Editor’s Note: This is the transcript of John Duran’s farewell speech to the people of West Hollywood, given on Dec. 7 during his final West Hollywood City Council meeting.
I would to start by thanking the people of the city of West Hollywood for entrusting me with this position for the past 20 years.I was elected to the West Hollywood City Council five separate times in 2001, 2005, 2009, 2013 and 2017. It has really been one of the great chapters in my life to serve this community for the past two decades.
I have to thank the person that I worked with daily for 13 years – my beloved and brilliant deputy, Hernan Molina.When I hired Hernan back in 2001, he was an AIDS policy maker at APLA. He has proven to be one of the smartest and most dedicated city employees for these past 20 years. But more importantly to me, he has become a member of my family and I will forever cherish our friendship.
I need to say thank you to Mike Jenkins. There is no better city attorney in the state of California. I have to thank him for being tolerant of any and every hair-brained idea I have ever proposed and his willingness to ask me the hard questions about those ideas.Some of the novel ideas were best placed on the back burner. Others in the waste receptacle.And others have become important parts of West Hollywood’s municipal codes and customs over the years.To the new councilmembers, listen carefully to Mike Jenkins and Lauren Langer. They are both so well grounded in fact, reality and the law and will not steer you wrong.
And then I need to say thank you to my every day 8 a.m. call, our city manager, Paul Arevalo. I believe Paul is the longest serving city manager in the state of California. He has guided us through both good and bad times. And he is largely responsible for the great success story that is West Hollywood today. Paul, I’m going to miss our daily check ins, the exasperations and chuckles every morning. I may have to still call you periodically just to say, “whaddya hear?” I have been talking to you every morning for 20 years. Some habits will be hard to break.
I want to wish Sepi Shyne and John Erickson well in their upcoming terms on the Council. Sepi and John, enjoy the honeymoon while it lasts. Usually about six months. Or less.And then the people of West Hollywood will challenge and confront you every step along the way. This is how democracy works.You have a well-educated constituency that cares deeply about this city.And these 36,000 people, they have on average about 50,000 opinions. Listen to them carefully.And then do what you think is right, even if it is not popular.
In a community that is often passionate, divided and polarized, if you try to evaluate issues based upon the heat and energy in the room, you end up satisfying no one and losing people on both sides of any issue. Stick to your values. Bring people along. Patience is truly a virtue. You will have many years to put patience into practice as I did.
I want to thank all of my board members, all of my commissioners, many of them have served for 10, 12, 15 years like Jimmy Palmieri on Human Services, Misti Cooper on Transportation Commission, Desiree Sol on the Public Safety Commission, Tina Moore on Women’s Advisory Board and so many others. Thank you for your years and years of service to this community.
I want to wish my colleagues John D’Amico, Lauren Meister and Lindsey Horvath well in the upcoming years.Governing when things are prosperous is a great pleasure to utilize the abundant resources that we have merited, to create and expand programs that best serve our many communities.However, governing during setbacks, difficulties and austerity is the most challenging period of time you will ever face. Difficult decisions lay ahead as the pandemic rages on and the city’s economy continues to collapse.I say to all five of you that are moving forward as a governing council tonight, I am a phone call away if I can ever be helpful.Many hands will be needed for the heavy lifts ahead in the coming years.The road will be harsh and steep.And you five willbe the lightning rods for the displeasure of so many facets of the community. You need not carry the burden alone.
And finally, I want to give a special tribute to the other old man on the Council, my colleague for eternity, John Heilman. I first met you when I was living in Laguna Beach and you were starting a city in 1985.I remember you beamed with enthusiasm and excitement that moved me to leave Laguna and join all of you as a resident of West Hollywood a few years later in 1990. That was 30 years ago.I have not regretted that decision ever.Thank you for tasking me to build a city with you.To take what we had in our midst and to dream and build a community from the ground up.The first 10 years were the birthing years.
The next 10 years were the growing pains. And these last 20 years with you have been building an infrastructure, an economic base, a network of social services and a community that is the envy of so many Southern California cities. In 1984, the city’s total tax revenues were $15 million.We have expanded that tenfold and built one of the wealthiest, sturdiest and recognizable paradises in Southern California. John Heilman, it has been a pleasure to do this work with you, even with the scars and hits we have both taken for doing the right things at the right time, even when not universally popular, but ultimately the necessary building blocks to the West Hollywood success story.
