Opinion: Success + Residents = New Priorities for West Hollywood

It seems to me that West Hollywood has a success conundrum. Like nouveaux riche success stories everywhere, we seem to be simultaneously clenching our newfound riches with both hands and forgetting to remember where we came from. We’ve all seen that movie. Poor kid grows up, gets rich, forgets their past.

I’d like us to get to the part in the movie where we think again about what helped make West Hollywood “rich” in the first place.

West Hollywood recently crossed the $140 million yearly budget mark, according to the City of West Hollywood’s recently-adopted budget. Our city of 1.9 square miles, with a stable population and a growing divide between rich and poor, has seen a nearly 100% budget growth in the last dozen years. The budget growth in just the last four years has been nearly 25%, from $113 million to $140 million. The social services budget has also grown over the last four years, but it has not kept pace with the growth of the city budget nor with staff salaries. In fact, while spending in the public services category has risen, spending by percentage on social services contracts has gone down by 10%. The greatest increase in public services spending has been in transportation (the PickUP line).

John D’Amico

Many know, as I do, that the needs of residents now far exceed those of 15 or 20 years ago, when rents and goods and services were more affordable and people who needed assistance had more local services options. Some residents are more frail and others are less able to afford living in the city and many of our service agencies have left town. Our Human Services staff and providers do a tremendous job with the dollars they are allotted. I am confident that they can scale up to whatever level we can fund and provide even more services.

We used to be the city that spent 10% of our budget on Human Services with non-profit providers close at hand. That is no longer the case.

I believe we need to take another look at how our priorities are reflected in our budget choices and chart a smart course to correct that imbalance.

• With more people aging in place, we need to add to the budget to realize the goals of our AGING IN PLACE plan.

• With new HIV prevention strategies available, we need to push forward with additional resources for drug treatment, sober living and HIV prevention to dramatically drive down new infections to achieve HIV ZERO and get more people the drug and alcohol TREATMENT services they need.

• With women’s reproductive and health services under attack across the nation, we need to redouble our efforts so that all women know that they have access to the CHOICES and options available.

• With a large complicated homeless population, our services and connections to transitional and permanent HOUSING are more important than ever.

We are doing all of this and yet, we need to do much, much more. And we have the dollars to do it.

Investing in our residents, along with our infrastructure, our business community and our staff, has to be an urgent priority. It is the residents — the creative, free thinking, inventive, caring, open-minded residents — that have made this city what it is – right from the very beginning. Long before we ever considered becoming a city, this area was famous for its collective commitment to human endeavor, creativity, and affordable living. Though we might have the latest hot spot restaurant, we are really only as good as the health and safety of our most at-risk resident.

Development pressures are affecting neighborhoods across town. Smart thinking has so far prevailed and, in every case, we are getting affordable housing dollars and/or units as new developments come on board. Our housing policies consistently help us achieve our Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) goals and, more importantly, help us to make sure that our residents displaced by development and the Ellis Act end up in safe affordable units. And rent control and our rent stabilization policies — our housing workhorses — keep people in housing that is safe and affordable. But we all hear and know there is more to the story. There is much more to do including helping with rental subsidies, helping with food and nutrition services, helping with mobility challenges, and supporting the voter initiative calling for repeal of the Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act that will be on the November ballot. (VOTE!)

Last Monday night, while discussing the upcoming two-year budget, I challenged the City Council and the new Executive Director of the West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation (WHCHC) to begin spending the $20+ million we have in the housing trust fund on actual housing. To come up with innovative projects that reflect the needs and concerns of our community — help with rents, help to stabilize old buildings in need of a seismic retrofit, help make healthier buildings that can serve us for another 50 years. The WHCHC is positioned to do this and I invite other non-profits to step up too. Holding those dollars in the bank (Wells Fargo!) while we have a housing crisis is not acceptable.

And I challenged the Human Services Commission to request (No – demand!) that the city begin spending more dollars on human services that reach our populations in need. A fun ride on the PickUP line is an important transit option, but that doesn’t mean we cannot also provide more meals to hungry seniors, more drug treatment options, more HIV prevention messages, more planned-parenthood reproductive health services, more hours of in-home care for the disabled, more mental health services. More of what can make us whole.

The current budget strategy, which has worked for the past 20+ years – add money to our budget and budget surplus – save for the long term. This has worked and that is why we have an excellent AAA bond rating and considerable reserves. But now we are leaving people behind, we are leaving our residents behind. Too many people being left behind. West Hollywood is not a business, though it is run like one; it is a city, a very well-off city that should invest in its residents more, at least as much as it invests in itself.

Over the coming months I will be initiating a series of items with my colleagues and the staff that will look to correct this growing inequity. This will not be an easy task. I was looking back at some of the budget discussions of the early 90s and money was tight and decisions were wise. Smart choices were made. And that thinking and those early choices have led to much success. And now it’s time to make some new, smart choices that are resident focused. There is no place like home. I want this movie to have a happy ending.

As always if you have any questions please give me a call at (310) 498-5783 or shoot me an email at jdamico@weho.org.

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jimmy palmieri
jimmy palmieri
4 years ago

I will be following this intently.

Prudent Management
Prudent Management
4 years ago

To Robby Dobby: You couldn’t be more incorrect.

