The Citizens Agenda: Proper Law Enforcement and Sports Facilities

election 2015, west hollywood city council candidates
Candidates, right to left, are John Allendorfer, Larry Block, John D’Amico, Brian Funnagan, Joe Guardarrama, John Heilman, Lindsey Horvath, Lauren Meister, Matthew Ralston, James “Duke” Mason, Christopher Landavazo and Tristan Schukraft

Today eight of the 12 candidates in the March 3 election for three seats on the West Hollywood City Council offer their responses to questions raised by West Hollywood residents about whether WeHo should have its own police department and whether it should provide more sports fields for local athletes  (candidates Brian Funnagan, John Heilman, Lindsey Horvath and Christopher Landavazo did not respond). Each week since Jan. 12 we have  publish one or more questions raised by readers of WEHOville and the candidates’ responses. Candidates spoke to their qualifications for the Council on Jan. 12 and addressed traffic concerns on Jan. 14. They explained their positions on parking issues on Jan. 19 and on pedestrian safety on Jan. 26. On Feb. 2 candidates spoke to questions about development and historic preservation. And on Feb. 9 the candidates discussed campaign finance reform. On Feb. 16 candidates addressed questions about affordable housing and reforming the Council deputy system.  Today is the final set of questions.

Beverly Hills, a city of roughly the same population as West Hollywood, has its own police department. Given incidents such as the shooting by deputies at 939 Palm and allegations of anti-gay behavior raised by the L.A. LGBT Center a few years ago, should West Hollywood have its own police department

JOHN ALLENDORFER

First of all we may have roughly the same population as Beverly Hills but that is where it stops. West Hollywood is comprised of 78 percent renters unlike the majority of homeowners in Beverly Hills. And the needs, culture, lifestyles and entertainment venues of our citizens are unique to us and pose different safety issues. As the manager of my apartment building I have at times found it necessary to call the Sheriff’s Department and in most instances they were fast to arrive and solve the issues. But because of recent incidents, like the 939 Palm Ave. killings last year and transparency complaints from citizens I believe the city should establish a task force to consider whether WeHo should have its own police force or establish a civilian oversight board in the meantime. I would definitely consider the possibility of having our own police force in the future.

LARRY BLOCK

I do not believe West Hollywood needs to have it’s own police department. Funding and running our own police department is expensive. We don’t have to worry about pensions, can increase or decrease our contract with any special needs and without all that bureaucracy we can focus on other community needs. As we can see from our deputy situation we tend to overpay some staff. If we had our own police department with its own union there is no telling how much economic impact this would have on our budget.

JOHN D’AMICO

I am a strong supporter of our West Hollywood division of the LA County Sheriff’s department. The men and women of that station work hard every day.  We work with Captain Honings and the department every day to improve service and keep residents safe.  I have met with the department and our director of Public Safety Kristin Cook many times to discuss the ongoing relationship and community presence.  There are hiccups occasionally and sometimes they are very serious.  And the Sheriff’s department has a system in place for investigating and reviewing all complaints.  The Sheriff’s department has a strong track record of making adjustments as needed to better serve the community.  There is more work to do and as new officers rotate into positions we must continue to update our relationship.

BRIAN FUNNAGAN

No response.

JOE GUARDARRAMA

There are really two issues that are raised in this question: how do we make sure that the force which protects and polices West Hollywood does so in a responsible and sensitive manner, and is it better for West Hollywood to have its own police force?

Having an independent West Hollywood Police Department, in and of itself, is not a guarantee of more responsible policing. While there are, admittedly, a number of problems that urgently need to be addressed between the Sheriff’s Department and the West Hollywood community, (and perhaps we should be looking at how to create an overall cultural change within the Sheriff’s Department) I believe that we have enough of a dialogue with the current command structure to work within the existing framework to create meaningful change. This must include not only sensitivity and cultural competency training, but also disciplinary actions against deputies who abuse their powers or behave in a manner that is insensitive to the diverse communities of West Hollywood.