I leave behind my fingerprints and DNA – numerous housing projects, the first robotic garage on the West Coast, the Coast Playhouse, a renovated West Hollywood Park, a newly created Laurel Park, redesigned and reinvigorated Sunset Strip, Santa Monica Boulevard and Melrose Avenue (all without ugly telephone poles and lines like Hollywood), the West Hollywood Recovery Center, the acquired Log Cabin facility, Crystal Meth Town Hall meetings, Boom!, Sizzle!, a night time Pick-up Line free shuttle, a Russian veterans memorial, the permanent placement of rainbow and transgender flags on Santa Monica Boulevard that fly every day, rainbow crosswalks at San Vicente permanently marking our LGBT gathering space, an upcoming AIDS monument, getting to zero on AIDS as a city initiative, dog parks and anti-cruelty legislation for animal protection, and finally marriage licenses for gay and lesbian couples.
All of this handiwork is now merged into WeHo community culture in such a way that no one will remember who initiated it, who created it, who made it happen. Success has many claimed parents and failure is an orphan.
As I leave now after 20 years of labor, my enemies and detractors can only see the last few years of infamy.My friends and colleagues see years of toil and effort to make lives better than they were before here in our beloved city.And within a few weeks, nobody will remember these words I now speak.Well, except for this next part……
West Hollywood is 36 years young. But the place known as West Hollywood spans a century now. Long before legal incorporation there was a place called West Hollywood. I have been venturing up into this city since 1975 – for 45 years. So that means I have been part of this city since I had long hair and puka shells in the 1970’s.
Heed this. This 1.9 square miles of heaven is not bound by time, customs or tradition. And every attempt to corral, regulate or restrain its energy suffers defeat. We have never been part of the powers that exist in downtown Los Angeles – neither LA City nor LA County. We should never ever want to be “just like everyone else”.
For these infamous and familiar streets that we call our home have hosted renegades, outlaws, outliers, rebels, non-conformists, gender benders, artists, radicals, deviants, homosexuals, cross dressers, hustlers, harlots, escorts, street trade, fanatics, junkies, reefer madness, debauchery, degenerates, weirdos, freaks, leftists, socialists, pornographers, rock stars, nearly celebrities, outcasts, bohemians, beatniks, flower children, free spirits, enchanters, illusionists, prophets, conjurers, brooders and percolators.
They do not wish to follow the rules. They do not wish to be regulated. They do not want to be directed. They do not wish to be restrained. Not by downtown. And not by city hall.
Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks diverged and started a dream studio here that gave Samuel Goldwyn his initial into the permanency of MGM. Allah Nazimova, a radical lesbian bohemian, started her Garden on the Strip to host the bawdy Hollywood underground in the roaring 20’s.
Mickey Cohen and Busy Siegal set up their speakeasies, gambling joints and cross dressing shows at La Boheme with the “Pansy Craze” starring Karyl Norman in drag in the 1930’s.
Lou Adler and Richard O’Brien launched the midnight showing that started with “it’s just a jump to the left” with sweet transvestites calling out“Don’t Dream lt, Be it.” Buffalo Springfield sang at Gazzari’s that there was “Something Happening Here.” The Players Club. Ciro’s. The Trocadero. The Roxbury. Where Frank and Dino crooned with the Big Bands with Louella Parsons and Hedda Hopper taking note of who was there.
Where sweet Norma Jean became Marilyn and insisted that her friend Ella Fitzgerald perform in what were once all white clubs and Marlena Dietrich walked into opening night with Pearl Bailey on one arm and Lena Horne on the other.
Where Lilly St. Cyr became the first stripper on the Sunset Strip before the go go girls turned up the volume at the Whisky doing the Twist and the Watusi. Where Hugh Hefner opened his Playboy Bunny Club, Divine sang at Studio One and Sylvester made us feel Mighty Real.
Where Jim Morrison, Jimmy Dean and Sal Mineo pursued the limitsof male hyper sexuality while Led Zeppelin threw television sets out the windows of the Hyatt.
Where Slash found his top hat, while Tommy Lee found Pamela Anderson. Where Van Halen created its riffs and Elton lamented for Tiny Dancer at the Troubadour.
Curious. Demented. Queer. Eccentric. Irrational. Sensual. Bizarre. Unhinged. Peculiar. Aberrations.
Be wary of the voices who would attempt to modulate, attune, tailor, direct, guide, temper or integrate this energy. You will fail before you begin. Govern less and allow the counterculture to go haywire and amiss. That is the unnatural gravitational pull for this place.
So, like the overseer Jack Torrance at the Overlook Hotel who finds himself in the photograph at the end of the movie – just one of many others who came here for refuge. Found community.And now a caricature of myself with some fact and mostly fiction – I say goodbye. Keep the lights low and the music high. There can be no revolution without the dance…..Thank you.