The 1st term council member is a potential swing vote in the Hotel Worker Ordinance being pushed by UNITE HERE Local 11.
West Hollywood’s economy is tourism-driven. West Hollywood’s tax revenue is shrinking. West Hollywood had a thriving economy with over $100 million in unaccounted reserves pre-COVID. Today we have $65 million in the bank that is not obligated and the city is still running deficits. The corporation of the City of West Hollywood has less “unallocated reserves” than a condo at 8899 Beverly.
The growth of West Hollywood since cityhood in 1984 has been incredible. John Heilman understood business and the law and developed a plan to ‘create revenue’ mostly derived from out of town guests. The Heilman plan to create a surcharge on hotels and a separate marketing arm for West Hollywood was visionary. New hotels became the top source of additional revenue for the City coffers. Those dollars would fund new parks, social services, and allow us the luxury to invest in affordable housing. That is the West Hollywood we built. And we did it all by respecting human rights, workers’ rights and hotel workers’ rights.
West Hollywood’s thriving economy was able to spend hundreds of millions on capital projects. All supported by the extra revenue created by the hotel tax, bond rating, and the ability to finance the future. From the re-design of Santa Monica Blvd, to the new West Hollywood Park, social programs galore, and everything most of us have come to take for granted. Pre-COVID Councilmember D’Amico had proposed increasing the social services budget to 10% of revenue. Post-COVID there are questions as to what services we can prioritize. Now more than ever we need to have a deep understanding of business, cause and effect and the ramifications of policy changes.
Horvath, Shyne and Erickson are the three youngest councilmembers. I’m not sure any of them have ever signed a paycheck or had employees. I don’t think any of them have ever paid property taxes. It’s really important to understand both sides of the business equation before making a decision that can have devastating effects on our city. The Hotels are our “Queen Bee” — they can create a giant hive of support. But the bees without the queen cannot survive.
D’Amico and Meister were both elected without the support of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce in their first elections. Neither one of them were Democratic Party-endorsed candidates either. They are residents who came to serve the public after years of hard work in the community. They are mindful of our history. They are considerate of our local business needs. They do not seek higher office. Their focus is on what is best for West Hollywood.
In the old days the Lindsey Horvath I knew voted with Heilman and Duran in support of West Hollywood business interests. Today’s Lindsey used her power to convince her co-council member John Erickson to make sure Meister did not get their votes on the Regional Council of the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG). Horvath and Erickson voted against West Hollywood’s seat on the Association. Can you imagine? Lindsey’s supervisor race is taking priority over West Hollywood interests. She knew it back then. And Erickson was her “puppet”. They conspired to undermine Meister and West Hollywood’s seat on the SCAG.
Shyne was always clear where her support came from. UNITE HERE ran a strong campaign against D’Amico in 2019 and continued straight through to 2020. She was elected overwhelmingly in a historic city-wide election. The UNITE HERE Local 11 spent over over a quarter million dollars between both elections to get her elected. But then she took her oath to serve all the residents and all the businesses. But it has been eight months of payback, to the grocery workers union, and then expanded to the big box stores union, then to press the negotiations between JVS/SoCal, a social service provider and their union. This is worse than a developer trying to get a density bonus. These policies are for Union workers who mostly live outside of West Hollywood. They are not policies for West Hollywood residents. But, rising costs at these businesses do affect West Hollywood residents.
The effects of the Hotel Worker Ordinance are wide reaching and unpredictable. In those cases thoughtful city council members ask for a study of the ramifications before implementing policies that have wide-reaching consequences. The Council studies most anything that affects residents. The council orders studies for traffic calming measures or social service needs, to other decisions on major developments that effect residents and residential neighborhoods. But when it came to studying the effects of this hotel ordinance that can affect 30-50% of city revenues, our bond rating and future, Council members Horvath, Shyne and Erickson opted out of a study. Council members Meister and D’Amico and City Manager David Wilson pointed to the needs to understand the total picture and for the study session. But the three youngest council members with the least experience choose to ignore the advice of City Manager David Wilson who also has served as the City’s Chief Risk Officer and Director of Finance.
Horvath has served one full term on the city council and confirmed every rumor that she is using West Hollywood as a stepping stone toward higher office. She used to laugh that off but now she is running for County Supervisor. Horvath is not being a leader for West Hollywood. A leader would work with the hotels and union to forge a compromise and not a showdown. A leader makes thoughtful decisions after doing research and working with the stakeholders.
