Hi Steve, welcome to WEHOville. Let’s get into it. Are you running for city council this year ?
Yes it’s time to stop the strip tease. I think people people want to know if I’m running. A lot of people have encouraged me to run. I just need to jump in officially.
So that is a yes?- you previously served as a City Council member in what years?
Yes, – I was first elected in 1996 and served through 2003.
What was some of the accomplishments that you’re proud of?
I was asked by the Council to Chair the Design Committee for Santa Monica Boulevard. I helped essentially to supervise and rode shotgun on the project. It was one of the few projects that was done on budget and close to on-time. I think we were 60 days over, That was a 50 plus million dollar project which I was able to lobby and get most of that money from the State of California.
Just to touch on history was that the same time as the Sunset Millennium project during those years? What side were you on?
The Sunset Millennium project was a screwed up thing, It was West Hollywood’s first real serious development project and we were probably out of our league as far as that goes. We didn’t negotiate what we thought was a good program.
It was suppose to provide almost 400 additional parking spaces and that’s the part where the community got shortchanged because later more concessions were made tto the developer and a lot of the benefits got lost. But originally, I’ll admit we were not particularly sophisticated.
How’d that vote go down?
Oh, I believe it was unanimous or four to one. Perhaps John Heilman may have voted against.
So you were defeated in 2003 after serving two terms? but you always stayed in the game. Your always seen at planning commissions. Some people wonder if you’re anti-development or pro-development how do you feel about development?
Well I’ve always been in the game since the city started. I didn’t intend to necessarily be a Council member. It was just when the city started in 1984 I just got involved as kind of a lark because a friend asked me to. The whole campaign for City Hood was a lot of fun. You’re knocking on doors. We met lots of people. I mean it seemed like I met everybody who was anybody in West Hollywood during those four or five months that we were doing the campaign. It was real exciting. Not many people get an opportunity to create a city.
I was involved in Stonewall and other city stuff, basic city activities, but I really got involved during the ‘Save The Park’ initiative. That was when John Heilman and Abbe Land wanted to build a 50 million dollar Civic Center in West Hollywood Park. That would have gotten rid of almost all the green space, would have eliminated our only municipal pool and they kept on insisting that we would have as much green space after this gigantic civic center was constructed and that would consist of rooftop gardens flower beds potted plants balconies. Only one Council Member Steve Schulte opposed it. When he decided that he was going to lead an initiative, a bunch of us got behind it. I was just a volunteer until the end of the effort. It was a real hard slog initially trying to get people to sign the initiative. Clearly the majority of city council was opposed to it. This is how I got to be involved in the city.
We were supposed to turn in our our signatures as you recall from the term limits, the people in charge were saying we were never going to collect enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. I thought we’d all done way too much work to give up so I called up a few friends Roz Krauss, Norman Chramoff, Gloria Vassey, Stan Lothridge and only four or five of us went out from Friday to Sunday and we collected those signatures and we got it on the ballot.
From that point on I was the hero of that movement and that they made me a spokesperson. I was going toe-to-toe debating the park issue with John Heilman and Abbe Land. For me it was a big promotion because otherwise I was just kind of one of those people that might have shown up at a Council meeting occasionally.
We saved that pool and we stopped that civic center. There wouldn’t be a park there today.
Let’s go back, that was the first time you got something on the ballot.
The second time, which I didn’t realize when I knocked on your door to say lets do term limits..was that the second time up got something on the ballot, or have you gotten more than two things on the ballot?
No that was second time with term limits when you came and knocked on my door.
So you’re two for two. That’s big!
I wrote the term limits initiative, we got a ton of signatures for it and it was a great team of people. Once again we didn’t have all that much money but it was a blowout.
The idea was to speak truth to power and have a resident oriented city council that was not controlled by developers or at this point we would add the unions would would you agree on those two points?
That was one of the reasons why I was essentially not elected in 2003. Steve Afriat was the most influential lobbyist in the city basically liked to brag that he had the city council in his pocket. I voted for some of Steve’s projects but I also didn’t kiss his ass. I would question things and what he wanted was people who would basically rubber stamp what he was putting forward.
So back to that question– anti-development development where do you stand on development?
I think over time I’ve evolved because I think everybody has to. I mean change is is inevitable for West Hollywood. The city is changing constantly, it’s changed constantly since 1984. and we can’t really be nostalgic over every little piece of the city.
But I know you’re involved in Historic Preservation too–
West Hollywood needs development it’s the only way we’re going to continue to get this is the only way we’ll be able to leverage affordable housing. We need economic development to help fuel our budget.
