Councilmember Lauren Meister Reveals Rift Among the Five City Council Members

Lauren Meister

UPDATE: Mayor Lindsey Horvath texted WEHOville a response a few hours after the initial publication of this story. The story has been updated to include Horvath’s comment. That comment can be found about halfway into the story; precisely four paragrahs before the beginnng of the italicized text, which is where the text of Meister’s comments start.

West Hollywood’s new City Council, just two weeks old, is already showing signs of cracks in the veneer and potential problems to come.

At Monday night’s City Council meeting, Councilmember Lauren Meister revealed a rift among the five WeHo councilmembers. Her comments left some residents buzzing, others wanting to know more.

The rift regards actions by Councilmember John Erickson and Mayor Lindsey Horvath, which apparently deprived the city of a seat on the Regional Council of the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG).

SCAG is the largest metropolitan planning organization in the United States, representing six counties, 191 cities and over 19 million residents. SCAG makes regional transportation decisions, determines housing quotas and makes climate change policy recommendations, among other things.

The Regional Council is SCAG’s 86-member governing board which makes policy recommendations, studies specific issues/problems and directs the action of the agency. A voice on the Regional Council can influence growth and policy decisions across the entire Southern California area.

During her councilmember comments on Monday night, Meister provided a detailed explanation of what happened in an election held during a Westside Cities Council of Governments (COG) meeting held on Dec. 17. The Westside COG is made up of councilmembers from West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Culver City and Santa Monica.

The COG election was to choose a representative to serve on the SCAG Regional Council. Meister was one of three people who was up for that seat. The other two were Alex Fisch, the mayor of Culver City, and John Erickson, the newly sworn in West Hollywood councilmember.

On the first round of the election, Meister won ten votes, while Fisch got seven and Erickson got three. Since a majority was needed to win, another round of voting occurred. This time, Meister and Fisch both got ten votes, while Erickson got none. Then a runoff was held to break the tie. Fisch ended up winning with 12 votes to Meister’s eight.

Meister is disturbed because two of her West Hollywood colleagues voted against her, thereby preventing the city from having a place on the Regional Council

In the first round, Mayor Lindsey Horvath voted for Erickson and Erickson voted for himself. In the next two rounds, Horvath and Erickson both voted for Fisch rather than Meister.

Meanwhile, Meister’s other two colleagues, Councilmembers John D’Amico and Sepi Shyne, voted for her in all three rounds.

It should be noted that two of Fisch’s four Culver City colleagues – Albert Vera and Goran Eriksson – voted for Meister in the first two rounds. However, they changed their votes to Fisch in the final round to break the tie.

The video of this election is rather boring, but if anyone is interested, it is available by CLICKING HERE. The candidate speeches start at the 19:30 mark. The voting starts at the 27:30 mark.

Neither Erickson nor Horvath responded to Meister’s comments during Monday’s Council meeting. D’Amico and Shyne also did not address it in their councilmember comments.

When WEHOville spoke with Erickson, he declined to comment on the matter.

Likewise, Shyne also chose not to say anything when WEHOville contacted her.

D’Amico did respond, however, and texted WEHOville, “As a council, we missed an opportunity to put one of our own into a position of leadership that likely would have benefitted the city. I hope we won’t make this mistake again.”

Horvath texted WEHOville her response on Thursday morning, a few hours after initial publication of this story. It reads, “This seat represents the entire westside region on housing, transportation, and other important issues. This was not only about our City; this was about issues that impact all residents from West Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Culver City, Santa Monica, and the westside of LA. I am supportive of creating affordable housing, increasing access to regional transportation, and improving the overall quality of life for westside residents. That’s how I voted.”

Clashes among the members of the West Hollywood City Council are nothing new. Former councilmembers Steve Martin and John Heilman had an adversarial relationship; D’Amico and Heilman had a rather chilly relationship; Horvath and Meister have an oftentimes tense relationship.

If what happened at the COG meeting is any indication, we’re in for more tension among the WeHo City Council members in the coming months. What is most surprising is that this tension has emerged so early into the tenure of a newly installed City Council.