Alan Strasburg
Alan Strasburg
4 years ago

Call me a cynic (many have), but I think what we have here is an incumbent who promised to serve two terms and has a slick writer who can package a bunch of catchphrases and tugs at the heartstrings to seek the third term he promised not to seek. My guess is that the “(Wells Fargo!)” comment, ensconced as it is its parenthetical wink wink was meant as a code to the controversy of the City’s ongoing relationship with that criminal bank. Show us what you’ve done to change that relationship prior to the repackaging presented here in these very… Read more »

Michael z
Michael z
4 years ago

Kudos to Manny and John d’Amico .

michael z
michael z
4 years ago

What some of us need is Aging In A Place…..

michael z
michael z
4 years ago

Age In Place…..sounds good, means nothing…looks good in a city
press release…
Grow old in West Hollywood and disappear..
Its all talk, no action…

Larry Block
Larry Block
4 years ago

Thanks John- I’m glad to support you and these initiatives. While serving as your appointee on the disability board I advocated a closer relationship between our total budget and the social services budget. The decline in our social services budget as a percentage of our increased revenues is not representive of our giant heart city. I’m glad ur big heart is moving forward to correct this imbalance. And we need more elder housing – and an assisted living facility as mentioned as two top priorities. The elderly are being left behind as the majority of our social services budget are… Read more »

Prudent Management
Prudent Management
4 years ago
Reply to  Larry Block

The mobility and recovery programs never seem to focus on personal responsibility. As one ages the benefits of a foundational healthy and balanced lifestyle can never be overstated. Moderation could and should start to be hip.

Cy Husain
4 years ago

Complete nonsense! Recovery programs have had a great deal of focus on “personal responsibility”, the problem is that the concept of “personal responsibility” gets hijacked by right-wing reactionaries as part of their agenda to prevent any and all of “societies responsibility” beyond the military industrial complex and law enforcement!

Prudent Management
Prudent Management
4 years ago
Reply to  Cy Husain

I can see that the concept of deep personal responsibility eludes some, perhaps even you. Recently you scoffed at the Stoics but the hard work is deep, personal and solitary. Has nothing to do with right or left wing agendas which appear to cloud your outlook. Personally I am by no means attracted to the military industrial complex or overzealous law enforcement. Bare bones education about life’s responsibilities sooner or later. Social responsibilities as I recall were quality based and bare bones. Too many folks don’t get the concept of industrious self improvement. We live in a society of eternal… Read more »

RobbyDobby
RobbyDobby
4 years ago

Stated like a true Log Cabin Republican…

Cy Husain
4 years ago

The “eternal excuses and sophisticated ailments with big pharma pushing solutions” are marketing gimmicks to avoid responsibility for the very problems they have caused. For real help in this area see the work of: Dr. Gabor Maté

Jim
Jim
4 years ago

Do we really need a $90 million dollar aquatic center? Couldn’t a perfectly good pool and recreation center be built for say $20 million and the rest used for affordable housing and the above mentioned programs.
And boy, we really needed that $20 million automated parking garage. Huge waste of money.
But I guess City Hall employee’s love it.
Insanity

Shawn Thompson
4 years ago
Reply to  Jim

#truth

Ty Geltmaker
Ty Geltmaker
4 years ago

“Aging in Place” is one of those euphemisms, like “The Creative City” or — more ominously — Trumpian “Tender Age” immigrant child detention facilities that over history have clogged human discourse with false utopian terminology well before George Orwell identified this 20th-Century practice of obfuscation meant to halt the very progress these terms claim to advance.

Prudent Management
Prudent Management
4 years ago
Reply to  Ty Geltmaker

Agreed. It’s easy to de distracted by the window dressing, hip marketing slogans and other “creative” concepts. Often these obliterate the direct line between revenue source and actual need. Fiscal responsibility suggests prudent, efficient use of available funds and emphasis on a responsible city not the endless spin of entertainment, drinking drugs that the Chamber of Commerce & Tourist Bureau emphasize. The equation is out of balance. City management should respond appropriately. Adding multiple bells and whistles…..hyper expensive aquatic center, robot garage and endless highly paid consultants seem poor judgement. Clearly defined concepts were in place and now the picture… Read more »

Nate
Nate
4 years ago

How about doing something for the middle class. Housing policies which subsidize housing for the poor, have increased construction pricing so only the rich (and the subsidized poor) can live here. I work work work to afford my rent, and after a long day at work, get bombarded by people on the street for money/booze. Compassion is good and certain people need help, but how can I get myself subsidized apartment so I can stop working and finally be able to truly afford to live here?

Tom Smart
Tom Smart
4 years ago

….and so the campaigning begins!….he wants us to think he cares about the everyday folks and those who have lived here for some time. Actions speak louder than words City Council. You can’t just keep repeating “aging in place” and other catchphrases without backing it up with some real, tangible, beneficial, meaningful programs that actually make that happen…..

right
right
4 years ago
Reply to  Tom Smart

if only you were stormy daniels, right?

DeputyBuster
DeputyBuster
4 years ago
Reply to  right

Oh Tom Smart, D’Amico is protecting you from your own “aging in place” and you don’t even know it! Who will come fetch you when you fall down at Fiesta Cantina, not Lauren–she will not acknowledge Log Cabin Republicans; just term limits. Get a smoke and keep wishing that straight men would let you “blow off some steam” with them like Stormy is known to do. Also odd that you pick on Dumbico when he brought forth Lauren “I hate development” Meister.

Joshua88
Joshua88
4 years ago

Numbers rarely seem to mesh with reality, for the bulk of the population. Remember when we spoke about millions at the turn of the century? Trillions…how soon? The first company w/a trillion-dollar valuation -Apple/Amazon? Rent assistance – sure. Or let’s change the formula. I want to see a robust aging-in-place program, as it is likely I will use it. Not sure what the other council members priorities are. Let’s make this happen and back John D’Amico as he shares his vision and plans. Nothing wrong with making sure that drunks get home safely, Robby Dobby. That kind of semi-personalized service… Read more »

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