Thank you for visiting D'AMICO for COUNCIL 2019

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Mayor John D’Amico’s Installation Speech

Monday - April 21, 2014 by John D'Amico 

This will be a year of fresh air and daylight.

I’d like to start with a list of thank yous.  It’s a bit long but it really means a lot to me that there are so many people to acknowledge. To paraphrase Pharrell Williams, “I might be a kite, but I’m nothing without the wind at my back.”

So, thank you, to all of you that came here tonight.

Thank you to the residents of West Hollywood for giving me the opportunity to serve you on the City Council.

Thank you to Keith Rand, my husband of 22 years.  He’s amazing.  He has defined for me what it means to love and to live and to be both alive and in love.  He stands by my side and supports what’s important to me.

And a thank you to my family – to my mom, Pat; my sisters and brother Kris, Karen and Jim; to my nieces and nephews and cousins and in-laws – they are all wonderful people.  If you have a chance this evening, please introduce yourselves.  You’ll be glad you did.

Thank you to my work family, my coworkers from UCLA — it’s so nice of you all to show up.

And to my fantastic family of friends – some of whom I have known for over 35 years, and some who have travelled a great distance to be here. And thank you to John Beach for designing tonight’s invitation.

A special thank you goes to City Manager Paul Arevalo and all the city staff, Olivia Walker, Jackie Rocco, Steve Campbell, Kristin Cook, Lisa Belsanti and Cleo Smith and their respective staffs (including Larissa Fooks; Sharon, Bobby, Helen and the WeHoTV staff – Kent, Robert and Jesse) for all of their hard work putting together today’s first-ever outdoor Council meeting in the park.

And to our City Clerk Yvonne Quarker – today is her wedding anniversary – thank you to you both for spending part of your anniversary at work.

Our city has the most professional, creative staff that consistently brings us the best version of our West Hollywood day after day.

I’d like to thank the women and men I appointed who serve on the city’s commissions and boards — Yelena Zhelezov, Robert Lo, Craig Charles, Steven Davis, John Altschul, Donna Saur, Marcy Norton, Richard Maggio, David Warren, Larry Block, Robert Gamboa, Amy Ruskin, Valentina Matiji, Pat Dixon, Carolyn Marie Weiss, Emma Rose Mackenzie and Emily Gable. You donate your time and expertise — that’s an incredible thing that you do for our city.

And thank you to my colleagues, past and present.  This is the 30th anniversary year since West Hollywood became its own city.  John Heilman, and Abbe Land, Jeffrey Prang and John Duran, (and in the audience Paul Koretz, Lindsey Horvath and Steve Martin) all have been courageous and hard-working leaders who played big roles in making our city a reality.

For me, the best thing about West Hollywood is the people. Individually and collectively as a community, we have consistently invented extraordinary ways of thinking about and being in the world.

Most places consume culture, West Hollywood invents it.

Beginning 30 years ago, with John Heilman’s leadership, our city was the first in the nation to offer domestic partner registrations and healthcare benefits. Abbe’s leadership helped our WeHo become the first pro-choice city in the US. John Duran helped us become the first city to support medical marijuana, ban the declawing of cats and the sale of fur apparel – making this the most humane city in America. Jeff Prang has always been the good government guy, leading the way – making sure that our city uses our resources wisely.

And so many others from the larger WeHo community have joined us in this adventure of inventing the culture.

Up on Sunset the GoGos told us ‘we’ve got the beat,’ and the Doors told us to ‘break on thru to the other side.’ And RuPaul let us know, ‘you better werq,’ David Cooley brought us the Abbey, Shelly Hwang started Pinkberry here, and Rudi Gernreich gave us ‘the monokini,’  Ed Ruscha taught us about irony along the Sunset Strip, Rabbi Denise Eger and Reverend Troy Perry brought open religions to Weho.  Wolfgang Puck gave us the brie and grape quesadilla, and the Zweibels invented courtyard housing and Rudolph Schindler brought us outdoor living at the Kings Road House. Lorcan O’Herlihy installed the “Wishbone” billboard last week. Oprah Winfrey is moving her OWN network headquarters to the old 1920s PickFair studios next month.

All of us inventing the culture that we call WeHo.

And there are the personalities too, who have called this place home:  Wayland Flowers and Madam, Marilyn Monroe, Sal Mineo, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Andre Ethier, Evander Holyfield, International Mr. Leather Mikel Gerle, and Elton John, Gov. Gray Davis, pioneers Harry Hay, Chaz Bono and Ivy Bottini and so many more iconoclasts that upset the balance and created new buoyancies. They gave us room to play and grow and protest.

