The Los Angeles Times ran a piece about West Hollywood terms limits today. It's filled with the usual, and very simplified, arguments by City Council members John Heilman and Jeff Prang about why terms limits are bad.
“The people in West Hollywood are smart enough to know that if there's a council member they don't like,” Prang told the Times, “they don't have to vote for them.”
But the 2010 L.A. Weekly cover story “West Follywood” goes into more detail about why terms limits could be a good thing for that small, world-famous city.
In essence, the Weekly found that with council members staying on the job for so long — everyone except for newcomer John D'Amico has served more than a decade — they have created an entrenched political establishment that makes it nearly impossible for worthy challenging candidates to win and bring new ideas to the city.
Only two incumbents have been voted out of office in the 28-year history of West Hollywood.
The council members control who sits on the city's commissions and advisory groups, they hold the purse strings for various city projects that involve developers and non-profits, they make the laws that can make or break businesses. Take the controversial outdoor smoking ban at the city's nightlife spots or the upcoming ban on fur sales.
In other words, Council members John D'Amico, John Duran, John Heilman, Abbe Land, and Jeff Prang hold all the power and money in the city, and few people — from real estate developers who contribute to their political campaigns to non-profits who need city funding to commission members who want to keep their seats — are willing to challenge them and risk losing something.
If anything, the developers and crew give the council members all the money and resources needed to win their re-election campaigns.
Council members also seek special favors. John D'Amico told the Weekly a year before he was elected to office, “It happens all the time. Birthday parties [for West Hollywood City Council members] turn into fund-raisers for their favorite charities.”
Additionally, when the Weekly covered a City Council race two years ago, challengers constantly complained that prospective campaign contributors told them they only gave money to incumbents.
As a result of this stranglehold on power and money, the council members get re-elected time and again.
Take this excerpt from “West Follywood,” with good government activist Kathay Feng explaining the “very dangerous situation”:
“In smaller cities like West Hollywood,” says Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause, “it may be easier for a small group of people to take control because they only have to reach out to 20,000 voters.” With only about 4,000 actively participating in West Hollywood city elections, the insider grip on governance becomes a “very dangerous situation.”
“You have a tendency to only talk to people who support you,” says Feng, a good-government expert. “You only talk to a very small cross-section of voters — and try not to wake anyone else up.”
With West Hollywood's liberal political establishment now threatened, it's not surprising that the Los Angels County Democratic political establishment recently backed them up and voted to oppose term limits.
The term limits question will come to West Hollywood voters this March. Duran and Prang are also up for re-election.
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org.