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Meet The Candidates: John Heilman, West Hollywood City Council

West Hollywood Mayor John Heilman
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To prepare for the upcoming March 8, 2011 elections, LAist has contacted each candidate on the City of L.A.'s Official Candidate List to participate in a Q&A. All candidates received the same set of questions, with the exception of West Hollywood city council candidates, who received a WeHo-specific list of questions. LAist does not endorse political candidates, and responses are posted in the order they are received.

In this edition of "Meet the Candidates," we hear from West Hollywood Mayor John Heilman.

Other candidates in the March 8, 2011 West Hollywood race are Lucas John, Abbe Land, Mark Gonzaga, Scott Schmidt, Mito Aviles, Steve Martin, John D'Amico, and Lindsey Horvath. Three candidates will be elected.

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Tell us about your background and what you'll bring to the table. What makes you different from the other candidates, and what qualifies you to represent West Hollywood?

I'm originally from Cleveland, Ohio. After attending Northwestern University, I came to Southern California to attend law school at USC. I became active in the movement to incorporate West Hollywood as a city after I graduated from law school. I was elected to the City Council when we first became a City in 1984 and I have served on the City Council since that time. One thing which differentiates me from most of the other candidates is my history of service to the City Council and my experience. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to accomplish a great deal on behalf of the community. I established the West Hollywood Community Housing Corporation, the nonprofit which rehabilitates and builds affordable housing in the community. I helped establish our inclusionary housing ordinance which requires private developers to develop permanently affordable housing in new construction. I started our annual book fair and launched our youth scholarship program. I have been one of the leaders in developing our new library and have worked hard to raise the funds necessary to build and support our new library. I drafted our ordinance prohibiting discrimination against people living with AIDS/HIV. I also initiated our ordinance prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity. I've worked closely with our local business community. I helped establish our Sunset Strip Business Association and the Avenues of Arts and Design. I started the annual Sunset Strip Music Festival and initiated our promotion of local fashion-oriented businesses. I also was one of the founding members of the City's Marketing and Visitors Bureau. I have a long-standing commitment to social services. I helped establish our network of services for people living with HIV/AIDS, seniors, immigrants, the disabled community and the homeless.

What are your top priorities for the city? How do you plan on tackling them?

I want to make sure we complete the library project on schedule and on budget. I also want to continue my efforts to raise the funds to support the new library. This project, however, is only one part of our 25th Anniversary Capital Campaign. I want to move forward with the second phase of our West Hollywood Park Plan and begin the implementation of our Plummer Park improvement project. We recently opened the parking structure behind the library. This structure provides 333 parking spaces for the businesses in the area.

One of my other priorities is to launch an initiative to help residents who are currently unemployed to get back to work. The economic downturn has been devastating for some communities. We have been relatively fortunate in West Hollywood, but a number of our residents lost their jobs. For many years, West Hollywood has worked with a local nonprofit organization to help people obtain employment. In the current economy, we need to do more to help our residents get back to work.

We have been working hard for the last several years to adopt our general plan. We are almost finished with an update to this important document. I want to make sure this gets completed in the next six months.

Of course, I want to make sure we continue our strong fiscal management of the City so we always have the resources to provide necessary services for our residents.

Finally, I want to continue to ensure that we are a safe city by continuing our partnership with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

As WeHo continues to draw down its reserves to balance the budget for consecutive years, what are the plans to begin balancing the budget before the reserve runs dry?

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This question contains a false assumption. We are not drawing down on our reserves to balance our budget. We operate with a two-year budget and during each budget cycle we make sure our current revenues are sufficient to cover our current and projected expenditures. This is why independent financial experts have awarded the City of West Hollywood a AAA rating, the highest rating available. We have maintained a healthy reserve and continue to maintain an extremely healthy reserve. The reserve includes some funds which have been saved for capital improvement projects. We have drawn down on reserves for planned capital projects. For instance, last year we completed the reconstruction and improvement of Sunset Boulevard. This was a project which had been planned for some time and as a City, we put money into our reserves to fund that project.

Do you support the new expanded smoking ban and why or why not?

Yes. I support the expanded smoking ban. The ordinance we recently passed requires outdoor dining areas to be smoke free. After input from the business community, we exempted outdoor bars and nightclubs and made modifications to the ordinance to address some of the concerns of the local business owners. We all know that smoking is harmful for those who smoke and those who inhale second-hand smoke. Our ordinance allows us to join our neighbors in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills in making outdoor dining smoke free. I believe this is victory for the health of restaurant patrons and restaurant workers.

How would you balance the various desires of the residents between continued development by some and the desire to hold onto the unique, artsy, affordable city WeHo used to be?

Balancing the competing needs of the community is never an easy task. West Hollywood is unique. It has a strong creative tradition. Many people have been able to live here over the years because of our strong rent control ordinance. It would always be easier if everyone in the community shared the same views; however, in West Hollywood there is a diversity of opinion. In fact, many residents have their own internal conflicts about development, opposing it in some instances and supporting it in other instances. For instance, there was some opposition to the reconstruction of the Pavilion's store on Santa Monica Blvd., but most people in the community recognize that the new store and the increased parking are improvements. On the eastside of West Hollywood, some residents opposed the construction of the Gateway project with Target and Best Buy, but other residents strongly supported the development. On balance, the project has been very successful for the community, producing over 700 jobs and millions in tax revenue. Striking the appropriate balance between preserving our unique blend and creating new opportunities is certainly a challenge. In general, people seem to support the preservation and creation of pedestrian-oriented retail areas. People also seem to recognize the need for affordable housing to address the challenges that many of our residents face. Many residents also want to see us preserve those structures and areas that have unique history. But there is also a recognition that some of our older commercial buildings have no parking and are not built up to modern code requirements. And people seem to be very concerned about making sure new development doesn't add to our parking or traffic problems. That's part of the reason new development has to meet strict parking requirements.

How do you plan on working with your constituents in addressing their concerns?

My office tries to be responsible to the service needs of local residents. Because I have served the community for a long time, I know a number of residents by name. My office regularly checks on certain residents who have had problems in the past to make sure they are ok. It's always nice when someone in the community remembers how your office helped them when there was a light out or when their neighbor needed home-delivered meals because of an illness.

Public transportation is an important issue for LAist readers. What role should public transportation have in West Hollywood?

We fought hard for a subway extension through West Hollywood. Unfortunately, despite our efforts, we were unable to convince the Metro board to route the westside extension through West Hollywood. However, we were able to demonstrate to the Metro board that there is a tremendous potential for ridership through the West Hollywood community. Metro has agreed to continue to study a West Hollywood alignment for future mass transit, including light and heavy rail systems. In addition to our efforts to secure this kind of service to West Hollywood, I initiated a review of our existing transportation programs to evaluate whether we could more effective serve our residents. Many of our residents are seniors who are dependent on transit. We fund taxi coupons, dial-a-ride and a fixed route shuttle. Our study will look at how we can improve those services and possibly adjust services to connect our residents to locations such as the Hollywood and Highland Metro station.

LAist does not endorse political candidates. All candidates from the City of L.A.'s Official Candidate List were contacted to participate and were given the same set of questions, with the exception of West Hollywood candidates, who were sent a WeHo-specific list of questions.

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