This is the sixth of eight questions WEHOville presented on Aug. 18 to the candidates in the Nov. 3 election for two seats on the West Hollywood City Council. The questions are based on suggestions from West Hollywood residents — the citizens of WeHo. Monday’s question andthe answers can be found here. Tuesday’s can befound here. And Wednesday’scan be found here. Here’s a link to Thursday’s question, and one to Friday’s.
Question: Should the City Promote Economic Diversity in its Entertainment and Tourism Economy?
West Hollywood’s economy is largely based on entertainment and tourism, with the hotel room tax being the largest single contributor of revenue to the city’s general fund. Nationwide, COVID-19 has hit that economy hard, however other businesses such as grocery stores, home cleaners, and digital businesses where people can work from home are still thriving. West Hollywood has been home to a number of digital entrepreneurs (with the decline in the wholesale furniture and accessories industry, the Pacific Design Center has shifted its focus to those sorts of businesses). Could the city, and should the city, do more to support the launch and growth of digital businesses with the goal of diversifying its economy? If so, what would you suggest?
West Hollywood should be the hub of the new age digital economy. We already have two of the largest social networking aps based here with Tinder and Grindr, and more. IAC also owns Vimeo. Our digital superstars are not always front and center, but we do have a creative workforce of digital entrepreneurs. And it’s our job to bring our young companies and people together for “Tech Pride” and feed our hotels and restaurants with creativity.
The digital economy is the most important driver to future success for our small- and medium-sized business to have global reach. West Hollywood has an active and young and creative community that can export global ideas in this new age. I’m certain we can diversify our tax base as well as secure what we have already built. Our West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce offers webinars to help bring our local businesses into the new age economy. And the growth of our digital economy will be an asset to our hotels, restaurants and tourism overall.
Yes, absolutely. Technology, digital and social media companies are natural and obvious choices for our Creative City to support their moving their operations here. These are the new entertainment companies. We need to do more to encourage new creative office space along Sunset Boulevard and elsewhere instead of looking at hotels as the only economy to support.
- Official designation of Pride Square. Officially designate “Pride Square” as the name of the entertainment district commonly referred to as “Boystown.” For decades there has been a conversation about an official and more inclusive designation. This will garner national publicity, and there is no better time for West Hollywood to celebrate and share our Pride with visitors from all over the world.
- Repaint and add more rainbow crosswalks
- Create a West Hollywood Pride Walk of Fame with our Rainbow Key Award recipients and program events that are a celebration of Pride, equality, and LGBTQ culture and contributions.
- Emergency economic recovery task force. Organize a broad coalition of restaurant, club, and bar owners, hotel operators, marketing professionals, the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, Visit West Hollywood, and other stakeholders to develop a strategic plan to promote “new ways to celebrate the West Hollywood experience.”
- Pride Square and the Sunset Strip as primary areas of focus
- Facilitate safe reopening of businesses.
- Expedite permitting and approval process for outdoor dining and retail use.
While Lisa Vanderpump and David Cooley may raise the ire of some, they are masters in marketing with global outreach and name recognition. Let’s invite them to weigh in as well as Cecconi’s, Catch, Danny Meyer from Shack Shake, Craig’s, the Den, the Viper Room, the Rainbow, Slate House, and all others.
- Expand al fresco dining and open air festival experiences.
- Expand dining into adjacent rights-of-way as a means to adhere to social distancing requirements.
- Explore potential options in addition to the use of parklets and parking lots to the closure of travel lanes and full street segments to allow for outdoor dining and retail use.
The City of West Hollywood has been a night-time and entertainment center for almost 100 years – long before the city was formed. From the speakeasies to the Rat Pack to the Beatniks to the Hippies to the Punkers to modern day – our cherished Sunset Strip and historic Boystown districts are critical to our local economy. Contrary to popular belief, most of our taxes do NOT come from parking tickets or property taxes. Most of our revenues come from hotel taxes and sales tax.
The problem with growing digital businesses in the city (as a means of diversification) is that the city receives almost no taxes from those uses. So you fill up vacant commercial spaces with high tech, increase the number of vehicular trips into the city and get nothing in return in taxes for the city. West Hollywood also does not receive taxes from professional services or other service providing industries.
