WEST HOLLYWOOD – The City of West Hollywood is co-sponsoring the Los Angeles Blade Monkeypox Town Hall featuring a panel discussion of public health experts on Wednesday, July 27, 2022 at 6 p.m. at the City of West Hollywood’s Council Chambers/Public Meeting Room, located at 625 N. San Vicente Boulevard.
The Monkeypox Town Hall is free and open to the public. Advance registration for in-person attendance is required. To register, please visit https://bit.ly/3yV2PJd. Seating will be available on a first-come, first-served basis and there will be limited validated parking in the adjacent five-story West Hollywood Park structure.
As an in-person indoor event, use of masks is highly recommended. The City follows guidelines established by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, which has announced that LA County has entered the High COVID-19 Community Level with the Omicron variant BA.5 having become the dominant variant, which may have increased ability to escape immunity.
The Town Hall will be broadcast live on Spectrum Cable Channel 10 in West Hollywood, livestreamed (and available for future viewing) on the City’s WeHoTV YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/wehotv, and livestreamed on AppleTV, Amazon FireTV, AndroidTV, Roku platforms by searching for “WeHoTV.”
The panel discussion of public health experts will include representatives from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health to discuss the latest information about monkeypox, community transmission, and available vaccines.
Participants scheduled to-date include: Dr. Leo Moore, Medical Director for Clinic Services, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.; Dr. Andrea Kim, Director of the Vaccine Preventable Disease Control Program, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health; Matt Ford, an actor, writer, and video producer who recently recovered from monkeypox; Matthew J. Mimiaga, Ph.D., Professor and Vice Chair of Epidemiology at UCLA Fielding School of Public Health and Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine; Dan Wohlfeiler, who leads a consortium of public health leaders and gay dating website and app owners who are working together to support HIV and STI prevention online; and Adam Sukija-Cohen, Ph.D., MPH, Director of Advocacy and Policy Research, Public Health Division Research at AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
The panel discussion will be moderated by KTLA’s John Fenoglio.
As public health officials track cases of monkeypox in the region, concerns about infection and access to vaccine, as well as confusion and fear, may cause concern among community members. Early data suggests that gay men, bisexual men, and other men who have sex with men (MSM) comprise a high number of cases of monkeypox virus. Anyone, however, in close contact with someone who has monkeypox is at risk. The Los Angeles Blade and partner organizations are hosting the Monkeypox Town Hall to help provide information, explain the science, and answer questions that people may have about the transmission of monkeypox and the experience of having it.
While the risk of contracting monkeypox is currently very low in the general population, the City of West Hollywood is disseminating information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (Public Health) so that community members can be informed about what do to if signs of monkeypox appear. Monkeypox is spread by close physical contact (including sexual contact) with someone who has symptoms or by touching contaminated items, such as clothing and bedding. It can cause flu-like symptoms and/or a distinct rash that can be bumpy or fluid-filled on the face, body, genitals, arms, and/or legs. The CDC and Public Health officials urge anyone with a rash that looks like monkeypox to isolate from others and to speak with their healthcare provider.
LA County Public Health has prepared a variety of health education resources, including flyers and handouts, such as: Pamphlet; Flyer; Signage; Pocketcard; and Intimate Contact Handout. LA County Public Health has recently expanded the eligibility criteria for Los Angeles County residents to receive the monkeypox vaccine. Learn more at https://ph.lacounty.gov/media/Monkeypox.
The Los Angeles Blade Monkeypox Town Hall is co-sponsored by the City of West Hollywood and is presented in partnership with more than a dozen LGBTQ and HIV nonprofit groups including: AIDS Healthcare Foundation; APAIT; APLA Health; BlackAIDS.org; California Libraries; Equality California; Ariadne Getty Foundation; Grindr; In The Meantime Men’s Group; JYNNEOS (the preventive vaccine from Bavarian Nordic); Latino Equality Alliance; the Los Angeles LGBT Center; [email protected] Coalition; and WeHo Times.
