One of the most memorable speeches ever uttered is Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
If you haven’t read it in a while, it’s worth looking over as a North Star to get our country out of the mess we currently face in the Red/Blue cultural civil war that exists. But there is one paraphrase in the address that has some immediate relevance in West Hollywood: “Of the People, By the People, For the People”.
Our whole point of breaking away from the County of Los Angeles in 1984 and forming our own City was to create our own government to decide how we were going to govern ourselves. We have had many great achievements over the decades that were first in the Nation (and later adopted by other cities) from our rent stabilization/ rent control ordinance, domestic partnership ordinance to medicinal marijuana and cannabis regulation. We figured we knew what would be best for ourselves and didn’t need people from Downtown Los Angeles controlling our lives and making decisions for us.
That has changed recently with the new council. It’s time to reboot our government in 2022/2023 as we prepare for our 40 year anniversary.
There are currently 9 commissions in West Hollywood and 5 advisory boards. The 9 commissions are Arts and Cultural Affairs Commission, Business License Commission, Historic Preservation Commission, LGBTQ+ Commission, Planning Commission, Public Facilities Commission, Public Safety Commission, Rent Stabilization Commission and Transportation Commission.
The 5 Advisory Boards are the Disabilities Advisory Board, Russian Speaking Advisory Board, Senior Advisory Board, Transgender Advisory Board and Women’s Advisory Board. We have 14 boards and commissions which is a LOT of government for a small city of our size. Yet, out of all these bodies – only 2 require West Hollywood residency – the Planning Commission and the Rent Stabilization Commission. All the rest say someone may serve who lives, works, plays or has some other connection to the City.
At one time, it made sense when we were trying to bring in expertise from outside our city borders to help advise council on the creation of groundbreaking policies. But that is no longer the case. The groundbreaking was done. The infrastructure was built.
The need is no longer what it was. But the old system persists. Some of these bodies have become highly dysfunctional battle fields. Members fight over meaningless proposals and menial tasks which are a great waste of staff time and city resources. Recently, the current council decided to elevate the Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board and make it the LGBTQ+ Commission. Some misguided board members thought being a “commission” rather than a “board” gave them more power or credibility or purpose.
None of that is true. In the early years of the City, we did need a Russian Advisory Board as we were integrating Ukrainian and Russian speaking Jewish community members into our city culture. There were rough spots as we were trying to merge LGBT culture with Eastern European culture – but we got through it.
There was also a reason to create a Women’s Advisory Board to help create new opportunities and conferences for women in West Hollywood. And the same can be said about creating a Transgender Advisory Board as we were creating new relationships with the forgotten T in LGBT. But now – these bodies have all grown wild and stale at the same time. The Russian Speaking community now makes up about 8% of our population rather than 30% of the population because of aging, moving and death.
And the policy agenda of the LGBT community has mostly been implemented in Sacramento and the County of Los Angeles. There are still unresolved needs and issues in West Hollywood – but they mostly have to do with funding existing programs rather than creating any new policy. So, not that I am ever one to stir the pot and create controversy (wink, wink) but here is what I would propose if I return to the council:
1. Residency requirements for all Commissions. You must live in West Hollywood to serve on a Commission. Period. Recently there have been too many policies being forced upon us by residents of Los Angeles, Culver City and other places. Not bad people. It’s just they really do NOT know the ins and outs of our city – at least not like the people who actually live here. Witness the disaster that was Nika Soon-Shiong – the heiress daughter of the publisher of the LA Times. She was appointed to the Public Safety Commission by Lindsey Horvath. She came in with her flow charts and data and feigned “expertise” to tell all of us what SHE thought was best for us and our public safety. When we questioned her data or experience – she became indignant and Lindsey Horvath thought we were “racist” for even raising a question about the process or the information. This runs contrary to the idea of self-governance. We should not allow outsiders to come into our city and attempt to advise, draft, suggest, create any policy for us! That is arguably “FOR” the People. But it most certainly is NOT “OF” the People or “BY” the People of West Hollywood. Some of the recent appointees to Boards and Commissions are outsiders who come from the pet Democratic clubs of some of the current council members. We have boards made up of ambitious political hacks who sincerely believe that THEY know what is best for us. The only way to stop this – is to INSIST that all commissions be made up of WEST HOLLYWOOD RESIDENTS. We can govern ourselves – thank you very much.
2. Dissolve the Advisory Boards. Now, before some of you raise your torches and pitchforks – hear me out. We have created insular silos of city government who are mostly preaching to their own choirs. Russian Advisory Board members only speak to themselves (and in the Russian language). The LGBTQ+ Board (now Commission) gives Rainbow Key Awards that are usually only attended by LGBT community members and their supporters. The Women’s Advisory board special events are largely attended only by women (so the men in town are learning nothing that will change their attitudes or opinions). The Senior Advisory Board holds their meetings in the afternoons since they are all retired – but there are not any non-seniors learning anything about their issues. And so on and so on. Yes. It’s time to blow up all the boards and LGBTQ+ commission and instead create one HUMAN RELATIONS COMMISSION. Each councilmember could appoint 5 individuals and make it a 25 member commission that meets monthly. There is great synergy that comes from mixing communities of interest. It would be ideal for gay men to learn about the culture and experiences of people who came here from the Ukraine. It would be great if seniors learned about the discrimination or struggle of transgender individuals. It would be awesome if women learned about the battle for accessibility for those living with disabilities. And so on and so on. If we truly want a diverse culture that preaches tolerance, understanding and acceptance of our differences – then one Human Relations Commission that works on producing universal community events where all the rich diversity of West Hollywood mixes together is preferable. Or we can just keep on doing the same old awards each year attended only by the awardees, their families and supporters and the board/commission members who largely live out of town. Nothing is learned. Nothing changes. Nothing grows. Other than the festering of resentments between those board members over who gets to chair this year’s meetings or who is going to speak on the next panel. Sigh. Eye Roll. So small. So narrow. So yesteryear.
Part of the beauty of running as a non incumbent this time, is that I am free to speak my mind without the constraints of the Brown Act or the requirement that I keep an open mind to all ideas as a sitting Councilmember is supposed to do. Whether I get re elected or I do not get elected again – is not really the point in my writing these opinion pieces. The point is that there is great benefit from having years of experience on the council and watching the same dysfunction year after year and thinking “there has to be a better way”.
And then sharing the ideas here in print. Finally, it’s time that the current council and board/commission members STOP acting like staff members. It is not your responsibility to try and bring in outside “experts” who support your political point of view. That is the job of city staff. You give the general direction. Hopefully, an unbiased staff brings in experts with differing points of view and then the board/commission/council can make educated decisions about what is best for all of us in the future.
So, there you go. Residency Requirement. Blow up the old system. Create a Human Relations Commission and allow the others to pass into history. And stay in your own lane. Councilmembers – you are not staff. Board/Commission members – you are not ELECTED representatives by the people – you are APPOINTED to advise or make decisions – but the ultimate call is by those who were elected by the People. And the People are free to vote those councilmembers back in or replace them at election time. That’s how “of the People, by the People and for the People” looks….. OK. Raise pitchforks and torches. Ready. Set. Go. Please discuss.