Economically, an independent West Hollywood Police Department is unfeasible. Setting aside the cost of the infrastructure and maintenance, the real issue is the financial burden of pensions. Other cities have had to declare bankruptcy in part because of pension costs, and I don’t want West Hollywood to be one of them. As a Contract City, West Hollywood gets a very good deal financially from our Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and as long as we can maintain and improve the standard of service we get from deputies, I am in favor of reforming the current system rather than starting an entirely new municipal police force.

JOHN HEILMAN

No response.

LINDSEY HORVATH

No response.

CHRISTOPHER LANDAVAZO

No response.

JAMES “DUKE” MASON

I think, at the very least, that it’s a question that should be asked of the City Council. We should make it a top priority and have a thoughtful, detailed discussion as residents about what solution makes the most sense. If we can make changes and reforms with the current Sheriff’s Department as it exists, that would be great. But if it looks like, in the end, we need to establish our own West Hollywood Police Department to ensure that residents feel there’s accountability and that they are accepted and protected by their own police force, then so be it.

LAUREN MEISTER

While I agree that there are some things the Sheriff’s Department can do better, I do not believe that establishing our own police department will necessarily solve any problems that may exist. In fact, an independent police department may cause other problems, as we have seen in places like Los Angeles or San Fernando.

As a former Public Safety Commissioner, what I can tell you is that we need better oversight and training. Deputies should be trained in LGBT issues when they come to the West Hollywood station, and on an ongoing basis, receive training in customer service, so members of the public come away with more positive experiences when they come in contact with the Sheriff’s department.

We need better oversight to make sure that all crimes committed in the City get reported so that the department can plan its enforcement and prevention efforts more effectively. We need to bring back foot patrols along Sunset and Santa Monica. All of this can be accomplished without creating a new department.

If the Sheriff’s Department is not willing or able to improve services in our city as suggested above, I would be amenable to studying the feasibility of a West Hollywood Police Department.

MATT RALSTON

Ideally we should not be contracting law enforcement through the Los Angeles Sheriffs Department as they have a culture of poor conduct instilled by a reactionary named Lee Baca.

Our Sheriffs often behave in an Us vs.Them fashion. Too often citizens of West Hollywood are seen as a source of revenue for the County. When Sheriffs start giving out token traffic tickets to fill their quotas (which they have regardless of what you hear) it is a detriment to our City. We don’t even see the revenue from this as we do with parking.

It just sucks money out of the community.

A personal example: I was given a ticket because I turned left onto Laurel at 3:59 p.m. There is a No Turn sign between 4 and 7 p.m. This is so a car making a left turn won’t block an entire lane. I was pulled over by an officer on a motorcycle (Officer Teufel) who was completely rude and attempted to intimidate me for reasons I don’t understand. I was given an expensive ticket (Around $300) and a mandatory appearance at the Beverly Hills Courthouse (which is mandatory for a minor infraction), which took half a day and caused me to miss work.

When pulled over I explained to the officer that the point of the No Turn Lane is to not block a lane. THERE WAS NO TRAFFIC AT ALL. And, at best it was 4 p.m. I maintain it was 3:59. Does it really matter? Is this why we are paying these people? To steal our money and beat us on technicalities in our own neighborhoods?

I was deeply upset by it as well as a few other interactions I’ve had with them. West Hollywood was in part founded because its citizens wanted to be free from police harassment. I see the tide changing. We need to realize almost none of these people live in our community, so they have little if anything invested. It’s probably why they often misbehave and see us as dollar signs.

We have it within our budget to establish our own department and I think it would be a step forward in the name of progress.

Remember the good old days when people didn’t get nervous if a cop pulled them over? Why should your heart start racing if you’ve done nothing wrong? You’re supposed to be happy to see them. We can get back to how used to be. They are supposed to be here to serve us. In the meantime, if we re-direct their priorities towards actually patrolling in the name of public safety we can keep the same amount of officers and see the crime rate decrease.

TRISTAN SCHUKRAFT

In 1991 there was a sponsored initiative for West Hollywood to establish its own police force.  The initiative lost in a 49/51 vote, but it did force the Sheriff’s Department to reform and deal with homophobia.

