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    Loss of Parking, Builders Remedy, Barbara Bain, and More at Recent City Council Meeting

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    The Regular West Hollywood City Council Meeting on Monday, May 20, 2024, covered various topics from the possible loss of parking spaces to make way for bike lanes, actress Barbara Bain speaking in support of the West Hollywood City Playhouse redesign, the Builders remedy, and more.

    The meeting began with the public comment portion, where the council heard from Cathy Blavis, a West Hollywood resident who raised concerns about how the public was not properly informed about the loss of 56% of street parking for the proposed Gardener Vista Willoughby and Fountain bike path, as the mailer sent out to inform the public did not mention this. Additionally, resident Mikie Friedman criticized the bike paths in a song that was met with applause from the crowd. The city council also heard criticism of the vacancy tax during public comments.

    In response, Council member John Heilman questioned City Manager David Wilson on why the mailer regarding the bike paths impact did not mention the loss of parking, and Mayor John Erickson, who lives in the neighborhood, stated he did not receive a mailer. An open house was set for that Wednesday.

    A public hearing was opened for item 3A, which was passed 5-0, with further review required to correct the cost of 24-hour bus parking and clarify the fee for the inclusionary area on the number of units. Item 3B, regarding a full-motion billboard project at 8497-8499 Sunset Boulevard, was tabled.

    Unfinished business opened with item 5A regarding the WeHo City Playhouse. The proposal plans to improve the previous design through a redesign and rebuild of the city’s playhouse. The project’s original 2021 report for rehabilitation was valued at $4.78 million, but increased renovations and size now value the project at $15-17.8 million.

    Barbra Bain, a three-time Emmy-winning actress and director at the WeHo Actors Studio, voiced her support for the project, stating, “It serves the artist and the community equally and embraces everything this city is about. You call this the creative city.” Vice Mayor Chelsea Lee Byers explained how the project’s creation involved theater and architecture representatives creating plans for a bare-bones budget proposal and high-level investment, ultimately settling on a middle-ground design presented to the council. Council member Heilman voiced his support but pointed out the division’s history of exceeding project budgets, stating he would like to see future budget increases presented to the entire council before approval. The project passed with unanimous support and applause from the audience.

    Item 6D changed the rule for noticing new development projects to 1,000 feet instead of the traditional 500 feet and now includes billboard projects in the notices. Those in the area will be notified of the neighborhood design meeting where the public can give feedback. The project received overwhelming support during its public comment section and was passed 5-0.

    Proposition 6E, which aims to curtail and control projects approved through the Builders Remedy, began with Heilman explaining the opposition in a short speech, stating, “The Builders Remedy allows developers in certain circumstances to submit projects that do not conform to the city’s zoning standards… the Builders Remedy exists for a lot of good reasons but unfortunately, there are cities in California who have done everything to thwart affordable housing. Some of these cities have failed to meet their regional housing needs assessment… so I understand why the Builders Remedy exists, but I don’t understand why it has any applicability to West Hollywood.”

    Twenty-three members of the public voiced their opinions on this measure. Jonny Nicoloro, a resident of WeHo for over 30 years, rallied support for the bill, arguing that building remedy projects risk his rent-stabilized housing and will profit landlords over residents. Andrew Solomon criticized 6E for the potential illegality of the bill and his belief that the proposition would ruin WeHo’s reputation as a pro-housing city. Proponents of the bill believe it will allow WeHo to create affordable housing within its land use goals. Opponents argue it will limit new housing by preventing needed projects and may be illegal.

    Council member Heilman reassured the public that this would pressure the state government to modify the law to clarify substantial compliance with the Housing Accountability Act and make an exception without asking the staff to break the law. Lauren Meister reinforced Heilman’s points, saying this aims to strengthen local control to build the city in its image while still providing affordable housing. Vice Mayor Lee Byers expressed concern that this proposition might bias against current building remedy projects and that the city needs to strive harder to meet its state-set goals on affordable housing. Mayor Erickson clarified that this should create a way for the state and city to help accomplish each other’s goals and work on current building remedy projects through updates and collaboration with the council.

    The recommendations for this project changed to:

    1) expansions on updates on the building remedy projects,

    2) direct staff to lobby at the state level on behalf of the city,

    3) direct staff and city attorney to research all available options for addressing these projects, and

    4) meet with applicants to find compromises or alternatives. The vote concluded 4-1, with Vice Mayor Byers being the only dissenting vote.

    Item 6H is to approve a travel stipend for laureates’ positions. Mayor Erickson explained how this will allow WeHo’s laureates to represent the city’s culture at major events across the county. A modification will have the council vote to approve the events and stipend for the laureates. The vote concluded at 5-0.

    Mayor Erickson and Vice Mayor Byers were nominated to serve on the San Vicente Streetscape Ad Hoc subcommittee under agenda item 6I, which called for two council members to serve.

    Item 2M calls for the creation of a city historian laureate program to work in tandem with the city’s archivist. The city’s archivist is on retainer due to a lack of space to store records. Council member Heilman pushed for greater clarification on the responsibilities of the role to ensure no overlap and only collaboration with the archivist. The item passed 5-0.

    The final agenda item, 2R, called for services with Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates to conduct a qualitative survey of West Hollywood commercial business tenants, commercial property owners, and commercial real estate brokers regarding a potential local ballot initiative to establish a commercial vacancy tax. The potential problems with this proposal claim that in an effort to reduce vacancies through a vacancy tax, landlords will likely just pass this cost onto existing tenants. On the contrary, the taxation may encourage landlords to look at smaller businesses to fill vacancies to avoid the taxes, causing landlords to rent to them at a lower cost.

    Research points to 60% of residents supporting a vacancy tax. The council agreed there is a need for more research to uncover the reasons for vacancies and if this tax would support or hurt economic growth. They hope studying qualitative surveys over quantitative research will find economic drivers and the root cause of these vacancies. The council seemed skeptical of the potential benefits of a vacancy tax and dug further into whether more information will come out in an upcoming economic survey and the quarterly commercial broker roundtables. For now, the council will give recommendations to staff and wait for the economic study to address further concerns.

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    Jake Crandall
    Jake Crandall
    Jake Crandall is a gonzo journalist and photojournalist based out of Hollywood. A self-described beatnik from the Bay Area who is currently attending Santa Monica College.


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    Cy Husain
    Cy Husain
    16 days ago

    I had to post this picture of how I will always remember Barbara Bain as the Doctor in Space 1999 on Moon Base Alpha. Gerry Anderson‘s vision in Space 1999 was “more to inspire than predict” having set the technological progress some 20 years ahead of what he thought 1999 would be like. Sadly we’re nowhere near a Moon Base Alpha with over 300 residents or ubiquitous space travel well into 2024 but, our laser weapons are fairly close. In Space 1999 poverty was eliminated with technological progress also bringing universal healthcare and, great career options. They were space explorers,… Read more »

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