The Very Progressive City of West Hollywood

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The City of West Hollywood is a beacon – and brilliant template – for how modern, vibrant, progressive and inclusive a city can really be.

Prior to my recent, short stay in LA, I didn’t even realise that West Hollywood is in fact, a city in its own right within Los Angeles.

Turns out that in 1984, Cityhood was proposed by an unlikely coalition of LGBT activists, seniors and renters. These three relatively diverse groups came together to form a city like no other – with progressive policies and strong tenants’ rights protections.

West Hollywood is nestled by the city of Beverly Hills to the the west, Hollywood Hills to the north, Hollywood to the east, the Fairfax District to the southeast and Beverly Grove to the southwest.

FUN FACT: As you can also see from the map below, the city has a distinct gun-resembling shape. This shape has become the city’s logo and can be found on all city street signs too!

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You get a sense of just how progressive – and LGBTQIA+ friendly – the place is pretty quickly. There are 25+ gay bars, stores, restaurants and businesses that line Santa Monica Boulevard, making it one of the highest concentrations of gay-owned and gay-orientated business districts in the world.

West Hollywood has been known far and wide for some time now as a gay mecca. Of an approximate population of just under 35,000 residents, it’s believed that somewhere between 30-40% of adults are gay (at least according to this article). 

Even though it would seem obvious that the council representing such an LGBQIA+ friendly and populated city, would be progressive, I found it really eye opening (in a good way!) just how integrated the Council is with our community.

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There’s no tokenism or special committees about it, the City of West Hollywood is fully integrated into the fabric of the gay community. And it’s been this way since the very beginning.

Here are just some highlights of the past 30+ years in West Hollywood:

  • The very first West Hollywood City Council established West Hollywood as the first US city  to have a majority openly gay governing body.
  • Within its first year of cityhood (in 1985), the West Hollywood City Council passed landmark legislation int eh areas of rent control, ordinances prohibiting discrimination against people with HIV and AIDS, domestic partnership laws and ordinances prohibiting employment discrimination  based on sexual orientation.
  • The City has provided millions of dollars in grants to fund programs for people in need including services for seniors, people with HIV and AIDS; members of the LGBT community, people with disabilities, alcohol and drug use recovery programs services for people who are homeless and health care services for people who are uninsured.

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  • The City of West Hollywood was one of the first government entities to provide social services grants to local AIDS and HIV organisations. The City sponsored one of the first AIDS awareness campaigns in the country in October 1985 and the city’s response to the AIDS crisis has been recognised as a model for other cities, nationally and globally.
  • The City created the nation’s first municipal Transgender Task Force in 2001
  • West Hollywood was one of the first cities in the country to pass a resolution in support of marriage equality
  • In October 2014, the city marked an exciting milestone as the city clerk’s office at West Hollywood City Hall filed its 10,000th couple as registered domestic partners.
  • Following the election of President Trump in 2016, the West Hollywood City Council affirmed the City of West Hollywood’s commitment as a sanctuary city and reaffirmed the City’s commitment to its core values, which includes respect and support for all people.

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And if all of that wasn’t awesome enough, West Hollywood residents live longer and have lower rates of chronic diseases than residents of L.A. County as a whole!

I was so inspired by the city that I reached out to the City of West Hollywood to see whether they’d be interested in being interviewed for the blog. I’m happy to say they were. I spoke with the lovely Sheri …. who is the ….

Check out our chat below:

The City of West Hollywood has a long and proud tradition of being progressive. I’m curious to know to what extent the current political climate in the US has impacted the city?

The City of West Hollywood works diligently to defend the fundamental rights of its community members including LGBTQIA+ people, people with disabilities, seniors, people of color, immigrants, women and others. West Hollywood is one of the most outspoken advocates anywhere for the legal rights of LGBT people.

The City also prides itself on being a safe space for all, regardless of nationality or immigration status. In 2017, the West Hollywood City Council approved a Resolution that calls on the U.S. House of Representatives to initiate proceedings for the impeachment of President Donald J. Trump. This came as a response to numerous violations of the Emoluments Clause of the United States Constitution, multiple violations of federal law as it relates to the employment of relatives, serious national security concerns resulting from potential interference with federal elections in 2016, and amid investigations of obstruction of justice.

The City of West Hollywood has also signed on to the Mayors’ Compact to Combat Hate. The initiative is led by the Anti-Defamation League and The United States Conference of Mayors and is aimed at fighting extremism and bigotry, and promoting the fundamental principles of justice and equality that define the United States of America.

The City of West Hollywood recently gave Stormy Daniels (the adult film star at the centre of the Donald Trump pre-election payment controversy) keys to the city. What was the reason behind that decision and what was the response to it?

The City of West Hollywood’s Mayor John J. Duran and Mayor Pro Tempore, in May 2018, presented Stormy Daniels with a City Proclamation and Key to the City recognizing her leadership in the #RESIST movement. The reasoning behind this was that, in these politically tumultuous times, Daniels has proven herself to be a profile in courage by speaking truth to power even under threats to her safety and extreme intimidation and the Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem wanted to recognize her for this courage upon her visit to West Hollywood.

