OpEd: Beyond the Invisible Bubble

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It was 38 years ago when the former town of Sherman, an unincorporated village became the City of West Hollywood. Valerie Terigno was elected to the first city council and became the first out lesbian mayor in the United States. One year later she was convicted of embezzlement and misappropriating $9,000 of federal grant funds. A new city stumbling out of the womb selected a young John Heilman as its second mayor in 1986. Over the next 30+ years John Heilman would steer West Hollywood toward becoming the thriving urban village it is today. The Camelot years.

West Hollywood was a small part of a tract map where the bureaucrats in Los Angeles would “look the other way,” and the counter-culture thrived along the Sunset Strip and in the Rainbow District.

Our City Council represented those “queers,” “hippies,” and “non-conformists.” In the early years West Hollywood was primarily a male-oriented gay city with residents anchored to each other in the face of HIV/AIDS. Our local government never let go of those afflicted. Small town politics, by the people, for the people.

The invisible bubble around West Hollywood covered the Sunset Strip from Crescent Heights to Doheny, and Route 66 along Santa Monica Blvd. from La Brea to Doheny, with selected parts along Melrose and Beverly. Inside the bubble we created a new city and a culture and an economy that would attract visitors from all over the world.

Abbe Land joined John Heilman on the West Hollywood City Council in 1986. Land was a straight woman but she brought a feminist voice to the council. While the men were more visible on many fronts, it was Abbe Land who brought forward the motion to make West Hollywood the nation’s first pro-choice city in 1993.

While John Heilman drove policy uninterrupted from 1984 through 2015, Abbe Land was on and off the city council dais. Between terms Land held jobs at non-profits which paid well, very well. Land’s, ‘requests’ for funds from the City of West Hollywood, or its affiliated partners were rarely denied until the public starting shining light on inside-dealing. The West Hollywood City Council eventually took action to require behest payments to be reported, and they lowered those payments allowable from $5,000 to $1,000.

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Abbe Land and John Heilman were linked in a personal friendship and always remained closely aligned. The two would pull the levers that controlled the politics of WeHo for decades, and they continue to do so.

The death of Sal Guarriello in 2009 left an empty seat on the city council dais. Rather than conduct a special election, the city council opted to appoint a city councilmember to serve the remainder of Guarriello’s term. The process narrowed the candidates down to two persons — a young newcomer to West Hollywood, Lindsey Horvath, and then-Planning Commissioner Joe Guadarrama. Land wanted to place another woman on the dais and voted with Heilman for Horvath. Council members Jeffrey Prang and John Duran supported Joe Guadarrama in the first round. The vote was split 2-2. Then Prang changed his vote to Horvath and she was appointed to the City Council.

Special Council Meeting - May 13, 2009

It was sometime in 2010 when a young man came to my year-old shop BlockParty and introduced himself. His name was John D’Amico and he was telling me something about a local election. Local politics was not something I had paid any attention to. My first reply was, “I don’t want to get involved.”

Lindsey Horvath had poked her head into the shop as we were just getting opened the year prior. I didn’t know anything about city politics, or structure. But then I learned about “the Slate” — the teaming up of Heilman, Land and Horvath, against this guy D’Amico. I had to stick up against that kind of power trip so I took the side of the underdog: John D’Amico’s side. I went to Koontz Hardware and purchased yellow paint and a thick brush and blasted VOTE D’AMICO across my store windows. It went viral. D’Amico crushed it in that 2011 election and joined Heilman, Land, Prang and Duran on the dais. Horvath was defeated.

Special Council Meeting - May 13, 2009

John Heilman would not shake John D’Amico’s hand for the first two years in office. The power structure in the city was a clique. It was 2012 when I knocked on Steve Martin’s door to ask him to write the language for term limits. Something had to be done to stop the clique from controlling the city. We gathered signatures, I wrote the ‘FOR” on the ballot and Measure C – Term limits was passed by the voters in 2013. There was hope that we could keep our city ‘independent’. How naive I was, how naive I am.