The issue with police and fire departments is that these professionals retire earlier due to the strain of the job, which makes it costly for the city to support pensions.  The city also benefits from LA County resources such as labs, and new technologies in the area of forensics.  I’m not opposed to the idea, but it would need to be carefully thought through and make long-term financial sense.  Today we spend approximately $16.5 million annually on the Sheriff’s Department.

With that said, I think West Hollywood needs to work more closely with the Sherriff’s Department to ensure incidents such as that on Palm do not happen again, issues of homophobia do not occur, Sherriff’s are not responding recklessly to calls jeopardizing the safety of others and Sherriff’s are respectful of the general community when responding to incidents and not unnecessarily blocking traffic.  Finally, as a resident of the East Side, I’d like to see the Sheriff’s Department paying more attention to the East Side.

The city is spending more than $10 million an acre to redevelop West Hollywood Park, yet it provides no place for most local sports leagues to play. Does that make sense to you? And if not, how would you propose the city address that issue?

JOHN ALLENDORFER

One would think that with that much money you could design the landscaping innovations to build playing fields for local sports leagues. I would propose possibly using that money finding another spot in the city, like for example Plummer Park or even the yet to be determined MTA bus parking lot. We should have areas where local sport teams could play and keep that sense of community.

LARRY BLOCK

This is only a partially true statement. The new gymnasium will allow for dodgeball and other indoor sports leagues. It does not have a baseball field and I hope that the park can be adapted to create a space for some special events. In the old park, in the old days, we had Sunday softball games. We need to be able to have at least one space that can be utilized for outdoor leagues such as baseball, football, or soccer. My suggestion was made at the West Hollywood Park design review was to keep the open space adaptable to these kind of sports events by spacing the trees accordingly towards the south middle of the new design plan.

JOHN D’AMICO

The park design plan is comprised of a series of competing needs.  I agree that local sports leagues need a place to play, but I am not sure that West Hollywood park is the best location for all sports leagues activities.  We already have tennis, dodgeball, basketball, and swimming leagues operating in the park.  Designating for permanent use the 1.5-3 acres required to install a soccer field or a baseball field would mean a different focus for our city’s biggest park.  See the table below outlining how much area is needed for sports fields. 

As is currently shown in the design there is the possibility for an occasional game or practice in the current open space plan.  But I think a better plan is to engage our new Supervisor Sheila Kuehl to commit to a multi-sports center as a part of the MTA development site.  There are 10 acres at that site and it would mean that the city could expand its park footprint while serving the larger LA County westside community.

Field-Dimensions

PastedGraphic-1As always I am interested in your thoughts, give me a call/text  310.498.5783 or email me at ourweho@me.com

BRIAN FUNNAGAN

No response.

JOE GUARDARRAMA

Traditionally, our city has had very few dedicated areas for sports leagues, so it only makes sense that any newly developed parks should include multi-use sports facilities. Obviously, open space that would be appropriate for sports like baseball, football, or soccer is at a premium in West Hollywood, so we need to get the most out of it. Additionally, as more families either move into West Hollywood or WeHo residents start families, we need to be looking at building middle-schools and high-schools to keep families from moving out of West Hollywood just so their children can attend a quality school. Any plans for new schools should include both outdoor and indoor multi-use sports facilities.

JOHN HEILMAN

No response.

LINDSEY HORVATH

No response.

CHRISTOPHER LANDAVAZO

No response.

JAMES “DUKE” MASON

If it is possible to accommodate that along with the other priorities that are being incorporated into the new design (i.e. the pool, dog park, children’s play area, etc.) then I would absolutely support it. Obviously the more citizens and their needs we can accommodate, the better.

LAUREN MEISTER

Access to public parks is important, and it is not just sports leagues that are affected. Access to tennis courts at Plummer Park is being limited by the City Contractors reserving courts that used to be open to the public for paid lessons. Groups like the Swim teams, Dodgeball league and basketball leagues should have access to the park’s playing spaces. For sports leagues that require special pitches — rugby, soccer or football for example — West Hollywood should work with LAUSD to provide access to their fields at local and nearby schools.