Let’s move on to current stuff- lots going on in the city- just let it flow>>>>
Well people were anxious for change at City Hall. Two years ago there was an election and two long-term well-funded incumbents got voted out of office by two underfunded progressives and that pretty much was a repudiation of how business should be done in West Hollywood. I think the the voters were unhappy with the status quo now two years later if you thought people were unhappy in 2020 they’re even more unhappy now.
I mean the fact that the city’s own pollster showed that 39 of the public felt that the city was moving in the wrong direction and that is so difficult to do in a town that has so much going for it as West Hollywood does. We really have to think where is the Council? What are their goals? Where are they taking this? And I don’t know that they know.
I’m not sure those two challengers were actually underfunded; they were just funded by different sources. Erickson raked in the cash from the developers and unions and Sepi had lots of support form Unite Here Local 11.
What do you see as your role?
I think right now what’s being offered to the voters, they’re not being given some really good choices. So we can either go forward with some inexperienced people who don’t have a deep resume with the city. Newcomers who don’t seem to have a lot of experience with the city, or we can go back to the basically the same incumbents that got unelected two years ago. And have to refight all the controversies and scandals of the last 10 or 15 years.
Are you for or against the sheriff or defunding the sheriff?
Well I think I’m on record I think I’m the only candidate besides Lauren Meister who’s on record that’s opposed to defunding the sheriff.
Are you for or against building the transitional housing homeless shelter at the Holloway Motel?
I’m for converting that hotel into transitional housing. I think there’s a lot of misconceptions about how that’s going to go down but I believe that if it’s run correctly and it has to be run correctly I think it’s going to be a real credit to the city. I think people will actually be proud of it.
Who deserves the blame for the cost overruns and systemic problems in the West Hollywood park?
Well I think it’s a combination. I mean there’s there was a reliance on consultants. I think the contract should be supervised much more closely by the city engineer but also the Council was irresponsible. The Council was constantly approving change orders, constantly making changes in the plans , and it was it’s it’s always been a constantly moving target. The project’s been on the drawing board for almost 20 years. I’ve voted on that project I mean in 2002 I voted in favor of the initial plans for that project and that project has taken 19 years to come to fruition. That’s just incompetent.
Are you for or against keeping the West Hollywood bars open until 4 a.m?
Well I’m ambivalent. I mean I think there’s there’s upsides to it and there may be some downsides to it. I think we have to see how we’re able to deploy our deputies, For most of us like me I’m going to be asleep. I’m not so much worried about the people going to the bars at four o’clock I’m worried about the people who are getting mugged on the street at three or four in the morning.
How do you feel about just some of the past votes about the changes of the rainbow crosswalks or you spoke about the gender neutral bathrooms or a lot of the social issues?
I don’t call those social issues those are basically just performative politics. They’re really about virtue signaling and people trying to basically assert themselves in ways to show that they’re more politically correct than the next guy. They’re tedious and they’re counterproductive and I’m concerned that progressives are taking identity politics to the point of diminishing returns.
Anything you want to add as you embark on this journey once again?
When I was on City Council I was responsible for creation of the East Side Redevelopment agency which created hundreds of affordable housing units. That project was always stalled until I got there and was able to get public buy-in. I fought to create Kings Road Park. We had a lot of public support for that. I fought to renovate the pool because the city decided to not do anything other than change the chlorine for 10 years. My colleagues voted to put me on the budget subcommittee every year for eight years in a row. I put the city on a two-year budget because that helped us plan better, I also pushed and authored one of the few popular tax increases which was to increase our our transient occupancy tax by one percent. West Hollywood’s tot was 1% below Beverly Hills, Culver City, Santa Monica and Los Angeles. There was this thinking that somehow that was drawing customers to us.
People who stay on the Sunset Strip really don’t give a rat’s ass about one percent and it really millions of dollars into our coffers. My colleagues were afraid to do it.
Steve while I don’t always agree with you I trust that you’re fully invested in this city and you have all the knowledge it takes to really make a fantastic council person so I really do wish you the best of luck.
The City Council is going to have my full attention. I’m not running for higher office. I mean that’s the good thing about being old, At this point but I think that the city needs a restoration of of common sense some fiscal responsibility.
Humility—- I think the is probably the one thing that is really missing in City government- a sense that we don’t know everything. I i think we really need to make sure that we’re not just saying we’re empowering residents but I think that we’re genuinely listening to people and that’s not happening. It hasn’t happened in a long time and I know I’ve taken unpopular stances like against the robo garage which is a good example of fiscal irresponsibility.
And basically monuments to various people’s egos, But people forget people on the council forget how quickly we are forgotten. I have my name on probably half a dozen plaques at different places in the city and not one time in my entire life has anyone come and said you must be the Steve Martin whose name’s on the side of the fire station. The only people who care are the politicians and I think that’s where we need to kind of recalibrate at city hall how we do business.