Below is the full text of Meister’s comments on the matter, made at Monday’s City Council meeting:

I attended the Westside Cities Council of Governments meeting last week as the city’s representative. There was an important election, in which councilmembers from the four COG cities, West Hollywood, Santa Monica, Culver City, and Beverly Hills, participated. The election was for a seat on the Regional Council of the Southern California Association of Governments or SCAG. The Regional Council is SCAG’s 86-member governing board that has general authority to conduct the affairs of the larger regional body.

For many years, Santa Monica held the regional seat for the westside cities, and most recently, it was held by a Culver City council member. The City of West Hollywood has never held the seat, meaning we have never really had a voice on the Regional Council.

Having been a delegate and alternate delegate to the Westside Cities COG for five years, with two plus years as the COG’s appointment to SCAG’s Community, Economic and Human Development committee, I was uniquely positioned to run for the seat.

In the first round, I received 10 votes out of 20; with my two opponents, Mayor Fisch from Culver City and Councilmember John Erickson from West Hollywood, getting seven votes and three votes, respectively. Unfortunately, 11 votes was needed for a majority, and I was one vote shy of the City of West Hollywood getting this important regional seat.

This was an unfortunate missed opportunity for the City of West Hollywood. The Culver City council member who ultimately won the seat after several rounds of voting did so because his colleagues changed their votes to avoid a stalemate. And while he is very bright and affable, he is also known as someone who advocates for many of the state mandates that we, as a city, have not fully supported.

Tonight, I’d like to thank Beverly Hills Vice Mayor Bob Wunderlick, Council members Lili Bosse and John Mirisch, Santa Monica Council members Phil Brock and Oscar de la Torre, and Culver City Council members Albert Vera and Goran Eriksson, for their support.

And I especially want to thank my two colleagues, Council members John D’Amico and Sepi Shyne for your support. Thank you for making the City of West Hollywood your priority. Sometimes, at this dais, we will agree, sometimes we won’t, but I know that the love we have for West Hollywood is what will unite us. It is unfortunate that our other two colleagues chose not to support our city’s chance to be at the Regional Council table, where critical discussions about transportation, climate, and housing are deliberated.

Regarding housing, I’d like to thank Councilmembers D’Amico and Shyne for bringing forward item 2Z, directing staff to conduct a housing capacity analysis of West Hollywood-owned properties.

The City of West Hollywood has always made housing a priority and will continue to do the best we can, no matter what our RHNA allocation, no matter what the state mandates.

My priority, to be clear, is to make sure that the housing that the City advocates for is quality affordable housing… housing that is not only affordable, but green, universally accessible, and most importantly, livable. People are not sardines, so let’s not pretend that people with lower incomes have lesser livability needs than any of us.

My priority is to make sure that the city establishes partnerships with creative housing developers that are in it for the people, not the profit.

My priority is to protect the rent stabilized, affordable housing that already exists and not allow it to be replaced with commercial ventures or rich private schools that could go anywhere, but choose to buy residential property and evict our residents because it’s cheaper than buying commercial property.

My priority is to protect the unique character of our neighborhoods and to make sure that new development is of good design, and sensitive to that unique character as well as to the neighbors with whom they will now be sharing a neighborhood.

My priority is to protect the integrity of our General Plan, because that is what our citizens expect of us after spending five plus years attending meetings and providing their input. And they expect to have a say when there are proposals to amend it.

My priority is to protect local control because that is why our citizens voted for West Hollywood to become a city 36 years ago, and, that is why councilmembers are elected to represent them.

My priority is to continue doing what I’ve been doing and stay true to why I was elected: to look out for the people who live and work in our city. Housing, social services, public safety, green space, and economic development are all important needs and priorities for our constituents. However, we must have a balanced approach to competing needs and priorities, because focusing on one at the expense of the others makes for a nice sound bite, but it does not make a sustainable city.

Lastly, many of you know that I am a homeowner. Having grown up in an apartment, I worked very hard to purchase my home, and I was incredibly lucky to have purchased it at a time when West Hollywood was much more affordable. Let me be very clear, I could not afford to purchase my home in today’s market. So I am keenly aware of affordability issues in our city and the region. My priority is to represent all of our citizens, and that’s what I will continue to do.

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