Steve Afriat, a lobbyist and political campaign consultant who helped shape West Hollywood in countless ways, has died at age 68.
Afriat served on the West Hollywood Incorporation Committee that helped the area achieve cityhood in 1984. He guided various construction projects through the approval process including the Pacific Design Center’s Red Building, which his colleague, Aaron Green, said was his proudest achievement of the projects he represented in West Hollywood.
More recently, Afriat and his firm, Afriat Consulting Group, helped with getting the Marriot Edition Hotel on the Sunset Strip approved and bringing Soho House to West Hollywood. He was also involved with getting the soon-to-be-built Arts Club project on the Sunset Strip approved.
His advertising clients include Ace Outdoor Advertisings, which has many billboards on the Sunset Strip, and Orange Barrell Media, the firm behind the soon-to-be completed Sunset Spectacular digital billboard project in the old Tower Records overflow parking lot.
In fact, Afriat has been involved with so many projects in WeHo, there’s even a section on his firm’s website devoted just to West Hollywood.
As a campaign consultant, he held a perfect record of winning candidate campaigns and ballot measures in West Hollywood. He worked on various campaigns of former West Hollywood City Council members John Heilman, Abbe Land, Jeff Prang, John Duran and Sal Guarriello, plus helped raise money for the campaign of current Councilmember John D’Amico.
Although he lived with his husband, Curtis Sanchez, in Sherman Oaks and his firm was based in Burbank, Afriat told WEHOville in a 2014 interview, that he considered himself a citizen of West Hollywood because he was so involved with the city even before it became a city.
“West Hollywood was a safe haven for those of us who were out at a time when it was not quite as safe [as it is now],” he said. “With the onset of AIDS, it was a place where gay men in particular could feel safe and welcome. While not a resident, I have always considered myself a citizen of West Hollywood and care very much about its success.”
Personality and charm
More than just being an effective lobbyist and political strategist, Afriat was man with personality who made friends with many of the people with whom he interacted.
“He was very sweet and charming. That’s how he did his job so well,” said resident and activist Allegra Allison who considered him a friend even thought they were often on opposing sides of a project. “He was one of the last people I shared a meal with in a restaurant before lockdown back in March. We ate at Hugo’s and I’m going miss him.”
Resident Elyse Eisenberg noted that Afriat was always respectful of every person’s opinion, whether they supported or opposed a project he was representing.
“I had such admiration for Steve from the moment I met him. I loved working with him no matter whether I was on the same side of a project or on the opposite side. He became a real friend. He was so passionate about the projects he represented. He could articulate the assets and the value of a project with such eloquence. He had such a way with words,” said Eisenberg. “He was a really sweet man. And he loved [his husband] Curtis. You could really see how much that Curtis meant in his life.”
Former West Hollywood Planning Commissioner John Altschul first met Afriat shortly after he joined the Planning Commission in 1995.
“He was a wonderful professional advocate who represented his clients with integrity and maintained a marvelous sense of humor all the way through it,” said Altschul. “He was always smiling; he was always participating in laughter. He didn’t take a lot of things as seriously as a lot of people did. He was a marvelous human being and a delightful person to interact with.”
Aaron Green, who worked alongside Afriat for 11 years, noted Afriat not only had a winning personality, he was highly principled and had strict ethical and moral standards.
“You didn’t have to be on the same side to love Steve,” said Green, who became president of Afriat Consulting Group in 2016. “He was a mentor. He was standard bearer and he was the guy who set the example you wanted to follow.”
Lobbyist Jeff Seymour of the Seymour Consulting Group had a strong professional relationship with Afriat – the two worked on many projects together – as well as a long standing friendship.
“My friendship with Steve goes back 50 years,” said Seymour. “Many know him as one of the most effective and successful advocates in West Hollywood, as well as the entire Los Angeles County region. I knew him to be a trusted friend from his student days to his runs for the state assembly to his time as chief of staff for Zev Yaroslavsky and onto his founding of Afriat Consulting Group. We shared both a professional and personal bond that I will sorely miss. My thoughts are with his beloved husband, Curtis, his sisters Bonnie and Sari, and his nieces and nephews.”
