West Hollywood’s Public Facilities Commission Wednesday night unanimously approved policy changes which will allow for the renaming the West Hollywood Library after late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The city’s current guidelines say that the city must wait at least two years after a person’s death before naming city-owned land, buildings or facilities after the deceased person.
Those guidelines were put in place in May 2000 to ensure that heightened emotions surrounding a person’s death aren’t influencing a naming decision and to ensure “that an individual’s accomplishments or contributions will stand the test of time.”
With this policy change, the two-year waiting period remains in place, but now the City Council may “waive the waiting period if a deceased person’s contribution is deemed so significant that it has already met the test of time.”
This updated policy comes after the City Council’s 3-2 vote on Dec. 21 to name the West Hollywood Library after Ginsburg, who died on Sept 18, 2020.
The city was already in the process of updating many of its policies and this naming policy was on the list. However, it was sped to the top of the list in response to the Council vote. Several minor changes were also made to the policy but the Council waiving the waiting period is the most significant.
The Ginsburg decision has proven controversial among residents and is sure to meet resistance before it is finalized. The city will hold public meetings on the matter, including at the Public Facilities Commission, in the coming weeks.
However, the Commission’s job on Wednesday night was only to approve the updated naming policy. Nonetheless, people kept bringing the discussion back to the Ginsburg naming until finally Commission Chair Tai Sunnanon reminded them to keep focused on the job at hand.
“We are here to be agnostic to the name itself; we’re here to address the policies as is presented before us,” said Sunnanon.
During the public comment period, several residents spoke against this policy change, while no residents spoke in favor of it.
Resident and retired city arts manager Andrew Campbell questioned why there is a rush to rename the library. He felt the two-year waiting period was good to avoid emotional decisions and spoke against allowing the City Council to waive the waiting period.
“I think we can even help Council in some respects by keeping this in the policy as a two-year period no matter what, because that will save [the City Council] from a lot of emotional input and challenges from the public,” said Campbell.
Former City Council member Abbe Land concurred, saying the waiting period is a good idea to avoid people getting swept up in emotions after someone’s death.
“Taking time to have some time go by is really, really important,” said Land.
Meanwhile resident Jordan David urged the library should be named after the late Marsha P. Johnson, a black transgender woman who was at the 1969 Stonewall Riots.
Even though the Commission’s vote on approving the policy updates was a unanimous approval, several commissioners felt uncomfortable with the language about the City Council waiving the waiting period.
“I think we should still keep the two-year [waiting period],” said Commissioner Noemi Torres. “That verbiage to me opens a can of worms. It could be waived no matter what to make the two years meaningless.”
Meanwhile, Commissioner Larry Block was uncomfortable with the fact the Council’s vote on Ginsburg came a mere three months after her death and the Public Facilities Commission was holding this vote on the policy updates less than four months after the death.
Block insisted on adding language to the updated policy stating that initiation of the naming process shall not begin until two years after a person’s death. The other commissioners agreed to that change, although the language about Council waiving the waiting period remained in the policy.
It should be noted that the term of every board and commission member in the city expires on Feb. 28, 2021. The City Council members are the ones who appoint the board and commission members. Many of the current board and commission members hope to be reappointed. Thus, it is unknown how much those looming reappointments – less than two months away – may have factored into the commissioners’ votes on Wednesday.