“I promised myself to “lay low” and give the new City Council members time to adjust before I got involved in city issues again. I promised myself to only speak out when it was compelling. I just didn’t expect that moment to happen so soon. But I still live here (since 1990), have my law practice here (also since 1990) and absolutely love my city.
I served for 20 years on the council. 5 successive terms. That is something that only John Heilman and I can claim for the history books. Other council members served one or two terms in a row. Jeff Prang served for 17 years. Abbe Land for 11 years and then went away before she came back for 12 more years after a break. Now, because of term limits, no one will serve for longer than 12 years. So the days of long term serving councilmembers are gone. The days of long term City Attorney Mike Jenkins and long term City Manager Paul Arevelo are gone. That stable city government for decades enabled us to build a city from scratch to a very prosperous and rich community.
I know there are both “Duran haters” and “Duran Fans” out there. That comes with the territory. Anybody who decides to run for public office has to abandon the desire to be “liked”. It is not possible to make tough decisions on the big issues without acquiring both enemies and friends along the way. Such is the nature of the game. But there was a dynamic that was present during the decades of Heilman/Land/Prang/Duran service that seems to be evaporating. And it is a threat to the City’s future.
We were all Democrats – but never ran the agenda of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party on our past councils. Neither political party can claim superiority 100% of the time. Although I have been a registered Democrat since I was 19 years old – it was primarily because the other party seemed more extreme and out of step to me. I was not an admirer of Ronald Reagan, the Bushes or Donald Trump. And even though Bill and Hillary were both flawed (as was Barack) – I had more in common with any of them than members of the GOP.
But having said that, I never brought the orthodoxy of my Democratic Party to city council chambers. These are not partisan offices. It is not Democrats vs. Republicans. There is no Democratic or Republican way to fix potholes, clean city streets or provide city services. There were no allies and villains within our midst. Just a small town of 36,000 souls – surrounded by landmark businesses on the Sunset Strip, Melrose & Beverly, and Santa Monica Blvd. And all within 1.9 square miles. We really didn’t have the luxury of distance or space to distinguish ourselves along party lines.
Wow. That has changed. And the recent debate over the Hotel Ordinance illustrates all that is wrong with the current operations of Weho City Hall.
Let me start by pointing out the obvious – although many rarely take the time to step back and analyze. West Hollywood government does not create any dollars, profits or income. Not in and of itself anyways. West Hollywood government gets its revenues from other government (county, state and federal grants). Or from monies borrowed from bonds that we issue when we take on city indebtedness. Or from business licenses, parking fines and other enforcement citations. Or the biggest source – from taxing residents and taxing businesses.
But that’s not even handed. Renters make up 78% of the population and they pay a small amount of taxes – primarily through sales tax on goods and services. But renters pay no property tax or income tax to the City. And the sales tax that we all pay – is shared with the State of California and the County of Los Angeles. West Hollywood gets pennies on the dollar from the sales tax. Those condo owners and single family home owners DO pay property taxes. But those property taxes are shared with the County of Los Angeles. The county receives the lion’s share – the city – not so much. So, what’s the largest source of revenue for our City? Tourism dollars. Other people coming into the city who do not reside here and stay in our hotels, eat at our restaurants and seek entertainment in our night life.
Sure, our residents also eat at restaurants and go to nightclubs. But 36,000 people do not have the ability to generate $110 million annually in taxes by themselves. It’s the out of towners who keep this city afloat. The “golden goose” is the tourism industry, our nightlife and our hotels. Especially hotel taxes. Why?
Because the City gets ALL of the hotel tax. We do not share hotel taxes with the County of Los Angeles or the State of California. All of that 14% hotel tax goes directly in our city coffers to pay for our public safety dollars, residential services, parks and swimming pools and our annual celebrated events. So, when the hotels are doing well – the city gets the benefit of extraordinary tax dollars that many other city’s envy from afar. When our hotels suffered during COVID – the city budget took an immediate $10 million hit. And now for 2 years, we have had to dip into our surplus to balance our city budget.
UNITE HERE is waging a campaign to pass a “hotel worker protection” ordinance here in West Hollywood – like they did in Long Beach, Santa Monica and other cities. But West Hollywood is not like those other cities, never will be and never should be. What may fit in those other cities that enjoy miles and miles of urban concrete (compare to our 1.9 square miles) or their 100,000’s of people (compared to our 36,000) will NOT work here.
