When we have doubts about the present, we look to the past — for wisdom, for comfort, for stability and solutions.
In 2022, West Hollywood seemed to be evolving faster than many thought necessary, and in ways not everybody considered progress.
Residents felt powerless as freshman leaders in City Hall marched them toward the brave new world they wanted to build, rather than fix the world they actually lived in.
The secure community where they had set down roots was suddenly not so safe anymore. Homelessness and vagrancy were only getting worse. The ever-present threat of rising rent and housing displacement hovered over low- and middle-class residents as the aging apartments they could afford were toppled one after another by luxury condos for the ultra-rich.
And yet the city’s brightest minds seemed obsessed with their own priorities and pet projects — gender-neutral bathrooms, studies about historical racial discrimination, recyclable plasticware, rainbow crosswalks, pronouns and pointless declarations on national topics.
So it’s no coincidence 2022 ended with a blast from the past.
A founding father of West Hollywood and a city councilmember for most of its history, John Heilman faced a humiliating defeat at the hands of his own rebellious proteges Sepi Shyne and John Erickson in 2020. His career in politics was over, it appeared. WeHo had moved on.
But just two years later, the man once seen as an aging relic of the Old World Order re-emerged as the comeback kid, winning back a seat on the dais right alongside the youngsters who ousted him.
Heilman rode back to relevance on the very ideas that repelled voters two year ago, promising to turn back the clock and get the city back on track. He overcame not only two of three progressive opponents and the vote-harvesting labor union supporting them, but two other former councilmembers running to “restore public safety” (Steve Martin) and “bring back common sense” (John Duran), as well as several other newcomers vowing to change the city’s direction.
While Duran fell short of victory, he had a steeper hill to climb, and his 3,702 votes suggest many in WeHo were willing to forgive his past decorum in order to have someone they trusted back in the driver’s seat.
But the yearning for the past wasn’t limited to City Hall.
After two years of being separated by mask mandates, plastic partitions and institutionalized fear of one another, the people of WeHo were ready to party together, shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand. Thousands upon thousands of people poured into the streets and packed public spaces during the inaugural WeHo Pride weekend and on Halloween, embracing each other and the spirit of life before COVID and monkeypox. The attitude finally became “we’re all in this together” instead of “every man for himself.”
West Hollywood was hungry for nostalgia — literally — and two lost legendary restaurants roared back from the dead to deliver.
Irv’s Burgers and Tale O’ the Pup both opened in 1946, serving up old-fashioned Americana and good, greasy comfort well into the 2010s. But by the turn of the decade, the life-sized hot dog stand was locked up in a storage room, and Irv’s was little more than a memory. That all changed in 2022, when Lawrence Longo revived Irv’s on the corner of Crescent Heights and Santa Monica, and Bobby Green pulled the Pup out of storage and gave it a loving home down the road past La Cienega.
Next year, the trip down memory lane will extend to the Sunset Strip, as developers prepare to re-invent the Viper Room and build a new concert venue on a seminal site in rock ‘n’ roll history across the street.
Old is gold again in West Hollywood, at least for the time being. Whether happy days are truly here again, only time will tell.
Excellent article & very well written. I just hope that John Heilman has the ability of persuasion to the SEB otherwise he & Lauren will be two gray haired Lame Ducks for the next 4 years with nothing to show but a humiliated WeHo.
Terrific article, Brandon! Very well written. Thank you for the great reporting in 2022!
So glad to have a rational thinker back on City Council. Hopefully John Heilman can demonstrate to his colleagues that self interest is not the objective or benefit to the community.
Brandon, thanks for the great well-written & compelling content throughout a challenging & robust year. While most on this platform preferred a different outcome on council results (Myself included), JOB WELL DONE! HNY All!
Lauren and John are going to have a huge task ahead of them, trying to talk some sense into the other three on the council who seem to be lacking in that department!
Bravo to Brandon !! A precise mini recap of this past year.
Great article! Especially loved “Residents felt powerless as freshman leaders in City Hall marched them toward the brave new world they wanted to build, rather than fix the world they actually lived in.” And… “And yet the city’s “brightest minds” seemed obsessed with their own priorities and pet projects — gender-neutral bathrooms, studies about historical racial discrimination, recyclable plasticware, rainbow crosswalks, pronouns and pointless declarations on national topics.”
Yes indeed. The return of John Heilman and the triumphant re-election of Lauren Meister is an indicator of the dissatisfaction in Weho. But what about the third winner? West hollywood voters are an enigma.
I did not see any huge yearning for the past; what I did see on the campaign was frustration and anger with the present. While 3,700 WeHo residents may have been willing to look past John Duran’s past indiscretions, another 12,000 where not. While the residents gave Lauren Meister a well deserved vote of confidence and appreciation, nether side got a mandate. The only winners in this last election were Unite Here and developers who played both sides. We have a dreary year ahead.
Council candidates are never elected with a majority or a mandate. Some pompously act like they swept the Electoral College. They are there to do the people’s business, even the people who didn’t vote for them and who engage in critical civic discourse here in these pages, and elsewhere.
That is very true. I do think that most of us appreciate the fact that John Heilman and Lauren Meister will at least try to keep a focus on West Hollywood and the concerns of the residents rather than the current focus on pandering to outside interests and the politics of grievance. But it will seem like a thankless mission as the Council meetings are hijacked by performative activists who are delighted to be given a stage by the Council majority.