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With the City of West Hollywood’s March 8 General Municipal Election less than a month away, there is a lot of contention for the three available City Council seats (elected Councilmembers will serve a four-year term). Voters will also be able to cast their votes for Measure A – the Tax Billboards Act, along with four seats on the Board of Trustees for the Los Angeles Community College District. The last day to register to vote for the March 8 election is February 22. The Vote-by-Mail period has already begun.
Fireworks were in the air during a February 9 West Hollywood City Council election debate as accusations flew as candidates stressed that change is needed to get the city back on track, while incumbents insisted that everything is just fine.
Current West Hollywood mayor John Heilman urges voters to keep things as is.
“The city is well run,” Heilman said. “We have a balanced budget, a good financial rating and have fulfilled our obligations to provide services, especially to those in need and we’re doing a good job.”
There are seven new challengers for City Council, including Steve Martin who served on the City Council from 1994-2003.
“The current City Council has lost touch with what residents want and with progressive values,” Martin said.
Incumbents on the ballot include mayor and law professor Heilman who has been re-elected to the city council since cityhood in 1984, as well as Abbe Land, co-CEO of The Saban Free Clinic, formerly the L.A. Free Clinic, and advertising executive Lindsey Horvath who was appointed to the City Council in May 2009 after the death of council member Sal Guariello.
The seven candidates vying for election are businessman and community organizer Scott Schmidt, small business owner Lucas John, tenant rights advocate Mark Gonzaga, businessman Mito Aviles, attorney Steve Martin, university project manager John D’Amico, and commercial interior architect Martin Topp.
Schmidt, who serves as transportation commissioner, has recently called for West Hollywood to contract its streetlight synchronization services from the City of Los Angeles.
“The City of Los Angeles may not be able to fill a pothole, but they have managed to figure out how to get traffic moving by putting their streetlights on a computer grid that can respond to real-time traffic conditions,” Schmidt said. “If West Hollywood can¹t do better, then we should ask Los Angeles to be part of their grid.
“Bringing Signal Synch to West Hollywood will improve traffic in West Hollywood, improve coordination of traffic signals along our borders and perhaps encourage other cities, like Beverly Hills, to recognize that their streets serve the entire region,” Schmidt continued.
John states he wants free wi-fi access citywide and at least two more dog parks, a free health clinic (there currently isn’t one), term limits for city council members, and improved parking.
Gonzaga, who is not accepting donations and is funding his campaign himself, wants to protect all renters against bad landlords, unlawful evictions and non-repairs of apartments.
Mito wants to explore community-focused development while addressing the issue of traffic flow and parking through creative solutions.
D’Amico states he is committed to environmental responsibility while safeguarding the dignity of citizens, fighting for progressive causes, ensuring public safety, and protecting the supply of affordable housing.
Topp is for less traffic congestion and easier street navigation, a clean/green environment, commercial development that enhances the urban aesthetic and culture along with community engagement.
Meanwhile, Measure A, the “Tax Billboards Act” was in contention by the West Hollywood City Council in November to even be placed on the ballot. If approved the measure is to impose a 7% tax on revenue from off-site advertising signs and amend the City’s zoning ordinance to allow tall wall advertising signs to be placed on buildings on Santa Monica and Beverly Boulevards without approval by the City.
A bone of contention for some opponents, including incumbent candidates Heilman and Land, is the fact that Measure A would open the door for supergraphics to be placed on buildings on Santa Monica and Beverly Boulevards where they are currently banned.
“It’s really designed to benefit one billboard company and allow them to have billboards and tall walls without getting necessary city approval.”
West Hollywood City Councilmember Jeffry Prang does not mince his words about his opposition to Measure A, saying calling it “disingenuous is being polite.”
“This measure is a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” Prang said. “The tax is just an attempt to attract voters.”
Prang argues that Measure A is two-fold, it’s attempting to create an “unconstitutional tax” while allowing for outdoor advertising, also known as ‘tall walls,” without city permits. However, if one component of the measure, in this case the billboard tax is proved to be unenforceable, the ability to create tall walls without city permission remains intact.
“That’s a very telling point,” Prang said. “Why would they anticipate that part of it would be unlawful? We spent years to find out it’s an unlawful act. This is being paid for by a big billboard company.”
Indeed, the measure’s chief architect, Mike McNeilly, is the president of SkyTag, a major supergraphics company with advertisements on the Sunset Strip — the only area of West Hollywood where supergraphics are currently permitted.
McNeilly argues that Measure A will simply allow the city to benefit from the hefty sums outdoor advertising companies like his are currently generating.
“There is enough food on the table for everybody,” McNeilly said. “Tens of million of dollars are being made, and the people receive nothing. It’s not fair.”
City Attorney Michael Jenkins pointed out that the validity of Measure A was the subject of a pre-election lawsuit.
“The court determined that the legal questions about Measure A could be decided after the election if the measure is approved,” Jenkins said. “If Measure A passes and a lawsuit challenging one or more of its provisions is filed, the outcome of that lawsuit cannot be predicted with certainty.”
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