West Hollywood made history by once again voting to become the first city in the nation to ban the sale of clothing apparel with animal fur Monday night. But the third time around, the vote showed a City Council deeply divided on the issue.
The previous two times, the fur ban has come up for a vote—at the and council meetings—the five council members approved the measure unanimously. This time, the ordinance passed with just three votes.
Although the council several details were missing from the ordinance, thus forcing them to hold this unusual “second first reading” with the added details. But in the ensuing six weeks, the business community began campaigning against the ban.
When Councilman John D’Amico first introduced the ban, he reported that only a “handful” of businesses would be affected. After that, the West Hollywood-based Fur Information Council of America (FICA) released an economic impact study showing that out of 209 clothing apparel businesses in the city, 91 of them, 46 percent, sold clothing or accessories with animal fur.
That information, combined with lobbying by the business community, prompted Councilman John Heilman to change his vote to a nay. Heilman said passing the ordinance and thereby alienating the business community was not wise as it invites costly lawsuits.
“If the goal is to end animal cruelty, we need to get the businesses and the community on board,” he said.
The fur ban only applies to clothing apparel, not furniture items made with fur. Heilman wondered if this fur clothing ban might eventually lead to a ban on furniture with fur or leather products. He said he did not want to be at war with businesses that sell leather or the leather community.
Councilwoman Abbe Land abstained from voting, explaining that while she was against fur apparel sold in the city, she did not think the ordinance was the right one to accomplish that. She too did not believe it was smart to adopt the ban unless the business community was supportive.
Business community against ban
Of the 35 people who spoke during public comment, half were business representatives speaking against it. One business owner said the city does not have any right to dictate what he sells unless they are also paying his rent.
FICA executive director Keith Kaplan talked of the high-end retailers that are threatening to move their stores out of West Hollywood if the ban passes.
Kaplan then pulled out a two-inch stack of papers and threw it on the table saying those were copies of letters the city has received from businesses and community members opposed to the ban. He then tossed a stack of papers one-fourth that size on the table, saying those were the letters from people supporting the ban.
Of the people speaking for the ban, most talked about the atrocious ways animals were killed to get their fur. Attorney Steven Jay Bernheim offered to donate his legal services to defend the ban if any lawsuits were filed.
Getting other cities on board
Land also expressed concern that other cities were not indicating any intention of following West Hollywood’s lead and adopting similar fur bans.
“When we’ve taken a stand before, we’ve always done it with the intent of taking our colleagues with us,” Land said, citing the cities that banned smoking in restaurants after Weho took the then groundbreaking action in the mid 1990s.
Mayor John Duran said he did not have enough information about how this would impact the businesses. He said he did not trust the FICA-commissioned economic impact study and asked that the city commission its own economic impact study.
Duran said he hoped the fur-free activists could convince the Los Angeles city council to pass a fur ban, adding he doubted Beverly Hills would ever adopt such a measure.
With Duran, D’Amico and Mayor Pro Tempore Jeff Prang, who helped draft the ordinance, voting affirmatively, the ban passed 3-1 (with Land abstaining) at 12:40 a.m. to a loud round of applause from fur-free supporters.
Duran instructed the city staff to return in six months with the economic impact report at which time the council will revisit the issue. The ordinance is due to go into effect on Sept. 21, 2013.
Afterwards, D’Amico told Weho Patch, “It’s clear that this is headed in the right direction and I think that before long all of my colleagues will be on board.”
Resident Ed Buck, one of the leaders of the Fur Free Weho movement, said, “I’m so incredibly proud that my city council not only had a moral compass, but used it.”
On the other side, business owner Darren Gold, who serves as board chair for Weho’s Avenues: Art, Fashion and Design District, which came out against the ban, called Duran’s vote a “shoot first and aim later” action.
“It doesn’t make sense that you say, ‘We have a flawed ordinance and I want more information, but I want to vote for it to move forward anyway,'” Gold told Patch. “You would never say that I am going to buy a company and do my due diligence afterwards.”
FICA executive director Kaplan, who previously told Patch that , was dumbfounded by Duran’s vote.
“It is almost incomprehensible to me, you have a mayor who stated quite clearly and articulately that he didn’t have enough information on which to make a decision, yet made a very clear decision,” Kaplan said. “It was pointed out very well by two other council members, the city should slow down and allow time for the information that the mayor himself requested.”