Push Underway to Have West Hollywood Library Named after Former Councilmember John Heilman

West Hollywood Library as seen from the courtyard of the Pacific Design Center.

UPDATE: There is a competing effort to have the West Hollywood Library named after the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. On the just released City Council agenda for the Dec. 21 meeting, Councilmembers Sepi Shyne and Lauren Meister are sponsoring an item to have the library named after Ginsburg. The city has a different policy for naming city-owned properties and buildings.

Should the West Hollywood Library be renamed in honor of former City Councilmember John Heilman?

A movement is afoot to make that name change happen. WEHOville received numerous phone calls and emails regarding it on Tuesday.

Heilman left the City Council last week after being defeated in the Nov. 3 election. Heilman was first elected to the City Council in 1984, in the same election where voters also approved the creation of the city of West Hollywood.

In his 36 years on the Council, Heilman accomplished a lot including writing the city’s rent stabilization ordinance and creating the West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation which creates “affordable” housing for lower-income residents.

John Heilman at his final West Hollywood City Council meeting on Dec. 7 with the library as his Zoom backdrop.

Heilman is also the person who pushed the city to build the new library as part of its redesign of West Hollywood Park. The city’s current 32,000-square-foot library opened in Oct. 2011, replacing the 52-year-old 5,100-square-foot library, designed by noted architect Edward Fickett, which was demolished in Sept. 2011.

Former City Councilmember Abbe Land is rumored to be the person spearheading this effort to get the library named for Heilman. However, Land denies it. In a message to WEHOville, Land said, “I’m not spearheading, but I do think it’s a good idea. Glad to know many community members agree.”

Land served on the City Council with Heilman for 23 years (1986-1997 and 2003-2015) and was his political ally. The two shared similar views on how the city should be run and almost always voted alike.

City policy does allow for naming memorials “in honor of a person(s) or organization(s) who have served the nation, the State of California and/or the City of West Hollywood in an exceptional and distinguished manner – and where such action is warranted by a contribution of service which is deemed to be of major significance.”

Heilman would appear to fall into that category.

However, the city also had a policy which prohibited creating a memorial for anyone until five years after their death.

That city policy read, “Memorials in honor of deceased persons shall not take place until five years after their deaths. This particular policy guideline is not intended in any way to reflect on the merits of any deceased individual who may have been a prominent civic leader. However, it is felt appropriate to establish such a waiting period to ensure that an individual’s accomplishments or contributions will stand the test of time and that decisions shall not be made on an emotional basis immediately following a person’s death. Memorials will not be named after living persons.”

This provision of the policy, which has been in place since Sept. 2004, would seem to have prevented the library from being named for Heilman until after his death.

However, the City Council voted last week, at its Dec. 7 meeting, to eliminate that provision about not naming memorials for living persons.

With the elimination of the deceased requirement enacted last week, Heilman is eligible to have the library named for him right away.

Elimination of the being deceased requirement was the only major change to the policy regarding memorials. However, several other minor revisions were also in the item, including now referring to them as “commemorations” rather than “memorials.”

The item revising this city policy was sponsored by Mayor Lindsey Horvath and Councilmember John D’Amico. It was approved unanimously on the Council’s consent calendar without any discussion.

To read the original policy and all the changes made to it, CLICK HERE.

Horvath did not respond to WEHOville’s request for comment.

However, D’Amico did respond. Despite sponsoring the item, he is opposed to naming the library after Heilman.

He texted this response, “Doesn’t seem appropriate to name anything in our city after any living, past or present, Councilmember. We already have our names on the plaques that are installed when the buildings are opened and John’s is on all of them. And let’s not forget we are all paid for our service. This just seems desperate to me. And unnecessary.”

That D’Amico is opposed to naming the building after Heilman is not a surprise. He campaigned for office on a platform to eliminate the “entrenched elite” on the City Council, which included Heilman.

In fact, in a 2010 speech, D’Amico referred to the then-under-construction library as the “John Heilman Memorial Book Museum.” To watch the video of that speech, CLICK HERE.

Since his election to City Council in 2011, D’Amico and Heilman have had a generally frosty relationship, although at times it might have been considered lukewarm.

Although Heilman was defeated after 36 years, he could still serve one more term on the Council, if the voters put him back in office.

The term limits which the voters approved in 2013 say a councilmember may serve three four-year terms (any portion of a term counts as a full term). Terms limits were not retroactive, so the clock only started ticking in 2013.

Thus far, Heilman has served two of the three terms he is allowed. So, if he chooses the run again and the voters choose to put him back in office at some point in the future, he could serve one more four-year term.

CLICK HERE to read an op ed suggesting the City Council move cautiously on this matter.

CLICK HERE to read an op ed supporting the idea of naming library for Heilman.

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