OpEd: City Hall’s Bias in Media

There have been many changes at City Hall in the past two years. John Heilman and John Duran were both defeated in 2020. The two long term City Council members had served since 1984 and 2001, respectively. City Manager Paul Arevalo and the City Attorney Mike Jenkins also retired. All these changes happened during the “Mayorship” of Lindsey Horvath.

The change of the city election cycle from March to November allowed Council member Horvath to extend her Mayor term an additional four months. Horvath enjoyed the ceremonial honor of being called Mayor during most of the Covid lockdown. She worked closely with the City of West Hollywood communications director Lisa Belsanti.

Lisa Belsanti was also Abbe Land’s deputy before moving into the Communications department. Horvath has a close bond with Abbe Land and Lisa Belsanti. When Belsanti shifted to longer term employment at City Hall, Abbe Land appointed John Erickson to fill her intern/deputy post. Even today Abbe Land and Councilmember John Erickson are working closely on the LA PAC to raise money for Lindsey Horvath for County Supervisor. If Lindsey wins the odds on favorite to be her Chief of Staff is Abbe Land.

As a general law City the “Mayor” is a ceremonial role. The Mayor is not elected directly by the voters. In a general law city, the City Manager runs the City with direction from the City Council. City Council members are not the ‘boss’ over City employees. The City’s Public Information Office is supposed to be independent from the City Council and under the stewardship of the City Manager.

David Wilson became the City Manager last July. Two weeks before Christmas he fired Communications Director Lisa Belsanti. After almost 20 years and just two years before full retirement Belsanti was let go. There were obviously big differences between them. Joshua Schare was named the Acting Director of the Communications Department shortly thereafter.

This story is about Bias in Media at City Hall.

The bias continues in the way City Hall spends its advertising dollars with favoritism. The City of West Hollywood was the largest customer of WEHOville advertising over the past eleven years despite the ‘former staff’ relentless attacks on a former City Councilmember. There was a collaborative relationship that respected freedom of the press. KF Media purchased WEHOville in November of 2020 and the City of West Hollywood continued supporting this media channel and placed their last ad on 3/15/21. Boystown Media took over WEHOville on 3/16/21 and the deal closed on 4/1/21. In that period Lisa Belsanti moved quickly to get Boystown Media set up as a vendor inside City Hall.

A few months went by, I noticed an ad in another publication, and asked the City Manager Paul Arevalo- “Whats going on Paul?” Paul’s answer was “Larry, nothing is going on, we have tough skin here at City Hall and a media equity policy, let me look into it and get back to you.” Paul was planning retirement so the first call back included City Manager to-be David Wilson. Both assured me, the city has ‘tough skin’ and has a ‘media equity policy’. They were going to check with Lisa Belsanti and we scheduled a meeting for the next week.

The following week another conference call included Communications Director Lisa Belsanti. She now explained that it is against the rules for them to purchase media from the same person who is the journalist. The two must be independent. I proceeded to add Nick Remedio and David Wood as partners, each of us with one vote. Lisa discussed the comment section and too many changes to ownership in a year as reasons why they could not support WEHOville anymore. After the call Paul said to me, ‘give it a little time’.

Horvath allegedly intervened to make sure no ads were placed. At a breakfast meeting with Belsanti she told me that her hands were tied, it came from the ‘top of the council’, which I assumed to mean to Lindsey Horvath.

Three Council meetings ago, after a public comment in which I accused Council member Horvath of ‘selling out the city’, with her votes against Meister and the defund the police initiative we spoke the next day. Many of you do not know Lindsey as a friend. When we go to the movies she picks me up and makes sure that I have a seat appropriate for my visual impairment. Lindsey is smart and sweet and also ambitious. She’s like my Mary Tyler Moore, small town girl makes good. Once we we left the movies singing who can fill the world up with her smile, all we needed was that little hat to toss in the air. Who can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile. It’s you girl.

Council member Horvath denied that she was the one who pulled the plug on the business relationship between this medium and the city we hoped to celebrate. Horvath confirmed to me which one of her colleagues had meddled in our business with the city, and spoke to another instance that no one else would know about. I hit the roof. I hit the fucking roof. I haven’t been on the same rail since. Immediately I reached out to Abbe Land asking for guidance. She was useless. This has got to be illegal. We called a board meeting and an attorney.

Over the past few months much had transpired. It was clear that certain council members were meddling in the affairs of WEHOville. A call from a vendor, a letter from a developer, those with business in front of the council felt pressure. One council member who called this developer acted as if they were speaking with more than one vote. The City was getting stinky polluted with Horvath’s run for Supervisor. City advertising dollars are diverted to friendly media. The environment between the City Council and the business community had changed so much. And the Sheriff. But also with the Press too.