I would dream of the possibilities for a city where the voices of the people would rise above the political parties, the developers, the unions, or special interests. That was the dream when we worked to pass term limits. The dream that a rotation in government would get rid of the entrenched interests. But they moved our city council election to the November ballot, alongside the Presidential and mid-terms which caused a greater concentration of power among the big-money special interests.

When Abbe Land stepped down from City Council in 2015 she used her influence to support Lindsey Horvath. In that election Lindsey Horvath came back to win a seat on the City Council. John Heilman was defeated by Lindsey Horvath and Lauren Meister. and John D’Amico— but Jeffrey Prang had won his bid for the Los Angeles County Assessor. Prang’s open seat would cause a June runoff, and Heilman came back to win the open seat three months later.

Horvath had developed very thick skin after her loss in 2011 to John D’Amico. Abbe Land moved on to work with high paying nonprofits and then with County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. Land promoted Horvath to Keuhl, paving the way for the retiring supervisor to endorse her in the race to fill her seat on the Board of Supervisors.

Abbe Land was given the honor of swearing in Lindsey Horvath this past week as County Supervisor. It was a incredible moment to watch. The protoge’ and the mentor. No matter who you supported in the election this moment in history was magnificent to behold. West Hollywood and West Hollywood was marrying the County.

Before the official swearing-in by Abbe Land inside the Halls of Administration there was another private swearing-in for family and friends. In that ceremony Austin Cyr held the bible while Abbe Land administered the oath to Horvath. Austin Cyr was the center of Horvath’s campaign team, former campaign manager for her city council campaign, and boy-friend to Council member-elect Chelsea Byers. (Byers has previously identified as bi-sexual)

During the campaign former Council member John Duran referred to Byers as the mini-me version of Horvath. Byers was a newcomer to WeHo, a white girl like Horvath with little experience in the city. Chelsea Byers was quickly appointed to the Human Services Commission by Council member John Erickson. Byers landed a job with a non-profit, Women’s Voices Now as the Director of Programs and Partnerships.

The clique and their nexus of data helped propel Byers to a City Council win without her ever having lived or voted in a West Hollywood City Council election prior to 2020. Austin Cyr, with Horvath’s and Land’s and Erickson’s support was able to target endorsements, fundraising and voters to push Byers over the finish line. In Horvath’s last campaign for WeHo City Council she received 3,948 votes. Byers won her city council seat with 3,960 votes.

Land also mentored a young gender studies major named John Erickson. John served part time as Abbe Land’s deputy until the deputy system was eliminated. Abbe Land supported John Erickson’s transition from her deputy office into an administrative position at City Hall. She endorsed his campaign for City Council. Abbe Land was the ‘queen bee’ of Lindsey Horvath and John Erickson and Chelsea Byers. A tight clique controlling policies, agendas, and commission appointments within the City.

The influence and the power of the clique is stronger today than every before. The great disrupter Council member John D’Amico leaves office after 12 years with the clique firmly in power and with John Heilman returning to the dais.

The election of Horvath to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors heralds a brand new day for the City of West Hollywood. The invisible lines between Los Angeles policy and West Hollywood policy are blurred.

After just two full terms on the WeHo council, Lindsey Horvath is the youngest person ever elected to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and one of the most powerful persons in California politics. For years to come Lindsey Horvath will have an oversized influence over West Hollywood. That was my fear.

Lindsey Horvath was a good friend. In her 2015 election I would call her late at night to pop question before the debate, even though I was on the ballot too. We went to movies. We kicked off the Hillary Clinton campaign in WeHo in my backyard. She was always kind and considerate of my visual impairment. I was all-in for her County Supervisor race until she voted against Lauren Meister and West Hollywood’s seat on the Southern California Organization of Governments. West Hollywood Council member John Erickson joined her to vote against Meister too. It confused me, they were elected to represent West Hollywood. The clique was voting for their own self-interests.

