Hi, David. It is a privilege and honor to Welcome you as the new West Hollywood City Manager. May I begin with a question about you… where were you born and where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Los Angeles less than 10 miles from West Hollywood in the Adams-Normandie Neighborhood. I moved to Northern California for college at UC Berkeley. From there, I spent a few years playing professional football with the Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, and in Europe with the Scottish Claymores. But I have always loved Southern California and ultimately got homesick, so I came back to my neighborhood school, USC, where I received a graduated degree in urban planning.
Where do you currently reside and is there a significant other? Do you have any children or pets?
I am married and have two children, no pets. My marriage, like many things in my life, is very connected to the City of West Hollywood. I interviewed for a position at the City on a Friday in 1999, got married that Sunday, and received a call with an offer of the position the following week while on my honeymoon. To this day, I remember how long I have been married based on how long I have been working for the City. I have lived in Altadena, an unincorporated part of LA County, almost as long as I have worked for the City. I have enjoyed the short 23-mile commute to serve the City of West Hollywood for over two decades.
And what brought you to work at the City of West Hollywood?
I have always been drawn to public service. After my professional football career, I wanted to work in the non-profit economic development world, creating jobs and building affordable housing for low-income communities. I did that for a short period of time, but unfortunately, we spent more time seeking funding than providing the services I wanted to provide. To get some experience in local government, I applied for an internship at the City of West Hollywood. I spent my early years working in the Eastside Redevelopment Project Area on projects like the La Brea Gateway and overseeing residential and commercial rehabilitation projects. Having the funding to see these types of projects through to completion and really made a difference for the community is part of what makes me so proud to work for the City of West Hollywood.
How many employees work at City Hall under your leadership?
The City has 239 regular employee positions, not including nine new positions that were approved with the adoption of the budget in June. Those new positions are related to the operations of the West Hollywood Park Aquatic and Recreation Center that is anticipated to be completed in the fall. During the closures related to the COVID-19 pandemic, we held 25 vacant positions unfilled. As City facilities begin to reopen to in-person services from virtually-based services, we will be evaluating and filling some of those positions.
So let’s get to the business of West Hollywood. When will City Hall be open to the public and other re-opening plans? Will there be a formal announcement prior to the next City Council meeting on July 19th?
While the City Hall building has been closed to the public for the last 15 months, the City and its programs and services have been uninterrupted and City business remains fully operational with City staff working around-the-clock remotely to support residents, businesses, and visitors during the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Public meetings have been taking place with virtual meeting technologies and I’m proud of the work we have done to pivot to a virtually connected environment in order to safeguard community members and City staff. Based on revised Los Angeles County Department of Public Health orders and Cal OSHA guidance, we plan to open City Hall to the public, by appointment only, on July 26. However, with the Delta variant and the rising number of COVID-19 cases in LA County, those county health department orders may change, causing further delay in the opening of City Hall. That is why it is so important that people get vaccinated; there is ample supply of vaccines now and everyone 12 and over is eligible. Our number one priority is the health and safety of West Hollywood’s employees and community.
There’s always been questions in residents’ minds about the financial strength of the City and how much we have in reserves.How much does the City have in reserves that are not being held against future obligations?
Based on our last audited financials, for the period ending June 30, 2020, we had about $65 million in emergency reserves, working reserves, and unassigned reserves. These are the reserve funds that we would use during periods of economic decline, such as the last 15 months. We are projecting a budget deficit of $19 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2021, but we will not know the actual deficit for the past year until our audit is completed at the end of the calendar year.
I understand from the last budget meeting that total gross revenues in 2019 to the City was about 113 million dollars, and are projected for 2022 at 104 million dollars.Do you anticipate and reductions to social services?
One of the City’s core values is support and respect for people. It’s during times of crisis that our community needs us most and our city’s social service programs provide necessities of life such as food and shelter; health and mental health services; and homeless services. These services are provided through contracts with local nonprofits, as well as in-house programs. Though the City is projecting a significant revenue shortfall by the end of the fiscal year, we relied on reserves to provide $3 million in funding for social service contracts for expanded rental assistance, transportation services, and food delivery programs. This is in addition to the $5 million we normally budget for social service contracts. During this time of financial uncertainty, we have increased our social services funding. We will continue to evaluate our social service programs, like every other City program, to ensure we are providing the most needed services. Based on our recent and past history, there is no reason for anyone to anticipate that the City of West Hollywood will reduce funding for social services.
The Hotel Ordinance is center stage at the next city council meeting. What was the total of TOT tax the city collected in 2019, and 2020, and where do we project stands for 2021? You have recommended an economic impact study prior to voting on this item. What is an economic impact study, how long does it take, and how much does it cost?
Transient occupancy tax is a major revenue source for the City. We received about $27 million in TOT in 2019 and $29 million in 2020. Pandemic-related restrictions on travel and business activity had a significant impact on the hotels and our TOT revenue. We are projecting TOT to decline to about $7 million in 2021 before beginning the path to recovery with a projected $18 million in 2022.
I have heard and read comments regarding my recommendation to conduct an economic impact study related to the proposed hotel worker Ordinance, and I appreciate the opportunity to correct the record. At the June 7 City Council meeting, I recommended that the City Council consider conducting a special study session to provide greater time and focus on the discussion of this proposed Ordinance. I did not recommend conducting an economic impact study. Economic impact studies vary greatly in cost and time depending on the subject and scope of the study.
OK, you have a big job ahead navigating the City of West Hollywood back to growth and re-opening. What would be some of the lessons you learned from former City Manager Paul Arevalo?
Paul is a visionary who always plans ahead. While my initial priority is recovery from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and reopening City facilities to in-person services, my longer-term priority will be moving forward with the visioning process for the next 30 years of cityhood. 2050 will be here before we know it and it’s important that we plan now for the future. I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge Paul’s role in the City’s past, present, and future success. Paul’s impact on West Hollywood’s local government and community goes far beyond what words can express. His ideas, perspectives, and guidance have inspired many of us. I’m inspired by his legacy as City Manager and look forward to my new role working collaboratively with the City Council, City staff, and West Hollywood’s various communities to steward the incredible work done by our many local leaders.
Any final thoughts you would like to express to the residents and business owners of West Hollywood?
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a tremendous impact on our community, but West Hollywood is still an extraordinary place to live, work, and play. While we are seeing a bump in COVID-19 cases due to the Delta variant, there is a lot of room for optimism. Demand to visit West Hollywood hotels, restaurants, retail stores, and nightlife is as great as it has ever been. But to make it sustainable, we must move forward in a safe way. Take care of one another and take care of West Hollywood.