When people ask me why I’m running for City Council, the answer is easy: I’m running because I love the City of West Hollywood.
I love what we stand for as a city. I love what we have accomplished in the last 38 years of cityhood. I love our commitment to equality for the LGBTQ community. I love our commitment to equality for women and girls. I love how our immigrant community has broadened our culture and expanded our horizons. I love how our small city has forged a unique identity because of the incredible dedication of our residents.
I also love our willingness as a City to be different; to try new things; to be bold. I love our willingness to be the first city to do something, whether it’s having the first recycling program for apartment buildings, being the first city to divest from businesses with companies invested in South Africa during the apartheid regime, the first city to have a domestic partnership registration program or the first city to declare ourselves a pro-choice city.
So, the reason I’m running for City Council is the same reason I’ve always had for running for City Council: I love West Hollywood.
But my love for West Hollywood isn’t the only reason I’m running. I’m running because there are four priorities I want to focus on.
Help the City Recover From COVID
First, I want to help our community recover from COVID. We are just starting to come out of the pandemic, but we still have a significant number of people in the community who need our help. We lost 61 people to COVID over the last two years. In addition to illness and death, some of our neighbors lost their jobs and fell behind on their rent. Some of these people are still vulnerable and fear losing their housing. And we have some people who lost their jobs and haven’t returned to the work force. Many of our businesses weathered the storm well and have bounced back quickly, but other businesses were lost and some of the businesses which serve our community are still struggling to recover. We need to help our residents and businesses as they recover.
In addition to helping people recover economically, we still have to manage the continuing pandemic. We know that we are likely to see additional COVID variants and we need to make sure people are as protected as possible, so we prevent future hospitalizations, deaths, and business closures. While most West Hollywood residents are fully vaccinated, not all have received booster shots. We need to stress how important it is for all of us to follow the latest medical advice, especially since some variant of COVID will likely recur regularly. Like flu shots, we will likely need updated vaccinations on an annual basis. We need to come together as a city and make sure we help everyone come out of the pandemic, especially our most vulnerable residents. And we need to make sure our city hall offices and city meetings are fully open and accessible so we can provide needed services and assistance to the residents of West Hollywood.
Refocus Attention on Public Safety
We clearly need to focus our efforts on making West Hollywood safer. For most of the last 30 years, people have felt relatively safe in West Hollywood. We’ve had crime like every community in Southern California, and at times, serious crimes. But in the last couple of years, I’ve heard from many residents that they no longer feel safe. We need to fix that.
Residents hear about people being robbed of their dogs in broad daylight. They read about people being robbed at gunpoint in restaurants in neighboring cities. They hear about anti-Semitic attacks in nearby Los Angeles. They hear news reports of prominent people being followed home and robbed when they get out of their cars. They experience a fear of going out at night. And residents and business owners see individuals on the street who are looking for crimes of opportunity. We need to get back to one of the core functions of municipal government—to provide for the safety of our residents, businesses and visitors. And we can’t do that by cutting law enforcement or by giving everyone a get out of jail free card. We need to improve public safety by working in partnership with both law enforcement and the community. We need to make sure that we do everything in our power to provide the resources necessary to prevent and deter criminal conduct in our city.
We also need to make sure law enforcement treats everyone fairly, with respect and dignity. As someone who teaches Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure, there is no denying that there are biases throughout our criminal justice system which most severely impact people of color and immigrants. But we need to understand that bias and discrimination in law enforcement impacts everyone. Discrimination in the criminal justice system leads to distrust of law enforcement. And distrust of law enforcement endangers our entire society because it undermines the ability of law enforcement to gather information to prevent crimes and convict wrongdoers. As we strive to improve public safety in the community, we need to redouble our efforts to eliminate bias and discrimination and the unnecessary use of force by law enforcement.
But as President Biden recently explained, we don’t have to choose between public “safety and equal justice.” We can and must do both.
Improve Our Approach to Homelessness
Homelessness is an issue throughout Los Angeles County. It has impacted every community, some more than others. West Hollywood has been more successful than the City of Los Angeles and many other cities in addressing some aspects of homelessness. Because West Hollywood has always offered some type of shelter to people living on the streets, West Hollywood has been able to prohibit homeless encampments which have created significant problems throughout the County. West Hollywood has also provided significant amounts of funding for outreach services to homeless individuals. And the programs available in West Hollywood have helped numerous people get off the streets into temporary shelter and permanent housing.
But we need to acknowledge that some of our efforts are not successful and we need to change our approach. Our approach isn’t working for people who refuse help because of severe mental health issues or chronic substance abuse. We need to make sure we have the tools to get these people help when they aren’t capable of making rational choices for themselves. The City’s ability to intervene is hampered by state law and some of the City’s efforts have been hampered by inconsistent approaches of other government entities. We need to fix that and, if necessary, we need to go to the state legislature and demand changes to allow the types of interventions which are necessary to help people who are unable to care for themselves receive appropriate shelter and treatment.
West Hollywood residents have a great deal of compassion for many people who are homeless, especially those who are suffering from mental illness or some other health crisis. But our residents also want the City to be compassionate to our business people and other residents who shouldn’t have to deal with people sleeping in their doorways. Being compassionate for those who are homeless doesn’t mean that we should allow those who are mentally ill or suffering from substance abuse to sleep on the street or to eat out of garbage cans. And we should recognize that we are not solving the problem by intervening only to see the same individuals back on the streets in the next day or two. We need to do better.
We Need to Restore the Relationship Between the City and the Business Community
Finally, we need to repair the relationship between the City Council and our business community. As a city, we’ve always been proud of our financial success. We have succeeded far in excess of what anyone anticipated when we first became a city. We have the revenues to maintain our streets, to invest in our infrastructure and to provide residents with a wide range of social services. Most of those revenues, however, come from the success of our businesses and the hard work of their employees. Over the last several years, the relationship between the City Council and the business community has deteriorated. Having conflict between the city and the businesses which generate the revenue for the city is not healthy for our community.
We need to restore a positive working relationship between our businesses, our residents and the City Council. The City Council and the businesses community will not always be in agreement. In fact, some disagreement is a sign of a healthy community. But our disagreements should never make us feel like we are not on the same team. We need to move past the current conflict and come together to make West Hollywood the best community for our residents, for our businesses, for the employees who work here and for our visitors. Only by working together will we be able to succeed. Only by coming together and getting back to basics will our community recover and move forward.