Analysis by Ryan Gierach, West Hollywood, California
How safe is safe in WeHo? Will we get our own personal safety monitors to take us home and tuck us in at night?
The protesters shouted “unsafe,” “no more deaths,” blaming the city for a pedestrian’s death near a street crossing leading from a group of bars to a residential neighborhood.
Thomas Jefferson, one of the architects of the American system of representative government, created without knowing it an effective difference in function that coincided with purpose between the “People’s House” and the United States Senate in the Congress.
Gen. George Washington, according to the chief Senate historian, Sen. Robert Byrd (D) – W Virginia in the Congressional Record – is said to have uttered the following comment while enjoying tea with Mr. Jefferson, “You have turned your hot tea from the cup into the saucer, to get it cool. It is the same thing we desired of the two houses (in Congress).”
Whether apocryphal or not, and most historians do doubt its pedigree being unable to trace its source beyond 1871, the analogy rings true and remains supreme in our day just as it did 215 years ago when first tried.
The House of Representatives, voted into office for two year terms directly by the people, their neighbors, roiled legislative waters with a long list of agenda items and a short time to seem them through to signing by the President.
Senators, until 101 years ago on May 31, were selected by their state’s legislature and usually consisted of the commercial, banking or industrial classes.
They had a vested interest in slow going.
People in business need stability; people and agencies whose business it is to provide a safe haven for businesses to prosper, need to provide stability, not the herky-jerky political back and forth promised by an unleashed House of Representatives.
So it is in West Hollywood today, we see the interplay between non-government citizen’s groups calling for immediate change, resisting change to the cityscape and social issue focus or trying to gain seats on the city council to make the changes they believe differ in substance from the incumbents’ ideas.
People say this is a Democratic town, and with well over two-thirds registered Democrats and only a little over one-in-five registered Republicans living here, that’s the easy description.
But the traditional reality (if 30 years’ practice can be said to serve as tradition), about West Hollywood politics is that two parties exist.
One is the Affordable Housing Party.
The other is the Affordable Housing Party.
The difference between them is in which pols get ready and free access to, as well receiving developers’ get out the vote help, from the residents of the West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation (WHCHC)’s many apartment units, most of which contain people who speak only Russian, or are seniors who, but for the WHCHC (and John Heilman and Abbe Land) would have no place to go.
Yet that traditional dynamic has broken. John Heilman came in third place in the last election; Abbe Land came in second.
The man who beat both the long-time incumbents and their appointed hope for the future (she came in fifth place) came from another constituency altogether in the city; one that had not been asked to vote in some time.
John D’Amico used populist dissent about development issues that the Heilman/Land axis seemed bent on perverting to their own agenda – creating affordable housing – at the cost of the city’s dignity and integrity.
Today we see a similar populist force roiling the horizon and potentially end-running common wisdom and political tradition in West Hollywood. This campaign for council started immediately following the last and has stayed heated through good promotion and an unfortunately timed event.
Candidate Larry Block has been front and center at every populist issue before the council over the past year, including term limits, the debate over West Hollywood’s LA Gay Pride LGBT Parade and Festival, parking regulations, the call for a more meaningful monument to the LGBT community than rainbow cross walks, the city flag debate, the effort to form a Boystown Business Improvement District, the opposition to John Duran’s photo-op and protest over the Russian anti-gay legislation that included a symbolic Vodka dump and now, crosswalk safety.
In most of these cases, Mr. Block seeks a remedy by stating the problem in public, sometimes causing the council members whose help he needs to prevail on his issue to lose face instead.
He makes speeches chiding officialdom for acting too slowly or not at all. The question of whether or not a peripatetic style is best for WeHo remains open, but not yet taken up for debate.
Lauren Meister is nothing if not an knowledgeable land use expert, at least locally, and is taking another stab at the office of council member. She is on top of every issue springing up and raising money from the exposure.
A regular feature around town due to a stint on the Public Safety Commission and a short time on Planning, she increases the visibility of the issue by lending her weight to it.
Yet she, too, seems to be tagging along with a portion of the voting public’s resentments while not putting forth any cures.
The manner in which Lauren Meister left the West Hollywood Planning Commission burned bridges while she cast a shadow of distrust over herself. Few electeds and even fewer commercial interests will trust that her ambition will not outweigh her tendency to alienates erstwhile supporters.
Her central role in getting the Term Limits initiative on the ballot and over the hump may show an ability to organize, but Term Limits voters tended to be non-incumbent supporters.
In a large field with only two incumbents, the protest vote gets split so many ways (and many of those ways include one good guy incumbent) incumbents really, in their hearts, worry overmuch about election night so long as they have done their due diligence for four years.
But boy, Term Limits sure rankles politicians even more than seeing their streets lined with dog poo; once again she made fewer friends and more enemies inside the establishment.
Once the ruckus is caused, the city must come to grips with the issue at the staff level. Unfortunately a well-run city, and few who have ventured into other of the county’s 87 cities would claim this is not a well-run city, studies things thoroughly before making moves that might cause unintended or unforeseen consequences.
None of the candidates have acknowledged that, if they were on the council right now, they would be as unable to act swiftly to make the cross walks at Hancock and SMB and Palm and SMB perfectly safe for the inattentive or inebriates to pass by one another, whether driving or walking.
It’s important to recall that West Hollywood may be a city different from most others in its concern for and treatment of its citizens, especially the residents who have had a rougher row to how in life than is usual, but we cannot hand it full responsibility for our anything, not our safety, not our enjoyment of the arts, not the celebration of our culture, not the advocacy of our most deeply held ideals.
To do so weakens every one of us, and weakens the city, too, making it a de facto nanny state (how often did we hear the warnings about that during the outdoor smoking debate).
If you truly see a necessity in making those two intersection perfectly safe for the neighborhood during the stumbling home hours, do your neighbors a favor and, instead of protesting about a lack of control on road, band together to man them with volunteer traffic control officers.
Surely you recall your school cross walk monitors – we’re a grown up, adult city that values its independence from government intervention in our private lives but appreciative of private-public partnerships that benefit all.
A week or so ago I recounted the tale of the drunk man in the El Tovar lot emptying his guts to the mocking laughter of some drunken girls.
The shame-faced (and vomit-covered) man stopped the laughter by beating one with his belt – the buckle side, and climbing into his buddy’s car, which ran over another of the inebriated, heckling, young ladies, leaving her in critical condition at a hospital.
I suggested that this particular incident, while attention grabbing, is on the rise and endangers West Hollywood’s brand as a safe place to party.
The creation of a business improvement district that would span the area of most nightclubbing activity would provide a security force like the one on the Sunset Strip to back up a busy Sheriff‘s Department.
A Boystown BID would provide a clear path to organizing cross walk monitors for the periods of night necessary to keep their patron safe – coming back.
We are responsible people, but too soon give up that personal responsibility when we rely on the city alone to solve our problems.
Ask any one of the council members if they see the city as the be-all and end-all; they know better than anyone the limits of municipal legislation, enforcement and advocacy on the urban ills of the day.
More lights, whistles, horns or bells will not save lives in the long run, studies show they actually lull pedestrians into a false sense of safety making them less safe; only a personal and public commitment to responsibility will save lives.
Those who try it say it changes their life.