WeHo $tories: Tales of the city are tangled in a trail of cash

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West Hollywood is planning to set aside up to $90,000 to resurrect a stalled city history project run by Barbara Grover, one of County Supervisor Lindsey Horvath’s closest political allies and a prolific campaign fundraiser, just in time to capitalize on the city’s upcoming 40th anniversary celebrations. 

“WeHo Stories” is, according to City Hall’s oblique definition, “a community-driven project to document West Hollywood’s unique legacy and immortalize West Hollywood’s history.”

“Through first-person accounts and portraits of City founders, cultural leaders, activists, and stakeholders, WeHo Stories aims to highlight the City’s inspirational and informative history of diversity, landmark LGBTQ+ programs, and forward-thinking social and economic policies.”

But if you think WeHo Stories is just old timers and trips down memory lane, you’re not reading between the lines. This one-time pet project has grown into a golden cash cow, a pipeline for the county’s power brokers to repay favors, reward friendships and reap the benefits inherent in its sprawling network of shadowy funding sources.

Who owns WeHo Stories, who’s funding them and who stands to gain are as intriguing as the tale themselves. 

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Origin ‘Stories’

WeHo Stories launched in 2017, according to City Hall.

An article posted in this publication in 2020 was written by the WeHo Stories Founding Board, self-described thusly:

WeHo Stories was established to document West Hollywood’s unique legacy as a highly-acclaimed model city, incorporated in 1984. Internationally-published documentarian Barbara Grover is capturing the firsthand accounts and portraits of the city’s founders, its cultural leaders, and activists who banded together to realize the inspirational history of diversity, landmark LGBTQ programs, and forward-thinking social and economic platforms. Founding board members John Erickson, Alexander Gurfinkel, Lindsey P. Horvath, and Robert Kalonian believe immortalizing WeHo’s history in an accessible, first-ever collection will inform and inspire future generations of residents, policymakers, and stakeholders to engage with one another and their community, and strive for positive change.

Then-Councilmember Horvath raved about her brainchild in a 2018 press release announcing an upcoming fundraiser for the project. 

“WeHo has an amazingly rich history and has consistently been at the forefront of the issues that we all care about,” Horvath was quoted in the release. “This is why I am excited about a project I have initiated, with the help of some truly incredible people: WeHo Stories. … Earlier this year, we formally kicked off our fundraising efforts. Tomorrow, September 11, I’m hosting a second event to raise seed money for this all-important project. I hope you can join us. If you are unable to be there, please consider making a generous donation to this important project.”

But WeHo Stories runs on a lot more than small donations. 

The project operates under the 501(c)3 status of a nonprofit called Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs (SEE) that provides funds to more than 100 start-up organizations promoting left-wing/progressive causes such as climate change and criminal justice reform, including the Transforming Communities Initiative, which received ground funding from George Soros’ Open Society Foundations. SEE’s revenue exceeded $70 million in 2021.

This past December, SEE was selected by President Biden’s administration to serve as the EPA Region 9 Grantmaker. The organization received $50,000,000 under the EPA’s Environmental Justice Thriving Communities Grantmaking program, which President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act created.

Despite Horvath’s fundraising and its tremendously wealthy nonprofit sponsor, very little of the WeHo Stories project has yet seen the light of day.

The 2020 article written by the founding board mentions setbacks from the COVID pandemic. 

“Although the current pandemic precluded the in-person experience we had planned for the community as we came together to mark the anniversary of West Hollywood’s incorporation, we’d like to share a social media preview of a few of these portraits and the stories that they represent. We will share more photos and stories in the weeks and months ahead as we plan (and remain hopeful!) for a full launch in 2021. To see excerpts of some of these stories, visit us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. (If you would like to be involved in bringing this project to life, please email us at [email protected].)”

 

WeHo Stories has pages on Instagram, X and Facebook which began posting in November 2020. Over the next two years, a couple of dozens posts appeared: random WeHo trivia, announcements and a series of promotional portraits. Activity ceased for unknown reasons in late November 2022 — just as Horvath began her transition from councilmember to county supervisor. 

The promotional portraits feature familiar faces like current and former Councilmembers John Heilman and Abbe Land, and each is clearly labeled “All photos property of WeHo Stories © Barbara Grover.”

Who is Barbara Grover?

Officially, she is the “documentarian/archivist leading this effort,” according to the proposal, which describes her as an “internationally published freelance photojournalist, documentarian, and curator with a passion for distilling complex issues into accessible public education and empowerment tools.”

Grover’s connection to the political scene in WeHo and greater Los Angeles runs deep. She was involved in the campaign for cityhood and later served as deputy to original Councilmember Helen Albert.

She spent the decade between the mid-1980s and mid-1990s as a political consultant and partner at Skelton, Grover and Associates, working with campaign guru Parke Skelton to put a who’s who of local elected officials in power. 