Shyne is a new council member who introduced the small business grant program that failed miserably. Her one business initiative was not properly thought-out. Out of $250,000 allocated by the City Council to help small business, $235,000 was returned because there was a misunderstanding of how the small business grant level worked. City staff noted in the staff report that this program as designed made most applicants ineligible. Shyne’s small business initiative was shut down by a unanimous vote of the city council.
Horvath and Shyne are the co-authors of the Hotel Worker Ordinance. During council deliberations over whether to conduct a study session Erickson seemed to wrestle back and forth. In the end Erickson caved and chose to back his “North Star” rather support the new City Manager David Wilson’s recommendation and engage the hotels who are affected most by this ordinance.
The Hotel Ordinance pretends to be about workers rights and protecting the housekeepers but it’s really about increasing due-paying members. Because if you join the UNITE HERE union then you are exempt from the stricter rules. That is not a level playing field and it is not about workers’ rights. There are many safeguards in place as we speak and there have been no reports of any violations.
So that leaves Horvath and Shyne, the authors of the bill on one side. Meister and D’Amico on the other side wanting to protect workers rights but also protect unequal rules and West Hollywood’s hotels as they rebuild from Covid. The square footage rules takes West Hollywood’s ‘advantage’ larger hotel rooms and makes it a ‘disadvantage’. Mayor Pro-Tem Meister said at the time, (something like) “Whats next are we going to be counting the amount of dishes in David Cooleys dishwasher?”
And that leaves us to deputy-turned-Councilmember John Erickson. He is the swing vote in the hotel ordinance.
Erickson was President of the City Hall Workers’ Union. He has strong union credentials. But he also straddled the fence to win the support of the developers and business interests in the 2020 race. Unlike Shyne, Erickson was able to win the support of the business community and its hotel interests and the unions.
Erickson doesn’t talk to me much. I should make that disclosure. Our last call was the day after I had obtained WEHOville. There was a line in my introduction that talked about the sea of change and the union candidates winning the race. After many messages and congrats from others but no word from John I reached out to ask him to write an op-ed. So I called to ask him to explain his point of view on replacing the rainbow crosswalks with the progress flag symbol. Here’s how it went:
Erickson answered the phone: “Union-supported candidate”, I replied, “Ha ha, just wanted to call you with an idea to write an op-ed with your thoughts on changing the rainbow crosswalk.” John replied: “If you want to be my friend then do not refer to me as the Union-supported candidate,” to which I replied, “Don’t you wear the union badge proudly?” What transpired after that was a shit show and I hung up the phone.
The point is John Erickson does not want to be known as “the union candidate” or “the puppet”. He wants to be supported by both the businesses and the unions, and he wants to be respected for his views and his independence. But right now he is the tag-along on the Horvath/Shyne proposal. But it is time for him to claim his independence. It is time for Erickson to lead to the acceptable solution to the majority of the hotels affected by this ordinance.
John Erickson has his own political future. He has many talents. But what he wants the most is to run for re-election in 2024 and get more votes then Sepi Shyne. And if he expects to beat Sepi at her own game then he will need to straddle the fence with business support. Erickson does not want to be a one-term council member.
The word on the street is Heilman has also been talking with Erickson. But it appears that in order for Erickson to shift his position it will require the approval of Horvath. But they can feel the heat-
If this ordinance passes without a compromise it will come back for a second read in about 30 days. In that time the Hotels will file a lawsuit challenging the legitimacy of this proposal. After the second read the hotels will move to a voter referendum in 2022 which will effectively freeze the ordinance from being implemented and create a divisive city election. We will all have to drink the poison in mailers, phone calls, and more.
A lawsuit will have many ramifications. The public records request made to the City Clerk after the vote to ask for text messages between Horvath, Shyne and Erickson came up empty. The public records request for all text messages between Horvath, Shyne and Erickson and the Union dating back to November also came up empty handed. They showed small communication between Meister and Damico on the subject. If a lawsuit proceeds there will be access to the meta data which can exposed any deleted text messages. How scandalous in the middle of the Supervisor race.
Leaders make compromises that bring solutions. It’s time for John Erickson to act like a City Councilmember who represents West Hollywood interests first and foremost. Leadership means leading. It means putting all the residents who depend on social services before hotel workers who have jobs and get overtime. It’s time to work for West Hollywood’s interests and not Lindsey’s campaign.
In the end there is one thing that John Erickson wants more than anything else. He wants to run for re-election in 2024 and get more votes that Sepi Shyne. To do that he will need the support of the Chamber and the business community or face a well financed challenger.
It’s time for Deputy turned Council member Erickson to put on his big boy pants and carve an acceptable middle ground that protects the “Queen Bee” of weho, our hotels. I’m cautiously optimistic.