Local Government Control – Not Rent Control – Was the Genesis for Cityhood

Rent control flyer distributed in 1984 cityhood campaign

(Editor’s Note: This is another in an occasional series of articles about the early days of cityhood, based on records kept by Robert Conrich, a founding member and research director of the West Hollywood Incorporation Committee. His extensive files are housed at UCLA’s Anderson Research Library).

A confidential survey by the West Hollywood Incorporation Committee (WHIC) in June 1984 – five months before the cityhood vote later that year – found that ”the issue of local government control was expressed as the most frequent reason for those in favor.” The survey’s results offer a different take on the long-stated narrative that rent control was the driving force behind incorporation.

Without local government control, chances are extremely small that Santa Monica Boulevard would have been rebuilt into the model main street that it is today, or that the community of West Hollywood would have been able to give millions of dollars annually to social services and AIDS healthcare organizations, as various writers have documented.

“Surprisingly, the issue of rent control came in a distant third” as the reason those surveyed were in favor of cityhood, notes a memo in the files of committee Research Director Robert Conrich. “This issue (of rent control) was expressed as the primary concern of only 20% of the total sample. Of those against cityhood, only 8% gave rent control as their primary concern.”

It notes that “support for cityhood is significantly greater among younger people, as would be expected.” As the campaign for cityhood played out affordable housing did become a primary issue within the overall need for local government control.

West Hollywood residents gathered on July 25, 1985, in the unfinished city hall building to view entries in the city seal competition.” (Photo by Anne Knudsen, Herald-Examiner Collection, Los Angeles Public Library)

The WHIC polled 370 residents and counted 313 complete surveys in its analysis, according to Conrich’s files. The survey found:

  • 52% in favor of cityhood
  • 23% against cityhood
  • 25% undecided, with some concerns as those opposed

Those against incorporation “were more against cityhood because they wanted to keep things as they are,” the memo states. “This could be interpreted as a lack of confidence in local government.” Among those against incorporation, “The most frequent reason given was a fear of increased taxes. Although the truth is on our side in this respect, we have done a poor job of communicating it.”

A  Dec. 5, 2014, article in WEHOville highlights the importance and background of local control. “It was the construction of a hotel in his neighborhood in 1983, and a (Los Angeles) county decision to limit the hours of the pool at West Hollywood Park, that prompted Ron Stone, then 37, to take a look at the impact of development and the county’s governance of the area.”

The article notes that Stone secured the support of the Coalition for Economic Survival (CES) early on. The group worked to make sure people had access to affordable housing. Its large base of members – and registered voters – enabled it to work with Stone to gather enough signatures on a petition saying the area wanted to become its own city.

The agency that studied the proposition determined West Hollywood had the financial wherewithal to become a city, estimating it would be able to generate at least $5 million annually from local taxes that it could spend in its own neighborhoods, instead of turning the money over to the county for dispersal elsewhere.

Early Russian Collusion?

Residents and businesses seemed to lose interest fairly soon in the new city, according to a political column by Conrich published in the West Hollywood Post on Dec. 5, 1985.

“Councilmember Steve Schulte expressed surprise that only two members of the public showed up to speak at the city’s $19 million budget hearing,” wrote Conrich, who became the city’s first unofficial watchdog. “Maybe it was because you had to have a friend at City Hall who was willing to steal a copy of the budget proposal if you wanted to study the document in advance of the hearing. I was given a copy by someone who said, ‘You’re not supposed to have this.’ Who was this being kept secret from – the Soviet Union?”

The column continues, “Maybe it was because the Council seems to see ‘public notice’ as more of a legal requirement than a means of encouraging public involvement. Maybe it was because the city has a public information officer who thinks the new city logo will be the most important decision the Council will make this year.”

Community Outreach at its Finest

Conrich’s files also contain a memo from one of the earliest community outreach employees, Grace Rosales. In a letter to her City Hall colleagues dated Sept. 4, 1986, she asks, “Does West Hollywood have a population of what we used to call ‘bums’?”

A few months later, a member of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors says in another letter that found its way around City Hall, “The Chamber’s assistance has been requested in creating a program utilizing homeless people in cleaning up around the (Sunset) Strip’s nightclub areas on Saturday and Sunday mornings.”

Today, of course, both people would be shipped away to a city re-education camp for political correctness faster than Domino’s can deliver.

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3 years ago

Good to know about this history very informative post!

Larry Gross
3 years ago

This article is such a bunch of crock. It is putting such a false narrative and is an attempt to revise history. Having led the incorporation petition drive as as a member of the the West Hollywood Incorporation Committee, I can attest to the fact that the main issue of Cityhood was Rent Control! We got the signatures to put Cityhood on the ballot by telling people to sign it to save and strengthen rent control. The slate that won four out of the five first City Council seats was the Coalition for Economic Survival Tenants’ Rights Slate. Conrich was… Read more »

Jonathan Simmons
Jonathan Simmons
3 years ago

Correct. The city of weho was sold on Rent Control (as majority of voters were renters). But The State Of California made a law that supercedes weho, the counties and they got rid of rent control for the state. Be that as it is, “Rent Control” is the bedrock example ALL Economists agree, shows it is GOING TO FAIL leading to fewer and poker kept units in any city that tries. It’s not a rich poor, not ConservativeVLiberal it is the “science” of Economics. The PRICE of any and everything is set by out market economy. The price is ALWAYS… Read more »

Alan Strasburg
Alan Strasburg
3 years ago

Interesting article, but I think the word genesis is misused in the headline. The survey was taken apparently at the behest of a committee which had already begun a cityhood campaign but it would be an anachronism to suggest that the survey drove or seeded the idea for incorporation. I also question how a sampling of 370 is sufficient to alter the long-standing narrative that rent control wasn’t an important consideration at the time or should now be relegated to insignificant. We should not conflate reason for incorporation with support for incorporation, especially in light of a sampling of a… Read more »

Josh Kurpies
Josh Kurpies
3 years ago

If “local control” was number one and “rent control” was a distant third, what was listed as the second highest reason for incorporation? Does the article say and I just missed it?

Interesting article, thank you!

Former Staff
3 years ago
Reply to  Josh Kurpies

That’s a good question, and unfortunately, one that the Robert Conrich memo doesn’t answer.

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