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Curbed LA Interviews: John Heilman

Hey, it's interview number five in our ongoing series of interviews. This week we speak with the Mayor of West Hollywood, John Heilman. Mayor Heilman is in charge of running a bustling burg of 35,000, bordered on three sides by the City of Los Angeles and to the west by the City of Beverly Hills. WeHo, as it is commonly referred to, is abuzz with new development and Pinkberry madness, leaving no gay or Russian immigrant untouched.

(image pilfered from the Czech internets via Google Image search)

West Hollywood is under a lot of pressure to provide more housing in a limited area. What is the City doing to balance the need to preserve the character of the City with the need to provide additional density?

We are looking at a number of strategies. We are holding a housing summit on December 4. We have developed a mixed use housing ordinance which we hope to enact. The ordinance will allow for additional housing along our commercial corridors. We are looking at revising our “granny flats” ordinance to make it easier for people in R-1 districts to develop an ancillary unit. Pinkberry seems to have created a bit of drama in WeHo. What is the City doing to safeguard the neighborhood around the Pinkberry store from careless customers who litter and cause traffic tie-ups?Our business license commission imposed additional conditions on Pinkberry, including litter pick up in the neighborhood, hiring a security guard to deal with queues, and limiting the hours of operation. We are convening a working group with local neighbors and businesses to develop recommendations to deal with the circulation and parking issues. The business has also opened other locations which has reduced some of the impact in West Hollywood. Have you tried the famed Pinkberry yogurt? What do you think? It’s a great question, but I don’t like ice cream or frozen yogurt so I haven’t tried it. My friends have told me it’s great. After the jump, Mayor Heilman discusses what every developer should know before coming to his city and discusses the future of WeHo.
As populations continue to shift and density within WeHo increases, have you noticed any demographic shifts in the City (anecdotally)? Will WeHo still be a gay enclave 10 or 20 years from now?

Some people believe that there has been a slight decline in the gay community, but our surveys don’t bear that out. One concern that we have is that the new housing being developed all seems to be large, luxury style units and it seems to be inconsistent with our current local population and demographics. We are looking at our current standards to encourage more diversity of housing types, especially one and two bedroom units, and additional rental housing. What does a developer need to know when planning to build in WeHo? Similarly, what does an architect need to know when designing a building in WeHo? Developers should understand that we are looking for high quality projects that improve the community. Developers also need to understand that we have a very active community that will be involved and critical if a project isn’t compatible with our community. We have an urban designer on staff at City Hall and a design subcommittee of our planning commission. These individuals try to work with developers to ensure proposals are compatible with West Hollywood. You’ve been with the City since the beginning, or at least it seems that way. In your time with the City, what has been the biggest challenge that you and the Council have faced? I have been with the City since the beginning. We’ve faced many challenges. We are currently facing the challenge of balancing our goals for new housing and new affordable housing with preservation of our existing neighborhoods. The biggest challenge, however, has been the impact of HIV/AIDS. Progress in treatment has helped but from the middle of the 1980s until the 1990s it had a tremendous impact on our community. We lost many leaders in our residential and business community, but we have a great network of service providers and our residents and businesses are tremendously generous. We still need to emphasize prevention and address the impacts of drug and alcohol abuse, but I believe we have got past the worst part of it. Has WeHo been involved in the planning for the extension of the Red Line to Santa Monica (“Subway to the Sea”)? How do you envision the subway affecting the community? We are strong advocates of the Red Line, but we really believe that it needs to directly serve West Hollywood. We have high transit ridership and a large number of transit dependent residents. We also have an existing Metro property which would make an ideal Red Line stop. Los Angeles/SoCal neighborhood you would most like to see annexed by WeHo (ignoring all geographic boundaries)? We might like the Beverly Center for its tax revenue! We might also like to have some beach front property in Malibu or Santa Monica. Favorite building or landmark in WeHo? Why?

I think the Pacific Design Center is marvelous for its use of colors. I love the new Gateway Project at La Brea and Santa Monica for what it has done to revitalize the east side of our city. One of my favorite landmarks is the Sunset Tower, the famous Art Deco property on the Sunset Strip. Commercial, Residential or Public Works project you are most looking forward to seeing completed? and why? I’m most looking forward to the completion of our new Library. We are currently in the fundraising phase and hope to have the project completed for our 25th anniversary in 2009. Screw, Marry, Kill – Eric Owen Moss, Thom Mayne, Frank Gehry?Screw? They’re not my type.
Marry? Gay marriage isn’t legal in California … yet.

Kill? Also not legal in California. It’s the year 2015, where will you be and what will your job title be? I love what I’m doing. I hope I’ll have an opportunity to help create more affordable housing. I would love to be HUD Secretary or work for the United Nations. Or, maybe just be a dancer in a Las Vegas show. What one scandalous thing, if revealed to the public, could result in the end of your political career. Since no one reads our blog, feel free to share.Why didn’t you tell me earlier. I could have saved time. I haven’t been in political office for 22 years by spreading my scandals around. I love libraries and running in the rain.