More recently, Grover was hired to lobby on behalf of an earlier version of the 8850 Sunset Blvd. (Viper Room) project, loathed by residents at the time.  

Barbara & Lindsey

Over the past seven years, a pattern of mutual generosity has emerged between Lindsey Horvath and Barbara Grover, including a series of financial transactions known formally as behest donations. These controversial arrangements are largely forbidden for L.A. City Councilmembers; the L.A. Times characterizes them as a “toxic pay-for-play culture.”

During the period between December 2018 and June 2019, a $15,000 donation was requested at the behest of then-Councilmember Horvath from Margot Siegel, a prominent former architect and a philanthropist whose husband was an important figure in the history of West Hollywood. (Margot is featured among the promotional portraits posted to WeHo Stories social media).

It was the largest single donation made at the behest of a City Councilmember in that period.

The $15,000 donation Horvath requested from Siegel went to none other than Social & Environmental Entrepreneurs (SEE), the non-profit sponsor of WeHo Stories. Meanwhile, Grover’s company, Barbara Grover Inc., received $27,000 from West Hollywood United to Support Lindsey Horvath and John D’Amico for Council 2019, a political action group formed to campaign for Horvath’s re-election to City Council in 2019.

Horvath also behested a donation of $3,000 from Liberty Hill foundation to SEE to support WeHoStories.

In 2022, “Neighbors for Lindsey Horvath,” an independent expenditure committee supporting the campaign of Lindsey Horvath for LA County Supervisor, raised over $60,000 in its first couple of weeks thanks to fundraising phone calls made by Grover along with then-Councilmember Erickson.

The Next Chapter

The tangled cash trail of WeHo Stories now leads back to WeHo City Council chambers, where the councilmembers on Monday will decide whether to allocate up to $90,000 to the project.

The WeHo Stories proposal involves the West Hollywood Library and envisions the creation of a digital archive and interactive website dedicated to preserving the city’s history. The project also includes developing a coffee table book and is planned to coincide with the city’s 40th anniversary celebrations in November 2024. The project would receive authorization to use up to $90,000 from the library’s et-aside funds, which are excess property tax dollars earmarked for library enhancements and programs. The funds will cover costs associated with archiving, web and book design, digitalization, and other related expenses.
 
WeHo Stories will be Council’s third concurrent foray into WeHo history. They recently approved a $20,000 budget for the new City Historian Laureate Program. The city also contracts an archivist. If and how the three will work together remains to be discussed.

 

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:dpb
:dpb
14 days ago

Why is EVERYTHING involving Abbe Land, Lindsey Horvath and John Erickson so convoluted and seemingly dirty. Grover has her hand in every pot, there’s nothing wrong with that but put your hand in enough pots and everything sticks to your hand. This kind of multi-government (Weho City and LA County) co-mingling just dilutes the facts and discovery process, which I’m sure is appreciated by all involved. Our city’s history deserves more than a slime ball treatment.

For What its Worth,
For What its Worth,
12 days ago
Reply to  :dpb

I have lost any and all respect I ever had for these people. Ms. Grover is not an historian. Maybe they all were just conniving politicians and I was fooled for all these 35+ years.

We deserve better than the nepotistocally endowed vermin and political favoritism of the Land/Horvath/Buyers/Seymour/ Arevallo/Delgado/Wilsom/Best /Best cabal.

Outaged
Outaged
15 days ago

Anything that Flimsy Whorebath was associated with is automatically suspect. This, the woman who scrubbed all references to LGBT from her website as she was running for county supervisor in order to appeal to anti-LGBT conservatives, as well as distancing herself from the West Hollywood that she used as a steppingstone to greater glory lining her own pockets like some street corner sex worker, when I have more respect for street sex workers than that self-serving incompetent vapid grifter exploiting our city and leaving a trail of bad policy in her wake. The only one worse than her is the… Read more »

Let's Be Objective for Once!
Let's Be Objective for Once!
15 days ago

Mr. Martin says: Grover’s work will be “inclusive and [more] accurate than anything we have seen (and paid for), in the past.”

But, she worked at City Hall! She is biased and slso snipey!

Why are we overlooking the best most obvious choice–a true Journalist-Karen Ocamb?

Alan Strasburg
Alan Strasburg
15 days ago

Completely agree that this should be placed in the hands of a serious journalist and there’s none better in this town than Karen Ocamb. Karen has seen and written about a lot in West Hollywood’s history, and she has done it through a lens of objectivity.

West
14 days ago
Reply to  Alan Strasburg

Karen Ocamb would be great! Considering Horvath’s penchant for warping historical reality, stringently gatekeeping “leadership”, and manufacturing narratives for convenience— this is a no-go for me. “The victors write the history books”, as they say.

Larry Block
14 days ago
Reply to  West

they are rewriting the history where they are the heroes and many others get left out.

