With a 3-2 vote Monday night, West Hollywood’s City Council approved renaming the West Hollywood Library after late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The vote is not a done deal as the city’s Public Facilities Commission and several advisory boards must weigh in on the matter, but the Council made its wishes known by this vote.
“I can’t imagine a better person to name the library for,” said Councilmember John D’Amico. “I can say with 1,000% certainty that Ruth Bader Ginsburg was an extraordinary American of heroic proportions.”
Councilmember Sepi Shyne spoke highly of the idea as well.
“Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was an icon for women, for the LGBT community, for workers and every progressive value that West Hollywood holds,” said Shyne. “Ginsburg fundamentally expanded access to the American promise of liberty and equality for all. Her legacy is felt by all of us . . . even though she may not have lived in West Hollywood, her decisions have affected positively every person living in West Hollywood.”
Councilmember Lauren Meister, who initiated the idea, said naming the library after Ginsburg would help distinguish the city.
“It puts us on a different level. It puts our library on a different level,” said Meister. “That will just set us apart from every other community.”
A liberal justice appointed by President Bill Clinton, Ginsburg served on the Supreme Court from 1993 until her death this year on Sept. 18.
While several public commenters and dissenting councilmembers said the idea felt rushed, Shyne said she wants it to be rushed.
“Other government bodies may in fact be interested in naming buildings after her. This is another reason why moving this forward and waiving the two-year requirement is important because I would like West Hollywood to be on the forefront of that,” said Shyne. “This is about the future of West Hollywood.”
In order to accomplish that, the city will have to amend its policy regarding naming publicly owned buildings/land. Currently, city policy says that the city must wait at least two years after a person’s death before naming a building after that person.
The policy about naming public buildings is separate from the policy regarding naming memorials/commemorations which the Council voted unanimously to change at its last meeting. That policy, until it was amended, required that a person be dead for five years before naming a memorial/commemoration and that memorials/commemorations could not be named after living people.
D’Amico noted the places in the city which are named after someone – Hart Park, Plummer Park, the Werle Building – were all named prior to cityhood in 1984. D’Amico said the city has never before voted to name a building after someone and he wants the first building the city choses to name to be named after a woman.
“I can’t imagine that I want the first building we name after someone to be a man,” said D’Amico.
Although Councilmember John Erickson said he admired Ginsburg greatly, he voted against the naming. He felt there should be a public process with the residents weighing in and various advisory boards like the Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board, the Transgender Advisory Board and the Women’s Advisory Board also offering their input.
“If Ruth Bader Ginsburg is meant to be on and emblazoned on the West Hollywood Library, I think many people will come to that conclusion naturally,” said Erickson.
Mayor Lindsey Horvath also voted against the naming, saying that while Ginsburg is certainly worthy of the honor, the residents should have a chance to weigh in.
“This is about making sure that the public is involved in the conversation and that the process considers everyone fairly,” said Horvath. “I would like to see our process, being the progressive city that we are, be open to considering other names and allow for a public process that considers other names, in no way diminishing RBG.”
There had been a push among some residents in recent days to have the library named after former Councilmember John Heilman, who served on the City Council for 36 years and only left the Council on Dec. 7 after being defeated in the election. Heilman is the one who pushed the city to build the 32,000-square-foot West Hollywood Library which opened in Oct. 2011.
Horvath noted that an idea like naming the library should be something that unifies the city, instead it was turning out to be divisive.
Since the West Hollywood Library is part of the Los Angeles County library system, the city will also have to get approval from the county for this name change. The city’s agreement with the county states that the library facility must include the words “West Hollywood,” so the new name, if approved, would be the “Ruth Bader Ginsburg West Hollywood Library.”
During public comment, former Councilmember Abbe Land, who has been urging residents to push for the Heilman name, said the process feels hurried and the public should be given time to weigh in.
Resident Larry Block said also favored slowing things down and having a public process.
Similarly, resident Manny Rodriguez said Ginsburg’s name should be on national buildings, not local ones, calling putting her name on the city’s library a “demotion.” He felt if the library is to be renamed, it should be named for someone with local connections, like Heilman, noting Ginsburg had no direct connection to the city.
Other names that have been mentioned in recent days for possible naming consideration include:
- Rita Norton, the beloved librarian at the old West Hollywood Library from 1971-1993, who later headed up the Friends of the West Hollywood Library. For many years, Norton was considered the face of the West Hollywood Library. She died in Aug. 2018.
- Ron Stone, sometimes called the Father of West Hollywood, because he pushed for the creation of the city of West Hollywood. In fact, a building named after Stone on the southern end of West Hollywood Park was demolished to construct the current West Hollywood Library. Stone died of AIDS in 1988.
- Marsha P. Johnson, a transgender activist who was at the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City. While she is primarily associated with New York, Johnson did have West Hollywood connections and is said to have visited the city just days before her death in 1992.