MATT RALSTON

According to the Master Plan there will be a new 71,000 sq. foot gymnasium with two indoor basketball courts and also three new outdoor courts. The plans for the park are ambitious. I’d like to see more green space and an area reserved as a dog park. I enjoy the park in its current form. It seems like as soon as you feel comfortable with something the construction immediately begins. That being said I know a lot of thought and design has gone into the park so I will respectfully refrain from critiquing it until the appropriate time.

My main concern is that the library needs more books.

TRISTAN SCHUKRAFT

The next phase of development will accommodate several sports, but due to space limitations, not all sports leagues can be accommodated.  A park means different things to different people, some may like to go sunning, and others may want to walk their dogs.  Accommodating all sports leagues would come at the expense of excluding all the other uses of open space.  

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Matt Ralston
7 years ago

I wrote some additional thoughts on this election as it draws to a conclusion, if anyone wants to check them out.

http://www.ralston2015.com/?p=1054

Alison
Alison
7 years ago

We don’t need our own police department. The costs would be astronomical. The labs, technicians, technology, etc. It’s not just the people who walk the beat or patrol around in cars. THINK! We just need re-training and an increase of personnel at night.

Stephanie
Stephanie
7 years ago

I ‘ve heard that at one time there was a suggestion to try to acquire Poinsettia Park from LA.. Instead of trying to squeeze 10 lbs into a 5 lb.sack, or spend $41.3 million to screw up Plummer Park, why not go back to that idea? Let’s figure out a way to buy Poinsettia. There are four ball fields there, tennis, basketball, indoor and out, and a round the park jogging path with exercise equipment. It was upgraded about 2 years ago for a couple of million. By the time we get finished with WeHo Park we will have spent… Read more »

Ben Coleman
Ben Coleman
7 years ago

Great answers regarding Public Safety, Lauren Meister.

Rudolf Martin
Rudolf Martin
7 years ago

Heilman and Horvath are the establishment candidates, endorsed by super PACs and Party, and yet they have NO thoughts on these important issues?

Todd Bianco
7 years ago

I’d also like to see a return of the baseball diamond and other sports venues to West Hollywood. It would be great to have West Hollywood be a magnet for local sports teams to practice and play. In the old park, the baseball diamond was used all the time. It would be good to see rugby/soccer/football also have a place, if not in West Hollywood Park then elsewhere. Good to see the pool/s and indoor basketball spaces (that I think are reconfigurable for other sports like dodge ball) return to West Hollywood Park in the Phase II plans. But it… Read more »

Guy Privaton (@guyprivaton)

Police for WeHo would be a huge mistake imo

Sheriff has more resources
a bunch of cities in LA County larger than WeHo and with worse crime are still using them

Get a Full time council first

Flores St.
Flores St.
7 years ago

Larry Block: You had my vote until now. Public safety is one of my most important issues, and I cannot vote for a candidate who did not answer these questions, especially in regards to 939 Palm, one of the most important events in our city.

Former Staff
7 years ago
Reply to  Flores St.

We got Larry Block’s answers and John D’Amico’s late, but they did reply and their answers are now included in the Citizens Agenda.

Todd Bianco
7 years ago

I think it would be informative to know exactly what the City pays LA County Sheriff Department for its service contract. I’m pretty sure that the charge for each deputy (as well as support staff) INCLUDES charges for salary, overtime and employee benefits (health insurance, disability insurance, pensions, etc). We are also likely charged overhead/management fees, equipment fees and anything else allocated to our city under the contract. So before we automatically dismiss the idea of having our own PD as a fantasy, we should understand the costs involved. If we had taken this option some 20 years ago when… Read more »

Flores St.
Flores St.
7 years ago

Hank, how come so fewer candidates responded to these two questions?

Former Staff
7 years ago
Reply to  Flores St.

Very strange! But several candidates have now sent in their answers and we are adding them. Better late than never 🙂

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