From Lindsey’s first appointment and defeat, to her come back and just six years later she announced a campaign for the Los Angeles County Supervisor. It is really amazing. The former Notre Dame graduate has some luck of the Irish — from the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v Wade to Prop 1, the first time ever a woman’s right to choose was on the California ballot. But Lindsey Horvath also made her own breaks and worked hard.

Horvath was able to run on the “West Hollywood brand” at the same time she was running away from it. Scrubbing West Hollywood from her bio attracted even more attention to her West Hollywood connection. She was able to run as a good Catholic, former Bush supporter, and as a progressive Democrat. Lindsey was able to gather the endorsements and capital to compete and win with much less money than her opponent. And more than anything, she was able to garner the support of Sheila Kuehl, the outgoing County Supervisor, a relationship that was promoted and pushed by Abbe Land.

This past week John Leonard, the director of Economic Development for the City of West Hollywood, announced his departure from WeHo City Hall to join Horvath in her County Supervisor’s office. Leonard also served West Hollywood as the head of Community and Legislative Affairs. A valuable asset inside the City of West Hollywood’s management team, he will be an important part of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisor’s office.

My naive dream of a local government where residents are the voices seems to have been lost to election cycles, politics, big money and unions, vote harvesting and special interests. My heart told me that too much power in one person, in one clique would not be healthy for the long term independence and future of West Hollywood. In this past election I chose my city over a friendship. I chose WeHo over WeLA.

I chose independence over the idea that a clique gets to decide who gets on all the commissions, or who gets the endorsements. My dream of a West Hollywood that was not controlled by the special interests was a storybook fantasy. I can only hope that those in public service will serve for the public good and not for their own self-interests.

The bubble that secluded and protected West Hollywood for so long has, for better or worse, finally burst open. WeHo is no longer an isolated island within L.A. County. Los Angeles now lies within WeHo’s sphere of influence, not the other way around. With WeHo voices occupying two of the eight elected seats in L.A. County (Horvath and County Assessor Jeffrey Prang), West Hollywood’s impact on the county is wide reaching and impossible to overlook.

Today, WeHo is the pulse of Los Angeles County. Pop goes the invisible bubble!

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Chimera
Chimera
1 year ago

The chimera that is West Hollywood

Randy
Randy
1 year ago

Great article, Larry. If we really wanted to get rid of entrenched politicians, I think Measure C should have been written as retroactive, for 2 terms. i.e., those who have served 2 or more full terms would get one single full term left. Those who were mid-term could play out their term, and then be eligible for one last full term.  This would have assured no more than 4 more years for Duran, and 6 more years for Heilman and Land (who retired from the Council). Imagine if Duran were not eligible to run in 2017, followed by stains against… Read more »

Randy
Randy
1 year ago
Reply to  Randy

Interesting that so many people wanted Heilman and/or Duran back, in 2020 and 2022, some of whom backed this measure. I didn’t think the measure went far enough, as it allowed up to 16 years(!) for Heilman, and 12 years for Duran and Land. Assuring all of them the ability to serve, well into their 60’s, or maybe even 70’s for Heilman (not sure how old he is). I support the move in election cycle. It allowed for more voices to be heard, which I think is a good thing, in a Democracy, even if I might disagree with some… Read more »

Randy
Randy
1 year ago
Reply to  Randy

Correction: another 14 years for Heilman.

I’m not sure how his two-year stint after the special election in 2015 was looked at by Measure C. He was half way through a term when the Measure was passed in 2013.Then re-elected in 2017. I think he has one more term left to serve, and possibly two. He has served one full term since this passed in 2013. But he served two partial-terms, from 2013-2015 and from 2015-2017. Not sure how those count, as they do add up to almost 4 years on the Council.

John Arnold
John Arnold
1 year ago

Great article, Larry. It sums up to power dynamics in the city perfectly.

