants to demolish their building to build a bigger and better affordable housing project. The Detroit tenants are expected to accept their relocation fees and just leave. That many of them have lived in West Hollywood for twenty or more years seems to carry no weight with the West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation bureaucrats. Individuals don’t matter in the New West Hollywood. We are going to have progress and it does not matter who we have to evict to get there.
But we are all being told the same story. The funky, free spirited, bohemian city we love is falling victim to towers of glass and steel. Rent controlled buildings are again being eyed for luxury development. Our elected officials tell us “progress” is inevitable and necessary to pay for social services. Somehow raising another gay flag or painting another rainbow crosswalk will make it all better. We should be prepared to sacrifice our quality of life, or even our apartments, so the city can have a new performing arts center.
Thirty years after cityhood, we have become the kind of arrogant, unresponsive and corrupt government we were trying to get away from.
The city that was a beacon for the ten percent of the population that was gay and lesbian is now a city catering to the one percent. Rent controlled housing is being replaced with luxury units. The loss of diversity, through the demolition of rental housing, cannot be offset by adding a few extra affordable units to the mega-developments along Santa Monica.
Residents are asking themselves, “Where are we going? What kind of city is West Hollywood going to be? Is there going to be a place for me in this new West Hollywood?”
These were the tough questions that were missing from the debate. Sadly these are questions that are the most important and remain unanswered.
Steve Martin is an attorney and a former member of the West Hollywood City Council.
Thank you for simplifying this subject Mr. Martin. As long as city employees make over the top salaries and “non profit” corporations like West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation spends over $1,200,000 for employee salaries, money will always be the motive no matter how much talk there is about caring for the people.
WEHO is a nightmare serving one group. City OVERPAID employees. The cross walks… a total disaster because the inept city manager failed on responsibly handling this. Fire the city manager and send him back to Pasadena where he lives.
Pop up land reminders: DiSASTERs. WTF thought this was a good idea? Block? Less freaking crosswalks. More walking to the corners. Good god, what an awful waste of time and money was this stoopid idea. Really. C’mon!
You know, there are good and bad things to be said about Steve’s comments. First, I agree, the debate sucked and accomplished nothing. How about a real one….. and the level of development either completed, under construction, or planned for Santa Monica Blvd is just terrifying for those of us who already live on or near that thoroughfare. The East End is going to see 700 or so new apartment residences in the next few years. When asked about the traffic impact that would have on our already impassable street, one city hall person remarked,’ Oh, those people won’t be… Read more »
Well said! I too thought the “debate” was a farce, conducted too much like a game show.
Rapidly increasing density is a fact. The absence of any kind of plan how to account for it is the elephant in the room.
Thank you, Steve, for providing useful insight and perspective.
John Heilman is one of our founding architects. John Heilman, to put it bluntly, you should be thankful for. The social services, rent-stabilization, the library, the AAA rating, all partly due to him. Big Zero for Martin. That’s what I was saying of and of course, as she has not been seat, anywhere for long? Lauren Meister–Big NO.
Thats funny Mike….don’t you support Heilman?! What were you saying about “Ring out the old?”
Here, here Christopher. Call him out. We will have opportunities to do so between many times now and from March 3 through June 2, 2015. He is running! The thought of Councilmember Martin again is stomach-turning. I shall have the opportunity to remind all, (not that you forgotten) of his record and how he is not good for West Hollywood. As for your instinct about Lauren; My advice is go with your instinct. You are spot on. The time for councilmember Martin is gone and never again. Ring out the old, Martin has plenty of baggage, and ring in the… Read more »
Here, here Christopher. Call him out as we will have the opportunity to do so between March 3 and June 2, 2015. He is running and the though of Councilmember Martin again is stomach turning. I have more of an opportunity to remind all, (not that you forgotten) of his record. As for your instinct about Lauren. My advice is go with it you are spot on.
The time for a councilmember Martin is never again. Ring out the old repeats with plenty of baggage and ring in the new.
Councilman Martin has a really nice ring to it! The time is now.
The usual partisan tone that we can expect from Steve Martin. He focused the debate on his opinions and his ‘candidate’, and left 9 candidates out of this discussion that was about the debate. The title suggests this article is about the debate but in reality it is really about his run for the seat in June. He gets too much op-ed time to promote his likes and dislikes. I’m also particularly dismayed at his ‘scare’ tactics about development. He should have focused on the candidates versus himself. While Im on the fence about Lauren I’m not sure how she… Read more »