Approximately 200 community members came together in a show of support two months later when Ms. Daniels’ Attorney Michael Avenatti returned to West Hollywood to take part in a panel discussion in July 2018 — An Update on Washington D.C. Politics: the Mueller Investigation, Human Rights and Immigration, and the Future of Resistance.

We’ll talk about LGBTQIA+ issues in a moment, but what’s one non-LGBTQIA+ area that the City of West Hollywood has been a leader in, and done something it’s proud of, you that you can share with us?

The City of West Hollywood has a strong commitment to promoting social justice and equal rights for everyone. The City is home to a thriving community of people from regions of the former Soviet Union and to immigrants from across the globe.

The City of West Hollywood has declared that it will remain a sanctuary city and that it will not participate in any effort to deport immigrants living or working in the City. This includes directing the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station not to provide assistance to federal agencies who are attempting to harass, arrest, or deport undocumented workers or immigrants.

How would you describe the relationship the City of West Hollywood has to the LGBTQIA+ community?

The LGBTQIA+ community is a thriving part of the fabric of the community in West Hollywood. The City of West Hollywood’s founding City Council was, in 1984, the first majority openly gay municipal elected body in the nation; in 2018 the City Council remains majority openly gay. More than 40 percent of the City’s residents identify as LGBTQIA+.

The City of West Hollywood has historically been one of the most outspoken cities in the nation to advocate for the legal rights of LGBT people. In 1985, the City of West Hollywood was one of the first cities in the country to adopt a Domestic Partnership Ordinance.

In October 2014, the City marked an exciting milestone as the City Clerk’s office at West Hollywood City Hall filed its 10,000th couple as registered Domestic Partners. West Hollywood was one of the first cities in the country to pass a resolution in support of marriage equality. This paved the way for same-sex marriage initiatives all over the country.

In June 2008, in a monumental moment in U.S. history, the city, in conjunction with the Los Angeles County Register-Recorder Clerk, began to issue marriage licenses and perform civil ceremonies for same-sex couples after the California Supreme Court ruled that a ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

The City was forced to halt those marriages in November 2008 with the passage of Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage. A long legal battle ensued in federal court, which finally resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court dismissing an appeal in Hollingsworth v. Perry in June 2013 allowing same-sex marriages to resume.

The City of West Hollywood launched a marriage celebration, and to date, West Hollywood council members and city officials have performed hundreds of civil ceremonies. In June 2015, the West Hollywood was the focus of international attention at thousands of people gathered in the City to celebrate the historic U.S. Supreme Court that all states must license and recognize same-sex marriages.

Today, the City fights for the fundamental rights of LGBTQIA+ people within the City and throughout the world by encouraging legislation that protects LGBTQIA+ people and by providing support for direct services from local nonprofit organizations that aim to support members of the LGBTQIA+ community.

How does the city stay connected and current with all the issues within the LGBTQIA+ community, especially given how diverse, complex and quickly evolving these issues can be at times?

The City of West Hollywood has a highly engaged five-member City Council; three members of the Council are openly gay. The City’s Community and Legislative Affairs Division regularly monitors federal proposals and responds to policy changes that may have a harmful effect on West Hollywood’s LGBTQIA+ residents.

The City has a 10-member Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board and a 5-member Transgender Advisory Board, which each address matters relating to the advocacy and empowerment on issues such as education, equal rights, hate crimes prevention and more, and each Board makes recommendations to the City Council relative to the adoption of programs, policies or ordinances of benefit to the constituency.

The City of West Hollywood has, since 1993, presented Rainbow Key Awards to recognize people and groups who have made outstanding contributions to the gay and lesbian community. Every year, the City hosts the Christopher Street West LA Pride Festival and Parade in West Hollywood and, each year, the City also celebrates the artistic contributions of the LGBTQIA+ community with its vibrant One City One Pride arts festival, which runs for 40 days, from Harvey Milk Day on May 22 through June 30 at the end of Pride month.

Speaking of staying current, I came across WeHo TV, which as I understand it is the city’s official TV/streaming channel. How cool is that!? How did that idea come about and what’s the reaction been to it?

The City of West Hollywood’s WeHoTV is based on the City’s PEG Channels for Public, Educational, and Governmental programming.

Historically, WeHoTV has provided a connection to City meetings, events, and programming through cable carriers, such as Spectrum (formerly Time Warner) and AT&T U-Verse. This grew into selected programming on the WeHoTV YouTube Channel at www.youtube.com/wehotv and, recently, the City announced the expansion of its WeHoTV programming to multiple streaming platforms, including Android TV, Apple TV, Fire TV, and Roku.

WeHoTV has been recognized for its innovative and creative content featuring world-renowned talents and has even received an Emmy Award for its work in Public Service Announcements. What’s exciting now is that WeHoTV NewsBytes are regularly posted to the City’s official social media accounts @WeHoCity on Facebook and Twitter and these provide quick 2-3 minute video segments that help people in the community stay connected to what’s happening in the City.