We quietly prepared a draft complaint to the District Attorney specifically naming two council members for meddling in the affairs of the Boystown Media, and interfering with the business affairs of City Contractors. I faced a big decision, file it, and get into a long battle with the city or what. I don’t want to be Allegra Allison taking Save Tara all the way to the Supreme Court. The stress isn’t worth it. I buckled and called David Wilson instead.

Wilson heard me out again and discussed the matter with the parties that be. The City Attorney Lauren Langer was included in all the mail. Erickson agreed to a face to face meeting only if the City Attorney was present. I answered anytime, beside advice to the contrary. The meeting never happened. Instead I called John Erickson to work on the abortion rights article together, and Lindsey agreed to do a Profile with us. It was better to move forward.

Our first WEHO Pride. I hoped the City would place an ad like they did in those other Los Angeles publications. When it didn’t happen I offered Joshua Schare and the City of West Hollywood a free ad. Josh explained to me it is against the rules.

Council member D’Amico asked the City Manager about the media policy and relayed the answer ‘Larry might be a candidate’. I guess thats a rule. Like Lisa Belsanti had said, we cant buy the media from the same person that is the journalist. All these bullshit answers.

I’m the guy who celebrates WEHO Pride all year round with the largest themed whats left of West Hollywood, gayest store on earth. I’m the guy who welcomes every candidate to bring their campaign signs to put on my store window so everybody could have a sign in the middle of Boystown. I’m the guy who invested in this local town square with the best of intentions to save the town paper! And they were playing petty politics on Pride, and not even accept a free ad. Who decides this?

Over the past year Brandon has worked very close with the entire Communications department, Sheri Lynn, and Joshua Schare with daily emails, posts, press releases, corrections and updates. I’m always so proud to see how polite and productive our working relationship has been. We support the City of West Hollywood and strive to make this publication the most honest vessel of the voices of the people, it’s residents, it’s businesses. But it’s a been a one way street. The City has not supported us in any way.

And I am just so disappointed that a year into David Wilson’s leadership that this kind of bias continues. The City Manager David Wilson does not need City Council approval to create an independent Communications department that is fair and equal.

It was clear who had directed the City Communications department to stop working with WEHOville after a resident submitted an op-ed, “Mean Girls”, if not earlier. It has been a year that the City of West Hollywood Communications Department has been retaliating against us. It is against the law for a City Council member to meddle in the affairs of a city diverting money to friendly publications or meddling in the affairs of a city contractor. But one thing is clear, there is no media policy at City Hall. But there was a lot of bullshit.

Boystown Media/ WEHOville is a West Hollywood based company with a West Hollywood business license that pays West Hollywood Taxes. Other publications, Beverly Hills Press/Park La Brea News, the LA Blade, and Muriello Publishing/Weho Times, are all recipients of West Hollywood City Hall advertising dollars and all are based in Los Angeles. None of these three publications have a West Hollywood business license but all are friends of the ‘clique’. There is no equity in media.

The one regret I have in this saga is outing a commissioner who posted under a name Holloway Janet. To that commissioner I’m so sorry, it has been eating me up ever since. You were part subject to the draft complaint – while city hall cites the ‘mean comments as an excuse, – as a Commissioner of the city your post was evidence. City commissioner plants evidence that is then used against us by city hall. Your a public servant. We had a winning case. But I would have to be silent if we filed that draft complaint waiting for a friendly DA to to do anything. It was not worth it. I need to put this behind me. I’m really sorry you got dragged into this. Your name has been removed from the original article in which it appeared.

Horvath stated of her endorsement from the Los Angeles County Supervisor race by the LA Times that ‘editorial board is separate’, and to that I say bullshit.

I wished there was a time when we could all celebrate under the WEHO Pride banner. Where partisan politics are second to a collaborative effort where City Hall would support us too. Unfortunately City Hall, its City Manager and its Communication Department are flat-footed in their overall vision and policy.

Don’t tell me there is no bias at City Hall.

@tonights City Council meeting

At tonight’s City Council meeting Lindsey attempted to right the ship. During Councilmember comments she asked the City Manager to clarify its policy. David Wilson replied that staff will be working on new administrative regulations concerning the media.

On a personal note it has been so hurtful to be retaliated against by a city council members and certain city staff. Ive enjoyed wonderful relationships with many serving as the Chairman of a Commission and a Board. I sat with staff to redo our crosswalks. We created a Disability Health Fair and started a Green City Program. The truth will set you free and I needed to close this chapter.

It is greatly appreciated that Lindsey spoke up tonight and the City of West Hollywood will be bringing forward new proposals for equity in its media decisions.

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DesertBob
DesertBob
4 months ago

You’d do well to revisit the Staples Center/Anschutz scandal that shook the Los Angeles Times’ publisher’s suite hard enough to almost render the paper completely dysfunctional while “Da Trib” still owned it. That mess finally moved Tribune to finally sell the paper…thankfully. Publishing an expensive glossy ad-zine promoting AEG, as well as gushing coverage of AEG in “news” articles as part of a quid pro quo is corrupt journalism at its worst, and the news staff sure let the public know about it. Firings and resignations followed…or do you even recall all that?

