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West Hollywood City Council: Will John Duran and John D'Amico Bring Change in 2012?

We're all for protecting bicyclists, the humane treatment of puppies, reasonably guarding the health of restaurant and bar workers against second-hand smoke, and many of the other feel-good, headline-grabbing ordinances the five members of the West Hollywood City Council consider on a regular basis, but how about undertaking legislation that actually matters?

It's been nine months since West Hollywood voters unseated incumbent Lindsey Horvath, moving power away from council members Abbe Land and John Heilman and into the hands of John Duran and John D'Amico, with Jeff Prang acting as a sympathetic swing vote for the latter two.

West Hollywood voters, as a result, have expected big changes at City Hall, but there's a vibe among community activists that Duran and D'Amico have not fully utilized their new power to make the city a better, more citizen-friendly place. In 2012, we hope things will be different, and we have a few suggestions for where they can start.

Possibly the most important change Duran and D'Amico can institute is how West Hollywood conducts its elections.

WeHo has chronically low voter turnout every campaign season, which incumbents aren't all that upset about -- for various reasons, fewer voters make it easier for incumbents to get re-elected.

As a result, politicians like John Heilman stay in office for too long, the city is run like a fiefdom that's there for the pleasure and benefits of elected officials rather than serving its citizens, all sorts of power cliques form, and the city becomes more like a monarchy than a democracy.

Yet the city that likes to consider itself a progressive beacon for the rest of the world could easily improve voter turnout and democracy in West Hollywood by switching to mail-in balloting -- it would also probably cost less to hold an election that way.

In the L.A. Weekly cover story "West Follywood," experts say it's a no brainer. Citizens get their ballots in the mail, they check off their favorite candidates, send the ballots back to City Hall, and, wallah, it's over.

Part of the problem with elections in this small city is that a lot of people don't even know they're happening. A ballot in the mail would certainly change that, and the convenience is sure to create a spike in voting totals and improve democratic participation.

Even better, new blood with fresh ideas may get elected and the self-serving politics that plagues West Hollywood City Hall will end ... or at least be diminished.

Another thing we often hear is that City Hall is filled with staffers who are deadwood, and deadwood that costs taxpayers a lot of money in salaries and health benefits.

Not only that, the deadwood staffers have been working there for years and years and often have strong allegiances to long-time incumbent John Heilman, who's been serving himself -- sorry, we mean the city -- since 1985.

With staffers serving the interests of Heilman and not the residents, it's no wonder change comes slow at City Hall. Clear out the deadwood!

West Hollywood politicians, particularly Heilman, always talk about creating more affordable housing. Sounds great, but their solutions are unimaginative and often don't serve gays and lesbians, who make up nearly 40 percent of WeHo's population.

How about affordable housing for gay and lesbian seniors? We recently talked with an older gay man who's been living in West Hollywood for his entire adult life and doesn't want to move. But high rents are making it more difficult for him to stay, and we have no doubt that there are many others facing the same situation.

In addition, many younger gays and lesbians, who used to flock to West Hollywood, also can't afford rent in the city and live somewhere else. Why not create affordable housing for them, too?

Shouldn't West Hollywood, one of the world's gay meccas, be more than a temporary destination for gay tourists? Why not lure and help gays and lesbians to stay in the city?

One good change by John Duran has been that the West Hollywood Recovery Center, an invaluable place that serves thousands of recovering alcoholics and drug addicts, appears to be safe from relocation -- there had been plans at City Hall turn it into a childcare center.

The recovery center is smack dab in the middle of Boys Town on Robertson Boulevard with easy, walkable access for many people. And there's a huge parking garage down the street. We can't think of another neighborhood in WeHo that's more appropriate for a recovery center.

The location is also highly visible, letting active addicts know as they walk to the nearby Abbey or some other bar that there is help literally around the corner.

Let's hope that the City Council follows through on its new intention to offer the recovery center a long-term lease.

These things are much more needed than new bicycle lanes, don't you think?

Forget about banning fur and the rest. Real people with real needs need real solutions in West Hollywood. The time has come for change and substantive policy making.

Contact Patrick Range McDonald at pmcdonald@laweekly.com.


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