And oh, how WeHo loves to protest!  Act Up and Queer Nation, Prop 101 and Prop 8, Jane Fonda and “1 Billion Women Rising,” the Transgender Day of Remembrance, “Save Tara” and “Protect Plummer Park,” the Mattachine Society and the Lesbian Visibility Network, and many more movements that reflected us in the space of appearances and changed how we think about inclusion and oppression and action and addition.

All of this is packed into 1.9 square miles.

With your help, and your participation we will continue this 30 plus year tradition of culture making;  building on our past and inventing the future.

While Mayor, City Hall will open up to as much daylight and fresh air as possible.  We will redouble our efforts to share with the residents how we do business and engage in as much conversation at every level about what is best for our WeHo.  New technologies will provide new opportunities for residents, businesses and visitors to work with us in city-making.

Walt Whitman said nearly 150 years ago, “To have great poets, there must be great audiences, too.”  I would agree and extend that sentiment by saying that,

“To have great cities, there must be great residents, too.”And here we are tonight in Plummer Park, to witness the city government, outdoors, render it visible.  A perfect way to step into the next year as your mayor. Let’s find out what fresh air and daylight can bring. Please know that WeHo will continue to do all the things we always do, fill potholes and fix sidewalks, fund social services and build subsidized housing, issue parking tickets and collect the trash, protect rent control, redouble our public safety efforts, wrestle with our traffic problems and celebrate events big and small.

Yet there’s more to do, as John Chase used to say, “West Hollywood is never finished.” There are big decisions to be made, big issues to tackle, and we need to think big and act responsibly… especially on the Eastside.  How do we protect Plummer Park and make it modern and fresh for this century?  And how do we retain the charm of all of our neighborhoods while mid-rises rise, up and down Santa Monica and Sunset boulevards? 

How do we update our 50-, 60-, 70-year-old apartment buildings while keeping the rents affordable and residents in place? What’s best to help our aging-in-place population?  What do we do about traffic? What <strong>do we do<strong> about traffic? All good, tough questions that need to be answered with big ideas and responsible actions.

Let’s find out what fresh air and daylight can bring.

In 1984, our city was founded at the beginning of what is now the worldwide AIDS pandemic. Some estimates are that more than 10,000 West Hollywood residents have died or are living with HIV. What is AIDS in 2014 after 30 years of messages and memorials and fundraisers and pharmaceuticals ?

We know one thing for sure.  AIDS will not end with a “mission accomplished” banner and party at the beach.

AIDS will end with a prescription from your doctor.  We now know that medical “treatment equals prevention,” 100 percent. We know medications kill the virus and medications stop new infection. “Use a condom” can no longer be the beginning and the end of the discussion.  WeHo does not provide healthcare, but we can provide leadership. We can deliver the message that “your whole life is important,” and we need you present to help us invent the future.  West Hollywood led the discussion at the beginning of this disease 30 years ago, and we can help lead the discussion now.

Let’s see what fresh air and daylight can bring.

So, I close with a proposition to every resident, business and visitor.  Engage with our city.  This is an amazing place.  Invent your life here like so many others have, and help invent the future history of our WeHo.

As my mother used to say, “go out there and be somebody.”  Be a citizen in the best way you know how.

Talk to your neighbors, talk to the staff, talk to us, we’re on the web, email us, tweet us @wehocity, call us, call my cell phone –310.498.5783, attend a city meeting, be vocal, cause trouble, disagree, protest, heckle if you must.

Let my dear friend, 93-year-old Jeanne Dobrin be your guide — ask her how she does it and why? She will tell you. It will all make sense.

Take the time to engage and know that every time you speak up you are bringing more daylight and more fresh air to our city.

On your seats are packets of sunflower seeds.  Take them with you and plant them in your gardens, in pots on your window ledge, in flower beds on your streets, anywhere you’d like to the see the sun shine.  These sunflowers will burst open in June and July and shine for months. They can be a reminder to all of us that sunshine and fresh air are best for plants, best for us and best for our government.

It’s up to us, WeHo, and WeHo is up to the task.

Opinion: Success + Residents = New Priorities for West Hollywood

Thursday - June 21, 2018 by John D'Amico |

It seems to me that West Hollywood has a success conundrum. Like nouveaux riche success stories everywhere, we seem to be simultaneously clenching our newfound riches with both hands and forgetting to remember where we came from. We’ve all seen that movie. Poor kid grows up, gets rich, forgets their past.

I’d like us to get to the part in the movie where we think again about what helped make West Hollywood “rich” in the first place.