Given the leadership role the City of West Hollywood has played on a number of issues over the years, what advice would you give to readers who are living in less progressive areas about how they can get involved to make their local/city councils more progressive and inclusive?

One of the things West Hollywood does best is to support organizations that are making a profound difference in the lives of people in the community. The City of West Hollywood has a deep commitment to providing social services, health education, and information to community members in-need and to improve quality of life.

During its 34-year history, the City has provided millions of dollars in grants to fund programs that include services for seniors; people with HIV and AIDS; members of the LGBT community; families with children; people with disabilities; alcohol and drug use recovery programs; support programs for Russian-speaking and other immigrants; services for people who are homeless; food programs; and health care services for people who are uninsured.

Today, the City’s Social Services Division budgets approximately $5 million per year to support programs that impact thousands of people in West Hollywood. Services are provided through contracts with local nonprofit organizations in addition to in-house programs. Connecting organizations that are doing direct service work to the aims of City leadership is profound and impactful.

What are a few of the challenges and main areas of concern for the city and how is the city planning on resolving these issues?

Like so many cities, the City of West Hollywood has challenges with issues that affect the quality of life of community members. There has been a dramatic rise in the numbers of people who are experiencing homelessness across the Southern California region and there has been a rise in West Hollywood, as well.

In September 2016, the West Hollywood City Council approved Guiding Principles for the City’s response to homelessness and formed a City Council subcommittee to address homelessness. Shortly thereafter, the City successfully launched a program at the West Hollywood Library, offering on-site service delivery for community members experiencing homelessness. This is a strategic collaboration between the City, the LA County Library and the City’s contracted social services providers.

Outreach and services are offered Monday through Friday by teams from Ascencia, AIDS Health, Step Up on Second, the LA LGBT Center’s Youth Center, A Safe Refuge, Tarzana Treatment Centers, Friends Community Center and the LA LGBT Center’s Mental Health Services.

West Hollywood has also participated in the development of the Los Angeles County Homeless Initiative’s 47 Strategies to Combat Homelessness, and supported Measure H, the Los Angeles County quarter-cent sales tax measure approved by County voters in March 2017 to raise funds for homeless services throughout LA County.

In late 2017, the City formed a team for the United Way’s HomeWalk and the City annually hosts a clothing drive in December/January for the LA LGBT Center’s Youth Center, which supports homeless and formerly homeless youth. In February 2018, the City organized its Homeless Services Connect Day, which brought in 60 people who are currently experiencing homelessness who were able to connect to a diverse array of service providers.

The City of West Hollywood’s Homeless Initiative works, each day, to address homelessness with a multi-disciplinary, multi-agency, collaborative response and it’s this kind of direct action that has an impact on the community.

Housing affordability is a related issue for the City and the region and the City is working hard to maintain and create housing in the City. Not long after the City of West Hollywood was incorporated, the West Hollywood City Council adopted its Rent Stabilization Ordinance. Upon its adoption, this was one of the strictest rent control laws in the country.

Today, the City’s Rent Stabilization and Housing Division facilitates the development of new and affordable housing and the City’s Inclusionary Housing law requires 20% of multi-unit residential development projects to be reserved for lower- and moderate-income households. The City’s rent control and inclusionary housing laws ensure that thousands of residential housing units remain affordable.

And lastly, what’s your ideal vision for the city for say, 10 years from now?

The City of West Hollywood aims to continue leading the way for municipalities across the nation. The thing that’s changing more quickly than anything is technology. To respond, the City has created its WeHo Smart City initiative, which aims to holistically weave technology throughout the urban fabric as a means of enhancing its community’s quality of life.

The WeHo Smart City Strategic Plan is the first of its kind in the Los Angeles area and is one of only a handful of smart city strategic plans in the country. The plan sets forth a multi-phased roadmap to efficiently incorporate smart technologies, digital tools, and data analytics into City services for greater efficiency and enhanced customer service.

The WeHo Smart City initiative will build the capacity of West Hollywood City Hall to leverage technology for greater efficiency and improved experiences for community members by coordinating currently planned projects such as the creation of a municipal fiber network, which will provide the highest available level of data connectivity; the acquisition of light standards (street light poles) from Southern California Edison, which will create new opportunities for energy-saving LED and smart-sensor retrofits; and, the implementation of smart transit shelters, which will be enhanced with digital technologies to provide real-time information to public transportation users.

In 10 years, we hope to keep getting “more smart!” That, and having the Los Angeles Metro (subway system) expand into West Hollywood so we can truly connect to places throughout Los Angeles County. We are home to the Sunset Strip, Route 66 and LGBTQ bars and clubs on Santa Monica Boulevard and hot restaurants and shopping on Melrose and Robertson – and yet there isn’t a Metro stop in the City of West Hollywood. We need to change that!

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