Raised in San Fernando Valley
Born Nov. 20, 1952 and raised in the Chatsworth area of the San Fernando Valley, Afriat was the middle of three children to a salesman father who died young and mother who was a teacher. He attended Cal State Northridge where he got his BA in political science.
He worked as a social studies teacher at Valley Alternative School, a magnet school, for several years in the late 1970s. He taught both junior and senior high students courses in history, journalism, philosophy and government. It was a job he loved because he got to help young people.
“I got to see the impact of my work on young lives,” Afriat told WEHOville in that 2014 interview. “To this day, I still miss teaching. It is the most fulfilling thing I have ever done.”
He quit teaching in 1980 to run for the state Assembly as a Democratic candidate. However, 1980 was the year of the Ronald Reagan landslide victory which swept many Republicans into office. He ran again in 1982, but was again defeated.
However, during his 1980 Assembly run, he met then Los Angeles City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky who hired him in 1983 as his chief of staff. Afriat ended up being the first openly gay chief of staff to work in Los Angeles City Hall. As such, he also served as a liaison to the gay community for Yaroslavsky and by extension all of Los Angeles City Hall.
Because he was a member of Stonewall Democrats, the LGBT political club, he also got involved with the West Hollywood Incorporation Committee which helped create the city via the 1984 cityhood election.
In 1985, he joined Craig Miller in founding AIDS Walk LA, which benefits AIDS Project LA. He told WEHOville that was the civic project he is “proudest to have been involved with.”
More recently, Afriat served on the board of directors for Equality California, which campaigns for LGBTQ rights.
Also in 1985, he quit his job as Yaroslavsky’s chief of staff to start his Afriat Consulting Group. Over the years, he helped change the skyline, not just of West Hollywood, but of the entire Los Angeles region. He played a pivotal role in entitling more than 14 million square feet of projects, including the original Metropolis in DTLA and the Ten Thousand building in Century City.
His colleague, Aaron Green, reported the Ten Thousand building, a luxury condominium high-rise at 10,000 Santa Monica Blvd. in Century City at the border with Beverly Hills, was another of Afriat’s proudest achievements.
Green noted that Afriat managed to get 11 homeowners associations to give their blessing to the project, something that helped it get approved. Green also reported the Ten Thousand building is still the most expensive condo complex in terms of square footage in all of Los Angeles County.
Of the political campaigns Afriat worked on, Green reported that Afriat was most proud of being involved with the city of Los Angeles’s charter reform campaign in the late 1990s. Hired by then LA mayor Richard Riordan, Afriat guided that through the ballot process to victory.
With the success of that campaign, Afriat emerged as the consultant of choice for city officials. He went on to manage the Proposition K campaign, approving new parks and recreation assessments; Measure DD, garnering a two-thirds vote for library bonds; Proposition F for fire and animal Services; and Proposition Q, which garnered a two-thirds vote approving $600 million for police and fire services.
Aaron Green credits Afriat’s legacy as “one of friendship, success, integrity and fighting for change. His work helped shape Los Angeles’ skyline, transform policy and politics, and set the standard for what it means to be a trusted advocate.”
Green started working with Afriat in 2009 and quickly grew to admire him. “He saw a kid who had a few brain cells to rub together who was passionate and wanted to work and loved politics,” said Green. “He showed me there was a path to follow to get to where I wanted to be. He opened up that door.”
Afriat is survived by his partner of 30 years (and husband since 2015), Curtis Sanchez, who also serves as the Chief Financial Officer of Afriat Consulting Group. He is also survived by his sisters, Bonnie Noveck and Sari Afriat, his sister-in-law, Debbie Liekkio, and his niece and nephews.
Because of the pandemic, a private family funeral will be held. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that donations be made in his honor to either Valley Community Healthcare (https://valleycommunityhealthcare.org/) or the Los Angeles LGBT Center (https://lalgbtcenter.org/).
An exact cause of death is not known at this time.