At the Hudson Block Party on Sunday before last, Mayor Jeff Prang was on stage to welcome a crowd of drunken revelers to West Hollywood. Last Thursday, a contrite Mayor Prang bravely faced the music before an
To their credit, Prang bluntly told the residents that the City simply did not think through the potential problems of a partial street closing for an event lasting from 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. on a Sunday night. But neither did they assure anyone that the event would not be repeated.
Over 6,500 people, by the Hudson’s count, overran the Bank of America parking lot at Crescent Heights and Santa Monica, where a stage for live music was set up right under the windows of the Norton Avenue residents. Although the Hudson paid for a dozen Sheriff’s deputies for traffic management and crowd control and provided sixteen portable toilets, the over capacity crowd overwhelmed the limited space and resources, hijacking the limited parking that other businesses depend on and causing gridlock at Crescent Heights and Santa Monica.
The drunken crowd was not limited to the B of A lot, but spilled into the adjoining residential streets, urinating and defecating in people’s front yards. Neighbors complained that neither the Sheriff’s Department nor Hudson security was anywhere to be found as even young women were seen urinating in public. As far away as Hayworth, intoxicated young men were relieving themselves on the street trees and on residents’ parked cars.
While common sense might have dictated better planning and oversight by our highly dedicated City Council, it appears that once again, the concerns of the people who actually live in West Hollywood are hardly given a thought due to the City’s constant need to cast itself as the hip “Creative City.”
City Council approved block party without discussion
The event was a reprise of a similar party sponsored by the Hudson last August. Claiming that it received no complaints, the Hudson approached Councilmember John Heilman’s office for approval for an even larger event. With no notice to any of the residents, Heilman put the matter on the City Council’s February consent calendar, where it was approved by the Council without debate or discussion. The City Council generously waived nearly $2,000 in special permit fees that Hudson would have been required to pay.
Prior to the event, the Hudson mailed notices to residents within 500 feet of the venue, but at Thursday’s neighborhood, several residents that live within yards of the Hudson claimed that the first notice they received about an event was when the music started blasting under their windows at 11 a.m.
The City did not require Hudson to have a parking plan. The Hudson claimed to have posted a map with the locations of the municipal parking lots on their web site; their patrons decided that it was obviously cheaper to take up all of the available street parking on Santa Monica Boulevard and the residential streets. While the 7/11 store at Hayworth was happily selling liquor to drunken revelers, many who apparently did not have tickets to the event. Local business dependent upon street parking had a grim day.
Other businesses took a hit
It was difficult listening to City officials and representatives of the Chamber of Commerce talk about how such events help draw people into West Hollywood when local businesses took a hit in the pocket book. The only beneficiaries were the Hudson and the City, thanks to our aggressive parking enforcement. The Sheriff might not be able respond to neighborhood complaints about rowdiness, public drunkenness and public urination but you can depend on West Hollywood parking enforcement to always be out in force.
“This in not an events venue; this is a residential neighborhood,” one attendee told Mayor Prang. Another Norton resident, not placated by Prang’s apology, told his neighbors “we need to get involved, we need a new voice at City Hall.” The Mayor stood impassively as a resident decried that “the fabric of what we have created here in West Hollywood is under threat.” Residents called for a restructuring of their Neighborhood Watch with a call for elected officers made by several residents.
While the residents expressed their appreciation for the fact that Prang and John D’Amico’s deputy, Michelle Rex, attended the neighborhood meeting, they made it very clear they were far from satisfied. There were demands to know why the other Council members were not present and more difficult questions, such as why the City Council could be so inept and short sighted in approving an event that would inevitably impact neighborhoods. Residents were really frosted by the fact that City Staff and the Hudson were now referring to the event as a “neighborhood” block party, rather than a Hudson event.
Residents not satisfied
While City Staff and the Hudson representatives kept talking as if the problems were isolated to this event and that better plans would be in effect next year, the residents were having none of it. It was pretty clear that most residents would not welcome an encore performance. Indeed, every time Mayor Prang made attempts to wind down the meeting, residents made it clear that they were not letting him escape so quickly.
Finally Prang injected that City Council members are very important people and that most of them had “4 or 5 meetings to attend on any given night” and then exited claiming he had another engagement. I have heard that tired excuse from Prang on numerous occasions as he seldom makes more than a token appearance at any neighborhood event, leaving his deputy, Michael Haibach, to deal with pesky constituents.
Given the seriousness of the issues, Prang would have been well advised to miss the ribbon cutting or Betsy Butler fundraiser and stayed to insure that he got a full inventory of the residents’ complaints. After all, the other “4 or 5 meetings” that he allegedly needed to grace surely did not involve pressing City issues. It would be interesting to know what extracurricular activities kept his colleagues from attending the meeting.
What was clear was the neighborhood complaints about Hudson were not limited to this one event. Residents said that every weekend since Hudson became a hot spot they have been subjected to illegally parked vehicles, drunken patrons damaging parked cars and front yard urination. Hudson’s alleged security was never around the block to deal with the residents’ issues. Residents expressed exasperation that their calls to City Hall about the constant problems on weekends have been ignored.
Area needs more parking
Even more galling is the fact that the City has done nothing to alleviate the parking shortage in the area while encouraging more intense nighttime uses. There are already 5 bars or nightclubs in the area that is notorious for its lack of parking. Yet another restaurant/bar is opening at the old Laurel Hardware site and Voyeur is becoming a burlesque club. The residents expressed certain weariness about dealing with City officials who invariably say they feel their pain yet pander to businesses that create even more impacts on the quality of life.
Despite the apologies from City Hall, the question remains unanswered as to why the City Council did not foresee the rather predictable problems this event would create. John Heilman, the event’s main sponsor, has served nearly thirty years on City Council. Jeff Prang is running for re-election so he can serve twenty years. These guys keep touting how their experience is an invaluable resource that the City cannot afford to lose, yet all those years of experience did little to foster an intelligent or thoughtful discussion during the perfunctory approval process.
With Gay Pride, Halloween, AIDS Walk, the Sunset Musical Festival and assorted Oscar parties, West Hollywood really does not need any more street closures, neighborhood disruptions and late night bacchanals. Enough already.
It is ironic that the City Council can spend hours discussing a fur ban or debate whether we are pet owners or pet guardians, yet no one on City Council felt a need to spend a couple of minutes to ask any questions about the Hudson Block Party before approving it. They will spend all day in West Hollywood Park marrying same gender couples in front of television cameras but they cannot take an hour out of their busy schedules to meet with residents about local concerns. Clearly the tired gang at City Hall is out of touch.