John Duran, our new Mayor, famously told this reporter several years ago that the thing he most enjoyed about holding the post is “seeing the expression on peoples’ faces across the country when I introduce myself as being Mayor of West Hollywood. They look at me as though they are approaching the Wizard of OZ – with a mix of awe and delight.”
They may be responding to the office and not him, but Mayor Duran gives his constituents plenty of reason to gaze at him similarly.
Since taking a seat on the council in 2001 he has initiated several far-reaching and sometimes controversial policies that have garnered the kudos of his town folk and the attention of the media and the nation.
WeHo has a revolving system of council governance, in which each council member takes turns in the leadership posts of Mayor and Mayor Pro Tempore, holding the leadership position for one year leaves little time to establish anything but a select and focused set of policies.
Mayor John Duran, cognizant of that fact, came out of the gates this year in a dead run in the first weeks of his term, obtaining unanimous support for a virtual halt on residential redevelopment and a plan to re-design the city’s housing plan and increasing fine arts funding by two-thirds.
Demonstrating the far-reaching nature of his initiatives, the de-clawing ban he wrote in 2003 – perhaps the most controversial legislative act from his last tour as mayor – culminated late last week when the State Court of Appeals upheld that law amidst a splash of national publicity. (See: Declawing Prohibition Wins Appeal)
Another controversial topic on which John Duran leads a vital and vigorous public dialogue is crystal meth. His office has created a set of town hall educational/informational meetings touching on a range of meth-related issues (more on that below).
In last issue activist Jerome Cleary interviewed Mayor Duran about his leadership position in the gay rights movement in the state, including his chairing Equality California (EQCA), not to mention being its star fundraiser.
WeHoNews met with Mayor Duran at a Sunset Strip diner to chew his thoughts and plans for the city while we munched a burger and fries.
WeHoNews: We got in last week’s interview with Jerome Cleary, A Short Chat With Mayor Duran
June 14, 2007, a close-up view of your Gay Movement activities. This week we’d like to ask you about the potential for abuse of AB 682, the Routine HIV Screening Bill, that loosens rules on informed consent for HIV tests.
(That bill recently passed unanimously in the assembly. See Assembly bill 682 for details.)
Mayor John Duran: The California Supreme Court asked for the files on the same-sex marriage case (that body has heard arguments on the constitutionality of excluding gay couples from the state’s marriage laws).
That could be a good thing, because they do that when they’re about to overturn an appeals court ruling. They want to be seen as having all their facts straight.
About the loosening of HIV testing consent thresholds. Beginning 20 years ago I helped draft legislation that makes pre- and post testing counseling mandatory so people would not have to deal with their AIDS test results alone.
Some advocates, because of pressure from the Bush Administration and a [genuine desire] to test more people for HIV, are willing to give away informed consent now being given in writing.
The result is that they also give up pre- and post testing counseling for the patient by removing that requirement.
WeHoNews: The Williams Institute and LAMDA Legal find fault with the bill because it could open the door to the potential for HIV discrimination. Businesses that require physicals could get results, or even insurance companies.
Mayor John Duran: I helped craft the HIV testing confidentiality laws expressly to prevent that information from falling into insurance companies’ hands, and I can see how it might be used that way, the way the law is written.
WeHoNews: You were recently successful in increasing the grants given by the city to fine and performing arts organizations by 66 percent – from $60,000 to $100,000 dollars, accomplishing a major legislative goal of yours for this term. What else have you planned in the arts realm for your term.
Mayor John Duran: You know I increased the grants from $40,000 to $60,000 last time. There’s not much else I can see through this year, although remodeling and upgrading Fiesta Hall in Plummer Park is a short-term goal. We can’t make it perfect, but we can at least improve the acoustics for live music performances and small theater productions.
Longer term, we need a fine arts center. My dream is to one day house it on the MTA bus depot lot. The County isn’t taken with the idea of selling the land and putting the buses somewhere else, yet, though.
WeHoNews: Your focus over the past several years on the crystal meth problem that has recently been wreaking so much havoc in our community, moves apace. Have you plans to expand it?
Mayor John Duran: Next on crystal meth is an expansion into gender. We started looking at meth in the gay male because it affected so many of our brothers, but we’ve seen increasing meth use in both straight and lesbian women’s community.
Since so many women come to the city to visit the Sunset Strip, I want to bring it to them, too. Look for a Meth and Gender Town Hall Meeting coming up soon.
WeHoNews: Your signature initiative this term – the recently passed Urgency Zoning Ordinance – effectively halts residential construction for as many as two years.
Property owners and people in the development community who understand your reasoning and would like to redevelop along the lines the council is thinking – more, smaller and affordable units instead of fewer, larger luxury condos – say the exemptions in the ordinance as written are written too tightly to allow private parties to build, even if they are adding density. Would you consider some broadening of the exemptions to accommodate that community and allow some private residential redevelopment?
Mayor John Duran: I know it upset a lot of people. I’ll wait until after the 45 days have expired and I’ve seen what staff comes back with.
I’m willing to listen to everybody’s point of view, but I haven’t heard directly from anyone in that community about that.
But I’m OK with any changes that fall within our central goals and don’t prevent us from making the changes in the zoning ordinance we need.
WeHoNews:Over the next two or three years the Westside promises to be ground zero for commercial development, which means soon we’ll see a lot of construction. What can you tell Wehoans about the steps being taken to mitigate their parking, traffic and pollution (construction dust/noise) concerns?
Mayor John Duran: There could possibly be four major projects happening nearly simultaneously on that side of town – the Millennium, the PDC’s Red Building, Palms and Pavilions. We’re talking about allowing the Pavilions and Palms projects to go at once because of the tight area.
The staff controls the pace of construction through the permitting process, and is very sensitive to the coming situation, so they’ll do their best to mitigate the worst of it.
WeHoNews: Your recent public outreach to WEHONA, historic preservationists and slow-growth advocates deeply impressed many people, especially after the treatment you and your colleagues received in the past two elections.
We’ll ask you publicly what so many others must have asked you privately – what possessed you to talk to them?
Mayor John Duran: Watching what my three colleagues went through this year – I didn’t think it was justified. It wasn’t necessary. There’s so much distrust out there, and primarily it’s because people don’t talk to each other.
It’s possible to disagree and still be civil, to have a dialogue.
Barbara Hamaker, she’s my planning Commissioner, and I sometimes vote opposite ways on issues that come before us both. We still talk. If we’re talking to each other instead of at each other, we can disagree and still make progress.
I had a meeting with Roy Rogers Oldenkamp and Allegra Allison (co-chairs of West Hollywood Neighborhood Association [WEHONA]) and we discussed parking in the Mid City. We all agreed we needed more parking there.
Then we began talking about the give and take of building more parking. They realized building parking means development, for example we could knock down neighborhood serving commercial buildings like EatWell’s to build up higher and add parking that way.
Or we could develop the residential areas to add parking, demolishing the apartment buildings with affordable housing to do it. The trade of for parking is increased development.
I’d rather have them at the table so they can be as frustrated as me and we can all ask together: What’s the best way to go?
You can contact Mayor Duran at West Hollywood City Hall through his Deputy, Hernan Molina, at (323) 848-6460. Mayor Duran holds regular Monday afternoon office hours at City Hall.
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