GUEST COMMENTARY - It must be fun being a current member of the West Hollywood City Council!
You can come up with a wacky idea, add it to the weekly municipal consent calendar rather than agendizing it to allow for discussion or debate from stakeholders, then go ahead and implement it and sit back and watch the community crumble. That’s what it feels like for those of us who call this 1.9 mile city island home. We are surrounded by other local cities who offer their residents and business owners both economic and public safety. But sadly, our City Council doesn’t seem interested. And what about the democratic process that has invited community engagement, debate and discussion since we established cityhood in 1984? We worked hard to create our own destiny, recognizing the importance of our diversity and welcoming participation from every corner. How have we allowed this city council to repeatedly stifle that debate and discussion by simply moving important policy discussions to consent calendar?
Clearly our city leaders have forgotten who they represent. The policies advanced primarily by the SHE alliance (Shyne, Horvath, Erickson) who hold a majority on council have ignored West Hollywood residents and businesses alike, both of whom are deeply concerned with public and economic safety. Instead, these council members have allowed our city to become a testing ground for the policy campaigns of special interest groups. And as a result of these policies, many enacted on consent, there’s no question that West Hollywood is less safe today, that it’s more expensive to shop, eat, and procure basic services here, and much more difficult to own and operate a small business here compared to other cities.
That is why we launched, “WeHo for the People: Because We Love Our City”, a campaign to raise awareness among voters about the need for change in the city council election this fall. The campaign has brought together a unique coalition of nearly 100 residents and businesses who share grave concerns with the aggressive, anti-community policies that are devastating West Hollywood (WeHo), driven by this coalition of City Councilmembers who continually ignore and fail their constituents.
The City’s out of touch policies are threatening WeHo’s public safety. The Council voted to defund law enforcement and reduce LA County’s Sheriff’s Department despite a 137% increase in violent crime. They chose to eliminate two vital deputy sheriff’s positions dedicated to WEHO and depend on unarmed Ambassadors to bicycle along the streets instead of utilizing trained police officers who know how to protect a community. They abandoned our residents and business owners who are increasingly fearful of facing retail theft and violent personal attacks.
Out-of-control City policies are also threatening WeHo’s economic safety. The City Council has created policies that make the City much more expensive for residents and visitors by driving up labor costs by 35%, well beyond the neighboring communities surrounding West Hollywood. At the same time they offer little incentive or even the perception of support at a time when the nation is seeing unprecedented inflation following two years of hardship during the pandemic. Had these increases been regional or on par with our neighboring communities this discussion would be mute. But with these changes impacting businesses in West Hollywood, it becomes very difficult to maintain a cost structure that allows them to remain competitive with surrounding businesses.
The same policies are also causing businesses to relocate to other cities or close altogether which has resulted in an alarming number of open storefronts along its most important commercial corridors. Just since July Subway and Chop Stop closed West Hollywood locations along Santa Monica Blvd as did Cousin’s Maine Lobster. For lease signs have gone up at John Varvatos and Rafi Jewelers. Holloway Cleaners, a WeHo fixture since 1985 is looking to move out of town. The Urban blight that is left behind welcomes nefarious activity, the kind that is fueling our increase in crime and further threatening the safety of our residents and businesses.
We are fortunate to live and work in a community that supports the ideals of social justice. It is unusual to find a business community so in synch with residents on progressive ideologies. But there is a practical side to public policy, one that must recognize the impacts these policies have on our residents and businesses, particularly given our unique geographical position as a small island surrounded by a region not facing these same policies. An economic policy enacted here that is not in line with local policies in Los Angeles or Beverly Hills creates an uneven playing field that, rather than improve accessibility for all, actually builds a veritable wall around our city that only the wealthiest or large corporate entities can scale. What then happens to the young entrepreneurs and LGBT businesses eager to come to West Hollywood to launch their new ideas and thrive in the creative city, a city of unique experiences and independent businesses?
This election will be the most important municipal election we have faced since establishing cityhood in 1984. Never in the history of our city has there been more at stake for our businesses and our residents. We are at the precipice of the cliff that will determine whether we hold to the vision of the dynamic, unique urban village that has made West Hollywood so attractive for residents and visitors from around the world.
We call upon all WeHo residents, small business owners, and concerned voters to join us in this campaign to tell our leaders they need to serve the people and community they were elected to serve. They must act now to protect the freedoms and restore the vitality, safety and strength and promise that once put WeHo on the map as a state and national leader.
(Keith Kaplan is the Chair for WEHO for the People go to: https://www.wehoforthepeople.org/)