West Hollywood recently crossed the $140 million yearly budget mark, according to the City of West Hollywood’s recently-adopted budget. Our city of 1.9 square miles, with a stable population and a growing divide between rich and poor, has seen a nearly 100% budget growth in the last dozen years.

The budget growth in just the last four years has been nearly 25%, from $113 million to $140 million. The social services budget has also grown over the last four years, but it has not kept pace with the growth of the city budget nor with staff salaries. In fact, while spending in the public services category has risen, spending by percentage on social services contracts has gone down by 10%. The greatest increase in public services spending has been in transportation (the PickUP line).

Many know, as I do, that the needs of residents now far exceed those of 15 or 20 years ago, when rents and goods and services were more affordable and people who needed assistance had more local services options. Some residents are more frail and others are less able to afford living in the city and many of our service agencies have left town. Our Human Services staff and providers do a tremendous job with the dollars they are allotted. I am confident that they can scale up to whatever level we can fund and provide even more services.

We used to be the city that spent 10% of our budget on Human Services with non-profit providers close at hand. That is no longer the case.

I believe we need to take another look at how our priorities are reflected in our budget choices and chart a smart course to correct that imbalance.

• With more people aging in place, we need to add to the budget to realize the goals of our AGING IN PLACE plan.

• With new HIV prevention strategies available, we need to push forward with additional resources for drug treatment, sober living and HIV prevention to dramatically drive down new infections to achieve HIV ZERO and get more people the drug and alcohol TREATMENT services they need.

• With women’s reproductive and health services under attack across the nation, we need to redouble our efforts so that all women know that they have access to the CHOICES and options available.

• With a large complicated homeless population, our services and connections to transitional and permanent HOUSING are more important than ever.

We are doing all of this and yet, we need to do much, much more. And we have the dollars to do it.

Investing in our residents, along with our infrastructure, our business community and our staff, has to be an urgent priority. It is the residents — the creative, free thinking, inventive, caring, open-minded residents — that have made this city what it is – right from the very beginning. Long before we ever considered becoming a city, this area was famous for its collective commitment to human endeavor, creativity, and affordable living. Though we might have the latest hot spot restaurant, we are really only as good as the health and safety of our most at-risk resident.

Development pressures are affecting neighborhoods across town. Smart thinking has so far prevailed and, in every case, we are getting affordable housing dollars and/or units as new developments come on board. Our housing policies consistently help us achieve our Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) goals and, more importantly, help us to make sure that our residents displaced by development and the Ellis Act end up in safe affordable units. And rent control and our rent stabilization policies — our housing workhorses — keep people in housing that is safe and affordable. But we all hear and know there is more to the story. There is much more to do including helping with rental subsidies, helping with food and nutrition services, helping with mobility challenges, and supporting the voter initiative calling for repeal of the Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act that will be on the November ballot. (VOTE!)

Last Monday night, while discussing the upcoming two-year budget, I challenged the City Council and the new Executive Director of the West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation (WHCHC) to begin spending the $20+ million we have in the housing trust fund on actual housing. To come up with innovative projects that reflect the needs and concerns of our community — help with rents, help to stabilize old buildings in need of a seismic retrofit, help make healthier buildings that can serve us for another 50 years. The WHCHC is positioned to do this and I invite other non-profits to step up too. Holding those dollars in the bank (Wells Fargo!) while we have a housing crisis is not acceptable.

And I challenged the Human Services Commission to request (No – demand!) that the city begin spending more dollars on human services that reach our populations in need. A fun ride on the PickUP line is an important transit option, but that doesn’t mean we cannot also provide more meals to hungry seniors, more drug treatment options, more HIV prevention messages, more planned-parenthood reproductive health services, more hours of in-home care for the disabled, more mental health services.

More of what can make us whole.

The current budget strategy, which has worked for the past 20+ years – add money to our budget and budget surplus – save for the long term. This has worked and that is why we have an excellent AAA bond rating and considerable reserves. But now we are leaving people behind, we are leaving our residents behind. Too many people being left behind. West Hollywood is not a business, though it is run like one; it is a city, a very well-off city that should invest in its residents more, at least as much as it invests in itself.

Over the coming months I will be initiating a series of items with my colleagues and the staff that will look to correct this growing inequity. This will not be an easy task. I was looking back at some of the budget discussions of the early 90s and money was tight and decisions were wise. Smart choices were made. And that thinking and those early choices have led to much success. And now it’s time to make some new, smart choices that are resident focused. There is no place like home. I want this movie to have a happy ending.

As always if you have any questions please give me a call at (310) 498-5783 or shoot me an email at jdamico@weho.org.

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