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A tale of two WeHos: Candidates' forum w/audio
By WeHo News staff, West Hollywood, California
Click this image or this text for the only complete audio recording of the forum available on demand - a WeHo News exclusive!
After viewing last night’s council candidate forum, a stranger would rightly come away flummoxed trying to decide how badly/well West Hollywood is run, how criminal/safe its streets are, how uninvolved/active is the body politic, how blighted/beautiful are the neighborhoods and how much the city wastes on/invests in events that tangentially fund the city’s programs.
Incumbents John Duran and Jeffrey Prang came under heavy fire Wednesday night from seven challengers hoping to unseat them from the City Council.
Indeed, it seemed as though seven of the nine men sitting at the long table in the West Hollywood Park auditorium were talking about entirely different communities.
The nine candidates gathered for the only televised forum to debate the issues as conceived by the audience, which seemed limited almost exclusively to land use, budget and public safety.
And then there was the candidate running only to sell his company’s transportation scheme – oh, and he promises to bring to West Hollywood, a leader on gun violence issues, a group of vigilantes carrying concealed weapons to stop crime.
Development, WeHo’s perennial thorn in the side, received much of the night’s attention.
The challengers made hay from developers’ agreements that they said provided developers, as Steve Martin put it, “work arounds (to zoning) and is a formula for corruption that emasculates the Planning Commission and forces us to sue the city.”
He also spoke out once again about large projects that he claims threaten to throttle the city with traffic and parking problems, charging Jeffrey Prang and John Duran with voting for under parked developments, such as the Sunset Millennium project.
The 15-year old Sunset Millennium debate re-opened last night as council candidates strove to position themselves as either anti-developer or smart-development.
To which Mr. Duran countered that he did not vote for that project – he voted against it.
He took the unusual (and some say illegal) step of holding a press conference on the site to declare his unwavering support for it – before the Environmental Impact Review (EIR) was complete.
Mr. Prang defended the occasional use of development agreements because they are a way to reap public benefits out of the erection of billboards.
“The concept was brought forward to see that the city gets [revenue] from signage,” it could never garner through other means, he said.
However, “they do give developers incentives,” to propose billboards on their projects, and he promised to “work to restrain them.”
Consultants to developers who also operate political campaigns came under fire, too – well, actually only one did.
To hear the candidates’ tell it, consultant Steve Afriat is the root of all evil and the cause of the city’s problems because he works for developers and also takes the politicians’ money.
Sam Borelli contends that the city' has "faltered' and allowed the Eastside to become blighted.
Mr. Martin said Messrs. Prang and Duran and Mr. Afriat are “in bed and knocked up.” It remains unclear how a paid employee (independent contractor, in actuality) can influence the politicians and developers who buy their services, and neither Mr. Martin nor Mr. Landavazo clarified their accusations.
The city’s failures, at least according to the challengers, have resulted in, as Tom DeMille put it, “a city unsafe to walk the streets at night” and, according to Sam Borelli, “City has faltered in letting [the Eastside] become a blighted community.”
Mr. Prang and Mr. Duran defended the city’s efforts at public safety and redevelopment of the Eastside, pointing out that not only is West Hollywood one of the safest cities in the county with the highest per capita expenditure on public safety, but that, as Mr. Prang put it, “WeHo’s Eastside is a success story. We have invested in that part of town.
“Twenty years ago prostitution was rampant, people were having sex and doing drugs in [Eastside] front yards.”
One of the fresh ideas presented at the candidates' forum was encouragement of micro-apartments now being experimented with in San Francisco and New York - they range from 200-500 sq ft.
Mr. Duran said, “That just is not true; the Eastside is not a blighted area, it’s a beautiful neighborhood. Demographic changes are taking place – where once Russian-speakers made up one-third of the city it’s now down to 18 percent. Young people are coming in.”
To that end, Mr. Borelli floated the idea of zoning for “micro-apartments” that provide little more than 300 sq. feet of living space for younger and older people, a concept that is taking hold in Manhattan and San Francisco because of the high rents in those cities.
That idea was shot down out of hand by Nick Garzilli in the first answer he had to a question that did not pitch his company’s dream of building a $150 million solar-powered transportation line from one end of WeHo to another, something from which he told WeHo News in an interview he stood to profit.
Tristan Schukraft made a case for app-based community and civic development.
Because the ‘micro-apartment” idea was connected to the United Nations, he said, “I’m against them.”
Still, Mr. Duran reminded the viewers of his position, declared tears ago, of helping landlords recoup monies for deferred maintenance on their buildings.
On the city’s supposed lack of safety, Mr. Garzilli suggested WeHo could become safer through “conceal carry groups” of vigilantes patrolling the streets.
Several of the challengers advocated leveraging technology to help create a more cohesive sense of community, with Mr. Landavazo suggesting that the city use law enforcement alert web site Nixle.
Tristan Schukraft said that he felt too little attention was being paid to apps that could keep the citizenry up to date on city public notices and important development-related information.
On Plummer Park, the same as on many of the issues up for debate, there was agreement that the city could do a better job listening to the citizens.
On March 5, the citizenry will find out which view of the city prevails – is it blighted, unsafe, over-developed and under the malevolent consultants thumbs, or is the city as portrayed by the incumbents, safe, well-kept, well-managed and developed reasonably?
Lauren Meister, former-planning commissioner, spokesperson for the Yes on Measure C (Term Limits) group and fervent supporter of challenger Steve Martin, took justifiable issue with WeHo News' reporting. Photo byMichaelpolesphotography.com.
In a sidebar to the event, several people in attendance told WeHo News they believed that the majority of the questions asked appeared to emanate from former-Planning Commissioner, Term Limits Measure C spokesperson and candidate Steve Martin supporter Lauren Meister, whom they claimed they saw writing them and passing them around the audience to be handed in.
Ms. Meister, however, denied any such activity.
"I was handing out the validations for the parking garage," she told WeHo News after publication of this article.
In fact, the questions had been written on Sunday, several days beforehand, but a committee of people that included neighborhood stakeholders and activists Rob Bergstein, Allegra Allison, Elyse Eisenberg, Ms. Meister, Lynn Hoopingarner and James Litz.
WeHo News erred in the previous version of this article when we failed to investigate the sources' assertions.
We apologize to our readers, to Ms. Meister and to the Beverly Hills/Greater Los Angeles Association of Realtors® for our lapse.
(Updated at 10:00 am and at 5:30 pm, Friday, February 8)