So I do not think it is wise to diversify into service-oriented businesses, high tech, digital businesses or other industries that do not provide a tax base for the city. Our tourism-based economy survived AIDS, 9/11 and the Great Recession of 2008. We will also get past COVID 19. Our hotels are slowly starting to fill up once again. And our entertainment venues and bars will open eventually when COVID cases decrease. We should continue to support what makes us world-renowned – our nightlife- and entertainment-based economy.
Yes, the city could and should do more to support the launch and growth of digital businesses. We should work towards diversifying our economy. Long-term, we must continue to innovate and encourage innovative companies to be a part of our city and its recovery. West Hollywood is the Creative City, and we must double down on that reputation to not only combat this crisis but also come back from it better than before.
We must remain a desirable location that prioritizes its citizens. We must do all we can to bring about real opportunities for residents that affirm human life, provide dignified and livable wages, and make us proud of the work that we collectively accomplish to uplift every individual as well as our city as a whole.
West Hollywood’s entertainment and tourism economy has been severely impacted by the pandemic. I have already met with some of the leaders in our hotel industry to discuss incentives and support the city can provide to help our hotels recover. Many of our hotels have remained open throughout the pandemic and some of them are beginning to see slight increases in occupancy mainly due to local and regional visitors. We can do our part to support our local tourism and entertainment venues by taking advantage of outdoor dining or takeout at local restaurants and booking “staycations” at local hotels. It will likely take the development and distribution of a vaccine before significant foreign travel and business travel returns to Southern California. However, I am confident that once the virus is contained, we will see a substantial rebound for our restaurants, nightclubs and hotels.
In addition to supporting our existing key industries, we also need to look at diversifying our economy by encouraging more digital businesses. We can do this by promoting our existing office spaces for occupancy by tech and digital businesses. We should also look at encouraging property owners with vacancies to repurpose vacant office spaces as shared space for new digital business startups.
We should also look at encouraging more health-care related businesses. Our proximity to Cedars-Sinai and our location in the heart of Southern California gives us an opportunity to attract businesses in the health care field. We already have significant numbers of medical specialists on Sunset and in the Beverly-Robertson area. We need to capitalize and promote medical start up and new medical technology businesses to locate in creative office space in West Hollywood
Finally, we should encourage entertainment-related businesses like agencies that represent writers, actors and other creative professionals.
I think for any city to grow you have to keep up with the changing times, and I think we can always be doing more to attract new businesses to our city. It’s important to diversify the types of businesses in a city. Digital businesses are growing at rapid rates and they continue to add new jobs. It would be beneficial for West Hollywood to pursue responsible digital companies that would make good neighbors and provide local jobs.
I think to attract more digital companies we have to provide things that make us desirable to all companies. One component would be the installation of the Metro line through West Hollywood which would facilitate a more varied workforce. Digital companies are drawn to world class cities with diverse communities, and West Hollywood provides that.
This pandemic has been a blessing and a curse in that it has shown us that working from home is doable and perhaps even more efficient. I also believe that if the Chamber works hand in hand with the city and digital industries, we can find a creative and efficient way to help them thrive, and slowly start working on getting the hotels safely open as well.
Yes. The City West Hollywood should incentivize more digital media businesses to operate in our city. As we know, COVID-19 is here to stay, and industries like digital media can fully function in remote spaces. I believe we will need to continue to be innovative in the coming years as we work to attract and build up new and emerging industries that will create alternative income sources and local jobs.
Mark Farhad Yusupov
Yes, West Hollywood’s dependence on transient occupancy taxes (TOT or hotel room taxes) makes it especially exposed to the current type of downturn. Diversification of the economy is critically important.
The city must do more to support and incentivize the growth of other types of businesses. We could create welcoming environments for innovative start-ups, small businesses, and boutique shops. Imagine having more little stores that sell artisanal produce, or having innovation centers in Pacific Design Center that could become home for the next generation of media or technology companies.
Creating partnerships with various groups within the entertainment, tech and tourism industries is the key to bringing more businesses into West Hollywood, from film festivals that attract guests from around the world, to tech conferences, to supporting our small businesses that tap into emerging travel markets.