Terrence N.
Terrence N.
4 months ago

I’m sorry that I am not aware of any of these names but it Is no wonder that we rarely know what’s going on around here until it’s over. My dad taught me that in business and in life be strong in your own backyard.

Graft
Graft
4 months ago

“Although not the original usage of the term, graft in the modern context is commonly used as a blanket term for political embezzlement, influence peddling or other forms of corruption. While embezzlement and influence peddling are elements sometimes present in graft, the relationship is not deterministic.” Wikipedia.

Graft
Graft
4 months ago

“Although not the original usage of the term, graft in the modern context is commonly used as a blanket term for political embezzlement, influence peddling or there forms of corruption. While embezzlement and influence peddling are elements sometimes resent in graft, the relationship is not deterministic.” Wikipedia

Marco Colantonio
4 months ago

“A Tale of Sour Grapes.” and Who is the Fox? Although I now live in Palm Springs, I was the founder and former publisher of WeHo Times and for nearly a decade a regular contributor to Wehoville. Based on the above, I think it’s fair for me to comment on this Op-ed. Sour grapes is the expression often used when someone puts something down in a negative way or makes it out to be unimportant solely because it is unattainable to them. The term is mostly applied to signify resentment. The phrase originated in Aesop’s Fables, from a story called… Read more »

Jimmy
Jimmy
4 months ago

The City of West Hollywood powers that be no longer cares about its residents, it’s businesses, or it’s history.

Award for Wehoville
Award for Wehoville
4 months ago

Larry , Wehoville should get a Comedy Journalism Award. Reading through the threads is sidesplittingly funny and seems to be exterminating the mean posters. The preposterous antics taking place in and around city hall ….well you just can’t make it up! If we don’t laugh about this we would be crying .

Kings Road
Kings Road
4 months ago

This article details many discussions over a period of time with no answers. It would suggest that Larry or Wehoville have been blacklisted. How does something like that happen in West Hollywood and the City Manager has no answers.

carleton cronin
4 months ago

Reminders of the days when I was peddling PR to five working newspapers with eleven daily editions in Boston. Ass deep in politics, overblown egos and hands out for baksheesh. (I couldn’t run this piece unless…” Perhaps I can arrange it.) Lash up your waistband, Larry, it’s always going to be this way. It’s a tough trade. Humans can’t help themselves and many do not care who they hurt as they thrash about in self-interest.. These conditions may be the reason so many newspaper guys were so often heavy drinkers? Come by and give or a conversation. The city has… Read more »

WehoFan
WehoFan
4 months ago

Carleton you don’t understand the level of corruption in west hollywood right now.

Steve
Steve
4 months ago

For my time this is the only publication I follow and the staff is doing a wonderful job.

08mellie
08mellie
4 months ago
Reply to  Steve

Came here to say that. Thanks Steve.

:dpb
:dpb
4 months ago

This city is a frickin’ mess. Hovarth, Shyne and Erickson should be the subject of a class action suit by the city residents. They are corrupt. The city manager would call for an audit of the council if he had any balls. Boss Hogg Hovarth and her two Hoggets have got to go.

Steve Martin
Steve Martin
4 months ago

Journalism is a tough profession. At least in West Hollywood you are not getting shot or dismembered. But one only needs to look at the anemic coverage of West Hollywood issues at the Beverly Press, which comes across as re-worked press releases from WeHo’s PIO to see what happens when a publication is reliant on City ads as a major revenue source. WeHoville is alive with controversy and public engagement; if forgoing City ad revenue is the price for keeping the publication dynamic, I would beg you to forego revenues from the City. A large section of WeHo’s residents have… Read more »

Alan Strasburg
Alan Strasburg
4 months ago
Reply to  Steve Martin

While we can sometimes deride the quality and anonymity of the commentary, its existence is a much-needed forum for public engagement. We must constantly dispel the notion that engagement happens only in the voting booth. The trumpian dismissal of the legitimate role of a free press, especially in this hyper-local medium, is an abuse of office and an insult to our intelligence. Speak out, be heard, say something. We are the bosses, not the other way around.

Last edited 4 months ago by Alan Strasburg
Steve Martin
Steve Martin
4 months ago
Reply to  Alan Strasburg

Absolutely. WeHoville is the closest thing we have to a community town square or barbershop where there is an exchange in views/opinions. I do wish that people would use their names more often but I get that City employees and Commissioners don’t have that luxury. Elections are in alternate years and not everyone has the time to go to Council or Commission meetings; WeHoville offer a rare opportunity to get a pulse of the community.

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