Unite Here Local 11, a union representing hotel and restaurant workers, apparently is trying again to block a development project in West Hollywood after its failed effort to stop the Robertson Lane project.
The union is said to be soliciting signatures from the city’s registered voters to put on the ballot an item that would rescind the City Council’s Sept. 4 final approval of a plan to build a local outpost of the London-based Arts Club. Unite Here would have to obtain the signatures of 10% of the city’s registered voters by Oct. 8 for the recension proposal to be put on the March 5, 2019, City Council election ballot.
Unite Here has not returned calls from WEHOville about the campaign. Several residents have told WEHOville that they have been approached to sign the United Here petition. Also, a group called the Committee to Preserve the Sunset Strip has been formed to campaign against the Unite Here effort. As part of that campaign, registered voters have received robocalls with the recorded voice of City Councilmember John D’Amico urging them not to sign the Unite Here petition. Genevieve Morrill, CEO of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, has sent an email message to chamber members and supporters making the same request.
The Arts Club will be housed in a 120,000-square-foot building that also will include a restaurant, a lounge, a supper club, guest rooms for club members and a rooftop pool area as well as retail space and a public art gallery and performance rehearsal space. Ten of the guest rooms will be rented out as hotel rooms. The building is designed by architect Andy Cohen of Gensler.
The Arts Club has agreed to provide $13.5 million in benefits to the city. That includes the art gallery and rehearsal space and a staff to maintain it, which it values at $10.1 million, a contribution to city arts programs of $1.25 million over 10 years and an additional $1 million contribution to the city. The development will be located on the southeast corner of Sunset Boulevard and Hilldale Avenue, which now is occupied by a building that houses the Hustler porn and sex toy store.
The Arts Club was founded in 1863 in London by a group that included author Charles Dickens. The private club, somewhat similar to the SoHo House club, which is further west on the Sunset Strip, will be for creative people such as writers, artists and designers.
Unite Here attempted several months ago to force a measure onto the Nov. 6 general election ballot that could have rescinded the City Council’s approval of the Robertson Lane project. That development by Faring will include a nine-story hotel along with retail shops and restaurants and cafes. Unite Here’s campaign against the project focused on its allegation that Faring wasn’t appropriately acknowledging discrimination against African-Americans and women at Studio One, a gay nightclub located on the Robertson Lane site that operated from the 1970s to the early 1990s. Faring countered that it does plan call out that aspect of the history of Studio One, which occupied The Factory, a historically designated building that Faring is incorporating into the project. Unite Here failed to obtain the required number of signatures by the July 18 deadline.
In a text message to WEHOville, Councilmember D’Amico said that he had met with Unite Here to hear the union’s concerns. D’Amico noted that he and Councilmember John Heilman already have worked to ensure that all projects that must provide public benefits to get approved also will provide a long list of worker benefits including worker safety protections, healthcare and a living wage.
“I am very excited about this use on our famous boulevard,” D’Amico wrote. “It feels like a new beginning for entertainment on Sunset. And in a new world class building by a world class architect. And I am very excited about a portion of the public benefit, the 25-year commitment to the arts … and yearly funds to the arts commission grants budget.
“That’s why I agreed to speak up on behalf of the project, because it does deliver on all the things that WeHo promises – to be a place that takes care of residents, workers and visitors. And invents the culture other cities consume.”
In her email message, Chamber CEO Morrill noted said the campaign is “backed by a Union who wants to make employees pay dues without seeing any increased wages in return.”
Morrill’s statement was an apparent reference to criticism of United Here for lobbying to exempt hotels with a unionized staff from having to pay the minimum wages for hotel workers set in cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland and Santa Monica. Such union exemptions do not have to meet state and federal pay standards and are alleged to make hotel owners more receptive to unionization of their employees.