Over the decades, we always did things “our way”. We watched other cities flounder and then created our own values, culture and laws to adapt to what WE needed – rather than what other Democratic politicians were doing in Los Angeles, Santa Monica or Long Beach. We were fiercely independent. We called ourselves “The Creative City” because we came up with new ideas like domestic partnership laws, anti-declawing, medicinal marijuana, inclusionary housing ordinances and the like. We were not beholden to the Democratic Party or its organized labor allies or teachers unions or anyone else. We did it our OWN West Hollywood Way. We were not hard core partisans on our city council agenda. We worked hand in hand with both city employee unions and the Chamber of Commerce. There was no division along party lines.
That’s not happening now.
The ambitions of Lindsey Horvath have caused her to push her political career and desire for higher office ahead of the needs of her city residents and businesses. She has been planning this ordinance with UNITE HERE for over 2 years. She had 2 years to bring this idea to West Hollywood hotels to figure out the nuance and details that would make more sense in West Hollywood hotels than in other cities. And she’s dragging the novices Sepi Shyne and Jon Erickson along with her. Only Lauren Meister and John D’Amico are trying to fight for an ordinance that is tailor fit for our City. Why is that required ?
For openers – there have been ZERO wage and hour complaints or investigations from 2010 – 2021 in any of our hotels (according the public data from the Department of Labor’s Compliance Action Data. So, this really is about presenting a solution where there hasn’t been any significant problems. Only anecdotal descriptions from UNITE HERE members which could be addressed with individual hotel owners and operators (many stories about the Standard – which is now closed).
Second – one third of the hotel rooms in our city are former apartment units that were converted into hotels when the City incorporated back in 1984. So, those “hotel rooms” are the size of apartments at 700 square feet – not your average guest room of a Hilton or Marriott at 300 square feet. That is part of our city history (the Ashkenazy hotel dilemma) that old timers can tell the new councilmembers all about. If they wish to listen. So, you can’t compare what happens in other cities with square footage regulation with West Hollywood hotels.
We are BLESSED with two 5 star hotels (The London and 1 Hotel), three 4.5 star hotels (The Sunset Marquis, the Sunset Tower, the Mondrian) and seven 4 star hotels (Hotel 850, Le Parc, the Montrose, Palihouse, the Chamberlain, Andaz and Petite Hermitage. By comparison – Long Beach has ZERO five or 4.5 star hotels and only three 4 star hotels. And that city has over 466,000 people or more than ten times the size of Weho. So, it makes no sense to compare what UNITE HERE did in Long Beach with what they are trying to do to us here in Weho.
We have most of these hotels because of the glamor decades of the Sunset Strip – long before there was a City of West Hollywood. We inherited these hotels and their amazing history when the City was formed. But now – the current council is treating them like corporate villains or even worse – as irrelevant to our future. We are in a symbiotic relationship. We need them. And they need us. To push this ordinance through without a study or with long conversations on what adaptations an ordinance like this would require to best fit West Hollywood – is reckless and irresponsible.
What the council is saying is” our relationship with the Democratic party agenda, its partnering labor unions and our own individual values” trump over history, legacy and heritage (not to mention the city’s budget and surpluses). We will pass in West Hollywood what has happened in other cities and not recognize our own uniqueness and our own creative solutions to problems. There is hardly any disagreement on most of the ordinance’s proposed provisions on worker safety, anti trafficking and training. No. The major disagreement is over how to regulate hours and overtime for the housekeepers – whether by square footage or a credit system. One option tries to make us “just like everyone else”. The other option figures out what is best for our community. Well – not a news flash – we have NEVER done anything “just like everyone else”.
There is still time for the councilmembers who were backed by UNITE HERE (Horvath, Erickson and Shyne) to put aside their perceived fealty to a labor union and its campaign contributions and do what is BEST for our community. For OUR Sunset Strip. For our collective futures. Remember that UNITE HERE tried to topple John D’Amico and will likely threaten Lauren Meister in the next election. But I don’t see D’Amico or Meister caving to UNITE HERE’s aggressive campaign to take over West Hollywood hotels and unionize them (remember that the proposed ordinance would exempt any hotels that end up unionized with UNITE HERE. Which shows their true intent). But that’s because both of them came out of their neighborhood and community associations.
This new breed of council members are all about talking the talk of the Democratic Party and its agenda. But seem to have little interest in listening to what is a better fit and suited for this small town. Sadly, decisions like this have unintended long term consequences. And if they pass something horrendous and destructive (if it doesn’t get knocked out in court) – this errant decision will impact the city budgets in 2025-2027 – when they are likely to be on their way out of city hall.
We worked so hard to make sure that West Hollywood would always be here for future generations of people who wanted a piece of heaven. Don’t place your partisan agenda ahead of what is best for our community. We are watching.