Wesley M
Wesley M
1 year ago

Let’s see how long it takes before the library is named for John Heilman! And you can just hear part of the rationalization will be that he single-handedly created West Hollywood. Those who have been longer than the last elections know that it’s just not true.

Just Say No
Just Say No
1 year ago
Reply to  Wesley M

Not to worry. The Library WILL NOT be named after John Heilman – that’s a supported fact. He & Land will probably resume their campaign to do so but they will fail again. My gawd I’m sick of these two. Busy bodies whose in-your-face egos are an imposition on our city.

JF1
JF1
1 year ago

Spot on. I’ve never felt so hopeless about the direction of our city as I do now. For the last two years this city has been controlled by a bunch of politically thirsty individuals and it’s only going to get worse. Wake up West Hollywood!

Harambe's Vengeful Ghost
Harambe's Vengeful Ghost
1 year ago
Reply to  JF1

I’ve always felt hopeless about WeHo. But moving here just made me…that much more so. Y’all did this to yourselves. 🤷‍♂️

mike
mike
1 year ago

West Hollywood was called West Hollywood long before it became its own city. In 1925 the residents voted to rename it from Sherman. They wanted to be associated with neighboring Hollywood. it was still under county jurisdiction until 1984.

WehoQueen
WehoQueen
1 year ago

Correction: it wasn’t 38 years ago that the town of “Sherman” became West Hollywood. It stopped being called Sherman in 1925, when the area was called “West Hollywood”. I believe there has been such shame on the city by the likes of Lindsey Horvath, Robert Oliver, Chelsea, Sepi and the rest of the hypocrisy crowd, that the name should go back to “Sherman” until such time as a responsible majority City Government is in place. Let’s get back to evicting people who don’t pay their rent. It’s the right thing to do.

Harambe's Vengeful Ghost
Harambe's Vengeful Ghost
1 year ago
Reply to  WehoQueen

Yes, Make WeHo Sherman Again!

Ham
Ham
1 year ago

It has always been a clown show.

Really...
Really...
1 year ago
Reply to  Ham

Takes one to know one.

Ida Claire
Ida Claire
1 year ago

I was enjoying reading this purported “West Hollywood story” until it morphed into a dissertation about John Heilman & Abbe Land, on & on ad Infinitum, & ad nauseam. Do we really want to rehash & read about the same old “stuff” about the same old people, especially when West Hollywood has evolved into a more sophisticated city & there are so many interesting things happening? Our mindsets must match the times. Maybe this is just a slow news day.

Slow creeping epidemic
Slow creeping epidemic
1 year ago
Reply to  Ida Claire

If one does not understand the mechanics of the issue, while you are distracted by all the bright and shiny things, it simply repeats. Larry articulated the issue perfectly. This type of behavior has become a slow creeping epidemic.

:dpb
:dpb
1 year ago
Reply to  Ida Claire

Dear Ida, In order to understand the City of West Hollywood, one must understand where it came from and how it started and developed into “this sophisticated city where so many interesting things happening“. Your comment cites “Our mindsets must match the times”, we’re you looking for crime news? A shooting? A robbery? Home invasion? All of that happens here now. Horvath and Erickson had a hand in that too with their policies. Maybe you’re looking for lovely feature stories on businesses that won’t make it past the next year? What the hell are you trying to say? What is… Read more »

West
1 year ago

Good article Larry

BrownEyedBoy
BrownEyedBoy
1 year ago

Outstanding article, a lot of history to absorb. First initial thought is that West Hollywood’s “original sin” was the appointment of Horvath to council by Heilman & Land. There was an election a month before Guarriello’s death where the people expressed their voice through voting. 2 seats were open, Duran & Prang were re-elected. Lauren Meister ran & came in at a close third. The council should of honored the people’s vote and appointed Lauren to council. But I think they all were afraid of her honesty and ethics. Fast forward, Lauren just won her re-election in a landslide, but… Read more »

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