The city’s advisory boards will be completely reorganized and the Sunset Strip will get more billboards thanks to votes by the City Council at its Monday night meeting.
The council’s first meeting in four weeks since adopting a once-a-month summer schedule was a grueling six hours long, ending at 12:40 a.m. The meeting started 20 minutes late and public comment went on for nearly an hour.
In reorganizing the advisory boards, Councilman John D’Amico, who sponsored the proposal along with Mayor Pro Tempore Jeffrey Prang, said it was a way to bring more accountability to the boards. Currently, the city’s six advisory boards vary in size, while members are all at-large appointments.
Under the new plan, each board (except Lesbian and Gay Advisory Board) will now consist of nine members—one direct appointee from each of the five council members and four at-large appointments. In order to maintain gender parity, LGAB will now consist of 10 members, with each council member appointing one man and one woman. LGAB will no longer have at-large appointees.
Mayor John Duran supported the resolution, saying he believes he has no connection to some of the boards. He also questioned the effectiveness of some panels. “In order to avoid hurting people’s feelings, we keep reappointing people,” he said.
Pointing out that some advisory board members do not consistently attend meetings, Duran noted that with direct appointments, a council member can now remind a board member who misses meetings about his or her duty to be present.
Councilwoman Abbe Land opposed the change, worrying that reducing the size of boards would mean losing people from the panels.
Councilman John Heilman, who participated via telephone from Barcelona, Spain, where he is teaching a seminar on AIDS and international law, also opposed it. He noted that some people want to be involved with the city, but not involved in politics, not tied to a specific council member.
In approving the measure 3-2, the council agreed to revisit the issue in a year’s time to evaluate its effectiveness.
Four Sunset Strip billboard proposals were also on the agenda. Each proposal comes with a development agreement that would see the property owner paying the city $10,500 every four weeks for 20 years. That comes to $2.7 million over the life of the agreement.
The council approved new billboards atop the Grafton Hotel at 8462 Sunset and the Key Club at 9039 Sunset. However, it postponed dealing with proposals to change existing billboards at 8335 Sunset (across from the Standard Hotel) and at 8535 Sunset (across from the old Tiffany Theatre).
In June, the Planning Commission approved , rejecting the 8335 Sunset one.
Residents living in the hills behind those existing billboards spoke against the changes, saying since their views would be impacted, it would decrease the value of their property. They also said lighting from the billboards would disrupt their homes and sleep.
Land agreed, saying the billboards were too tall and too big. However, Heilman believed these proposals were good from a land-use perspective. However, Heilman recused himself from the 8535 Sunset discussion as he lives within 500 feet of the site.
Since billboards cannot be taxed, the city currently receives no revenue from them except through business license fees. With these development agreements, a steady stream of money will come into the city each month. Duran said he wanted to see the money go to social service programs and possibly fund arts programs rather than just go into the city’s General Fund.
At D’Amico’s suggestion, the council added a clause to the development agreements, requiring each property owner to pay a $5,000 yearly fee to the Sunset Business Improvement District fund.
The council also directed City Manager Paul Arevalo to do a study about the saturation point for billboards on the Strip. In May, the council turned down a suggestion from the Planning Commission to create a Sunset Strip Billboard Task Force to determine the answer to that same question.
An item on the consent calendar agreeing to pay consultant Roz Helfand $15,000 for working on the 2011 Weho Book Fair and the 2012 Women’s Leadership Conference was pulled for discussion by Duran. He questioned why the consulting work wasn’t put up for bidding.
Helfand has been the city’s book fair consultant since the book fair began in 2002. She began consulting on the leadership conference in October.
During public comment, speaker Ed Buck pointed out that Helfand has a desk in City Hall, something no other consultant has. He also suggested that Helfand got the contract as a political favor since she started out as a volunteer intern in Heilman’s office.
Heilman was angered by the discussion and considered it a "personal attack" on Helfand and himself.
“Roz has done an extraordinary job with this book fair. She is the one who has caused this book fair to grow initially from a very small event to one that is recognized regionally," he said. "Yes, she did start out as an intern in my office. There are a number of people at City Hall who are currently full-time employees who started out as interns.”
Prang was troubled by the lack of bidding, but pointed out that the book fair, scheduled for Oct. 2, was fast approaching, calling it “crunch time.”
Land called it a “small contract” and suggested the council should go ahead and approve it. That motion failed.
Prang then proposed separating the book fair portion of the contract from the Women’s Leadership Conference (scheduled for April) portion. He suggested paying Helfand for the book fair while putting the leadership conference up for bid. That motion passed 4-1.
Taking quick action
During public comment time, resident Joshua Garcia, wearing a bandage over his nose, addressed the council. Garcia said he had been assaulted and hit in the face after leaving on Sunday night. He called for greater public safety measures.
Sheriff’s Department Capt. Kelley Fraser immediately met with Garcia. She later addressed the council, saying deputies would work on improvements. Later, several members of the city’s Public Safety Commission were seen consulting with Garcia as well.