Questions You Might Want to Put to WeHo City Council Candidates

Candidates (from top to bottom, left to right) Larry Block, John Duran, Marco Colantonio, John Heilman, Sepi Shyne, Noemi Torres and John Erickson

COVID-19 has altered everything including the economy of West Hollywood.  An estimate of lost revenues for the fiscal year just ended was $15 million and the projected revenue loss for the coming fiscal year is $20 million. In response, the City Council has voted to put on the Nov. 3 ballot a proposal to increase the sales tax to 10.25%, the highest level allowed by the state.  This situation should certainly bring forth questions about the city’s finances, some of which I detail below.

Challenges that provide opportunities for the dedicated candidates to respond:

  • City expenses. Can you suggest other methods to  balance the city’s books and reduce operating costs?
  • City events. Which city sponsored events (which means those where the city is sharing or wholly providing the funding) do you think should be curtailed or dropped entirely?
  • City staff. Not enough? Too many? Too expensive? Kudos? Complaints?
  • The Sheriff. In the past, alternatives have been discussed to provide police services. Putting aside heated rhetoric about police methods, what is your opinion of this contract with Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department?
  • Housing. Affordable or not, pressures outside the city boundaries, and some within, will soon present us with the need to make decisions that only Solomon could have made previously.  The world is aging, many countries (including the U.S.A.) are experiencing population declines. There are more seniors in WeHo. There will be fewer in the next generations able to pay for their keep.
  • Vacancy tax. It has been proposed in several cities to pressure people to use or sell their  vacant houses.
  • SB50. What will be the effects of bills like SB50 and other bills meant to increase urban density. Workers with good paying jobs want to live closer to their work.
  • Residential development. Are we in a housing bubble?  Right now only the relatively wealthy can afford to buy in WeHo.  Increasingly, traditional families, a growing part of our demographic,  require smaller dwellings.  Big box houses will be less attractive to them. The aging LGBTQ community must consider aging issues and how to stay in WeHo.
  • Commercial/mixed use development. Like it or not, we are a resort town.  Our industry is entertainment, nifty hotels, clubs and restaurants.  These elements must eventually be more integrated into the city’s life, rather than apart as single entities.  How about Il Piccolino on the ground floor of a retail/apartment building?  Or a neighborhood pharmacy, bakery, barber???
  • More city owned apartments, ??
  • Our demographic. What will it look like in ten years?  I think we will have to become a far less elite town in order to prosper and survive the changes being forced upon us by global warning, as it changes the entire world. Changing demographics mean changing demands and needs.
  • Employee housing. This is an issue being grappled with in a number of other resort cities — how to keep good people in a really tight, expensive housing market.  The Chamber of Commerce needs to get more involved in this.
  • Traffic. Elements beyond our control send thousands of cars and trucks through our city because it sits on a few of the major transit streets.  Can we redesign our streets in a way to reduce the traffic impact?  Create cul-de-sacs and other restrictive measures to also protect pedestrian movement?  It is a regional problem due mostly to a very thin transit system not yet designed to carry the potential number of riders in the county.
  • Infrastructure. We inherited an aging utility network which has caused the city to expend lots simply to keep up with the repairs and replacements. Owning our streetlights is one step toward better control. Utility corridors under some of our busiest avenues are of particular concern because their maintenance impacts residential and commercial buildings as well as traffic.
  • Green building. These rules greatly enhance new construction throughout the city. Solar roofs will increase in number and efficiency. Grey water systems can be established for individual blocks.  (Side note: the brochure used when Green Building rules first appeared featured me on the cover. I was unaware that the photo was taken until I was shown the brochure.) We have to be careful that the rules don’t stifle construction.
  • Transportation. It will take a generation before there is a truly viable transit system in Los Angeles county.  West Hollywood’s City Line and other small transit enterprises will have to increase in service for residents and visitors when restrictive traffic measures are installed.
  • Crime. The Neighborhood Watch program needs a big boost from homeowner groups.  More people on the streets, though assaults seem to take place at all hours and just about anywhere.  Cops on bikes have been a great way to patrol residential streets.  But, as long as criminal elements continue to think of West Hollywood as a candy store, easy pickings, we’ll have to deal more closely with crime and its effects.
  •  Our City Council. Only a truly engaged person would take on this full-time part-time job.  In my mind it’s almost a monastic calling, a venture far into ] the wilds of process – which is what government is anyhow.  Feeling that way about it, I’d certainly press anyone desiring the work to tell me just what he or she wants to do, expects to do and how he or she would engage others.  Whose work on the present Council do you like, dislike?  Which of the above issues I offer for discussion would you handle first, prioritize?  Lots of questions expecting real, hard answers.
  • Homelessness. This is a national problem with local consequences and no easy answers as long as lawmakers refuse to take firm measures and even change laws regarding the handling of the mentally ill on the streets.  West Hollywood is a welcoming city for these people, but just how far can we go in caring for them?
  • Term Limits. this is the lazy citizen’s way out.  Voters should do the heavy lifting and exercise their franchise – you know, the right to vote, the privilege to vote, the item I and a few million others risked our lives to protect.  Term limits are limits imposed on people who should be allowed to continue their good work.  Bad actors should lose at the polls, not because time has run out.   First off, of course, any elected official should have had to run the gauntlet of public scrutiny  through severe questioning and monitoring.  Remember, “all politics is local,” and if we do a good job electing the right people, well, it might just flow out to our county, state and national governments.  Supposed to work that way.

There are other challenges to be sure. Let’s hear from the hopeful candidates about items they pose individually. This city has some great talent in terms of discussing the bumps in our municipal road. Let’s hear from these people.

It’s a duty and a privilege to be able to express one’s opinion and desires at the polling station.  There are some changes in how we get to that place in California.  A little effort this time could bring out a more inclusive vote and raise the turnout to more than a piddly 20%.  My jumpmaster at Fort Benning in 1951 was really fixated on the reasons he was training us for war: “To protect all our freedoms, especially the right to freely cast a vote.”  Not a complicated view of America, is it?  VOTE!

Tomorrow: Russian as a second language? Da nyet, navernoe!

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