Two of my near neighbors, Ted and Alan (not their real names), longtime partners and residents of this block, are selling their house and moving away. Several factors were involved in their decision: changes in the city (“not what we want anymore”); noise and disruption on the streets due to heavy traffic and constant construction and remodeling; influx of “strangers” with their cars due to a few block residents renting our bedrooms to Airbnb and other providers of short term rentals; their increasing age and a simple desire for some respite from the pace around them. The pair are considering places as diverse as Hawaii and Lake of The Ozarks. I tell them that the birding is far better in either place than in WeHo, if that helps them make a decision.
Looking at the contributing factors above, I’ll consider one first – construction. All but about 10% of the houses in West Hollywood West are at least 50 years old. Mine was built in 1927. All have weathered earthquakes, termites and mishaps such as broken water lines. The first item of business for any new owner is to repair, remodel and upgrade. As long as the houses continue to sell, demolition and construction are a given. But that is also a fact of life in a great many communities where the housing stock tends to be mostly older buildings. This is a pivotal period for home buyers along both coasts, so that factor of construction won’t soon change. Our city is not immune to the specter of greater density and that makes smaller houses, the R-1 and R-2 buildings vulnerable.
According to the city’s web site, ALL short term rentals are prohibited in West Hollywood. Yet, if one goes to a couple of the rental websites such as Airbnb or AwayHome, one finds quite a few listings in the city. On one site I counted 31 listings. According to neighbor Ted, who is quite vocal about this element of city life, he has complained to City Hall, including providing copies of the rental ads, and has received no action. The city has been grappling with this situation in its Shared Economy Task Force, bent upon defining how the city will cope with the rapid deployment of many new elements of the shared, on-demand and “gig” economy. This is the new wave that is having many effects on long-standing institutions including tax revenue and zoning regulations. There is much more to come in this area.
Traffic is a nightmare in our burg. When the mobile app Waze came out, so did the increase in traffic to the side streets as drivers scurried to use less-traveled roads and move out faster. West Hollywood is a pinch point in area traffic, slowing traffic on the main arteries, which will never be wide enough to handle the volume. Any way through the jam will be attempted by commuters using Waze. The city’s traffic survey conducted a couple of years ago found that as many as 325 cars travelled each way, daily, along the 700 yards of my block. The street where I used to toss a football with my boys, occasionally stopping for a car to pass, now experiences a “rush hour” effect each day, sometimes with cars backed up the entire length of the block.
Traffic “calming” devices are planned for several Westside streets as a test to slow down and reduce vehicle trips. We still have US Route 66 along Sunset Boulevard and a portion of California Highway Route 2, running through the city. That means that other jurisdictions have much control over the use of those roads – and Santa Monica Boulevard, regarded as our “Main Street,” is one of them. Motor vehicles on all our streets is an unfortunate legacy of the automobile lobby’s successful removal of the Red Car transit system. Getting people out of their cars seems to be a near impossibility. But, I do know of some who use only Uber and public transit and no longer own a car. They rent a car for trips out of town. That’s the future for the smart city dwelling commuter.
My friends will encounter these alterations in every day life no matter where they go. According to Pew Research, at least 72% of American adults have used one or more of 11 different shared or on-demand services. There is much change afoot. Learning to deal with it is a requisite for modern life. As Obi-Wan Kenobi stated, “ We will be greatly challenged….but we must persevere.”
One must eventually contemplate the matter of age. Some of us make a slow and graceful transition to the so-called “golden years.” Some of us rush into everything without a lot of thought and one day discover that we can no longer run after the bus but must wait for the next one. We all bear the burden of the “ills to which Man is heir” and deal with that fact as we can. This brings to mind that, over the years, quite a few men in WeHo, dealing with age and perhaps no longer able to manage a house alone, have left the city to live elsewhere – as there is little or no place for elderly men, especially gay men, and I assume women. People who came to this area long before cityhood came for the comfort of the like-minded and for the refuge. Now, they must leave. We all lose much from their absence. (Wouldn’t that large commercial building on Beverly make a fine apartment building instead of expensive condos?) Growing old is not for the weak of heart, but it’s nice to be in a place of welcome and ease in order to do it properly.
Moving away? I firmly miss my New England birthplace. The four seasons were important for reminding one about the Earth and its bounty and for planning one’s activities, keeping them varied, certainly. The rigors of a tough Winter, for instance, caused one to be fully appreciative of a hot Summer – though the extremes were sometimes far apart. One last visit I hope – if not, perhaps I can be buried in a pine grove, fertilizer for the chanterelle, a favored mushroom which proliferates there. However, we are fully committed to West Hollywood and expect to live out our lives here, amidst the chaos and opportunities of change – and, as I have said before “everybody has to be somewhere” why not here?