Dark Knight
Dark Knight
14 days ago
Reply to  Larry Block

If by “they” you mean Abbe Land & Barbara Grover – you’re spot on. Both equal opportunity opportunists.

Steve Martin
Steve Martin
14 days ago
Reply to  Larry Block

Larry, every previous history of the City has written out almost everyone who was not John Heilman, Abbe Land or with CES. While I won’t take a thing away from Larry Gross and his dedicated core of CES volunteers, the City has historically marginalized anyone else from the incorporation story, including Ron Stone, the founder of the incorporation committee, Bob Craig the publisher of Frontiers magazine and Ruth Williams who was one of several key community leaders who were there from the start. I was a lowly volunteer at the last four or five months of the incorporation campaign, so… Read more »

Larry Block
13 days ago
Reply to  Steve Martin

It sounds like you prove my point. The same people, Heilman’s and Lands, and Horvath’s campaign consultant at one time or the other is in charge of this project.

Dark Knight
Dark Knight
13 days ago
Reply to  Alan Strasburg

My vote is for Karen Ocamb as well. Grover – no way

BloodshotEyedGuy
BloodshotEyedGuy
15 days ago

If I hear that ridiculous catch phrase “inclusive” again, I might roll my eyes so far that I’ll be able to see behind me. That term has become so overused and is now synonymous with “exclusive, ” and it gives some people the right to openly discriminate. Try choosing the most qualified and move on and stop virtue signaling.

Last edited 15 days ago by BloodshotEyedGuy
Mr Watson
Mr Watson
15 days ago

This tiny city is such a clown show.

Ben McCormick
Ben McCormick
15 days ago

Why re-recreate the wheel? Has anyone heard of The Lavender Effect (ABOUT | THE LAVENDER EFFECT®) started here in WeHo? Why not join forces with an already-existing organization aiming to do many of the same things?

Last edited 15 days ago by Ben McCormick
Steve Martin
Steve Martin
15 days ago
Reply to  Ben McCormick

Why? It would just be some recycled narrative that did not reflect the reality of what actually happened when we incorporated the City; that story has been largely untold or is mythologized to a point to be unrecognizable to those of us who were around at the time. I suppose WeHo’s founding story will never be free of political tweaking and manipulation but this effort will come a lot closer to the real narrative than anything that is currently out there.

Dark Knight
Dark Knight
14 days ago
Reply to  Steve Martin

Attn: Steve Martin: Any examples of how the story is “mythological”? Do tell

Alan Strasburg
Alan Strasburg
14 days ago
Reply to  Steve Martin

I have zero confidence that any story that comes a result of the political favoritism and sucking at the public teat by everyone in the small-town clique will be anything even closely representing an objective narrative. I’m certain that three-year-old Lindsey Horvath will play a prominent role in the founding of West Hollywood when the “story” is written. Somehow, I’m certain that even Grandma Gladys in Ripon will find a part in having been a visionary. When subjected to academic scrutiny, this exercise in political manipulation will fail miserably, but who relies anymore on academic scrutiny in the pursuit of… Read more »

Precious Holloway
Precious Holloway
8 days ago
Reply to  Steve Martin

You are part of WEHO’s regrettable “recycled narrative.” Same names involved since I moved there in ’85. Time to clean the slate and move on.

Jim Nasium
Jim Nasium
15 days ago

Pay-to-play documentary. No Thanks. They should stick to Instagram stories so it’s easy to unfollow. Leave the documentaries to the professionals, and without the political influence.

Weho history deserves better than this tangled web.

concerned resident
concerned resident
15 days ago

Great hit piece, but sounds like a worthy project. I think your readers would rather see an expose on the rampant anti-semitism at West Hollywood City Hall.

Steve Martin
Steve Martin
15 days ago

It is a worthy project that needs to be completed. If not, a number of great interviews, such of the late Ruth Williams, will be lost. I have known Barbara Grover since the Citihood campaign and we often differed on issues; but unlike any other surviving person, she knows the people and issues of the times and in my discussions with her, she has approached this project with old school journalistic values, realizing that the story of West Hollywood’s founding and its early days is not a single narrative. Barbara is a talented interviewer, insightful observer and talented photographer. (I… Read more »

Really Long Time Resident
Really Long Time Resident
15 days ago
Reply to  Steve Martin

While I wasn’t involved with the creation of the City, I was living here on the East Side (same place I’m still in). I think this is a worthwhile project. I agree that the narrative that has been told all these years is wrong and I would like to hear the truth be told.

Singleguywh
Singleguywh
14 days ago
Reply to  Steve Martin

“on the 7th day John Heilman rested“
HA!

WeHo Mary!
WeHo Mary!
15 days ago

Is this more of “All of my friends died of AIDS, the police used to arrest people for lewd and lascivious behavior, all my friends are/were trans, I’ve always been queer and everyone now everyone has to make up for it by having sex with the whole town”? I think everyone knows these stories because we’ve heard them a million times at this point for the last several decades.

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