For more information, please contact Andi Lovano, the City of West Hollywood’s Community & Legislative Affairs Manager, at (323) 848-6333 or at [email protected]. For people who are Deaf or hard of hearing, please call TTY (323) 848-6496.
Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control (DACC) Announces Pet Licensing Amnesty Period from August 1 to October 31
The City of West Hollywood is getting the word out about the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control (DACC) Pet Licensing amnesty program. To provide an opportunity for pet owners to economically renew their pet licenses, the DACC is waiving late fees for renewed or new licenses when purchased between August 1, 2022 and October 31, 2022.
All dogs and cats in the City of West Hollywood – as well as in unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County – must be licensed. Dog and cat licenses are an important means of identification. Additionally, pets must be re-vaccinated each year, or every three years with an approved three-year vaccine. Failure to vaccinate or license a dog or cat may result in fines or penalties. The County of Los Angeles also requires all dogs and cats to be spayed or neutered as well as microchipped. Reduced license fees are provided for spayed and neutered pets.
Failure to renew a pet license can result in a late penalty equal to the cost of the license. Additionally, owners of unlicensed pets brought into compliance by the DACC Field Licensing Enforcement program will be assessed an additional field licensing enforcement fee of $40.
For more information, please visit https://animalcare.lacounty.gov/licensing/ or call the DACC’s Enforcement Services Bureau’s Licensing Division at (562) 345-0400.
Residents may also contact the City of West Hollywood’s Neighborhood and Business Safety Division at (323) 848-6437 or by email at [email protected].
For people who are Deaf or hard of hearing please email [email protected].
City Calls-on Community Members to Reduce Water Use in Response to Drought Conditions
Southern California is experiencing severe drought conditions. Across the western U.S., scientists have found that the extreme dryness since 2000 has become the driest 22-year period in at least 1,200 years, a megadrought that research shows is being intensified by climate change.
West Hollywood residents and businesses are served by two water utility companies. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) serves most areas of the City and Beverly Hills Water serves certain areas on the west side of the City. Both utilities encourage their customers to continue to use water efficiently. The City of West Hollywood is reminding residents and businesses about water conservation rules now in effect.
All water customers — residential and commercial — are now limited to two-day-a-week outdoor watering as well as other water use restrictions, as follows:
- LADWP customers are required to maintain a two-day-a-week watering schedule:
- Customers with street addresses ending in odd numbers may water on Mondays and Fridays before 9 a.m. or after 4 p.m.
- Customers with street addresses ending in even numbers may water on Thursdays and Sundays before 9 a.m. or after 4 p.m.
- LADWP rules call for no watering between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., regardless of the day. More information about watering days is available at www.ladwp.com/wateringdays.
- Beverly Hills Water customers are required to maintain a two-day-a-week watering schedule:
- Customers in locations north of Santa Monica Boulevard may water on Monday and Friday before 9 a.m. or after 6 p.m.
- Customers in locations south of Santa Monica Boulevard may water on Tuesdays and Saturdays before 9 a.m. or after 6 p.m.
- Beverly Hills Water rules call for no watering between the hours of 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., regardless of the day. Supplemental watering for trees is permitted. More information is available at www.bhsaves.org.
New restrictions also include two recommended practices: the use of pool covers to prevent evaporation, and the washing of vehicles at commercial car wash facilities. Hand watering is allowed every day during permitted hours if the hose is equipped with a self-closing water shut-off device.
Existing water conservation practices continue to be in place:
- Limiting outdoor watering with sprinklers to eight minutes per station on permitted watering days
- Watering with sprinklers using water-conserving nozzles for up to 15 minutes, twice a day, on the permitted watering day
- No water should flow off of property
- No water should leak from any pipe or fixture
- No watering within 48 hours after a measurable rain event
- No hosing of driveway or sidewalk
- No washing of vehicles using a hose without a self-closing nozzle
The City of West Hollywood is urging water customers to adhere to restrictions and conservation practices to voluntarily reduce water use to help preserve the region’s water storage reserves in response to extreme drought conditions. More than half of the water used in Southern California is imported from the Northern Sierra and the Colorado River. Both of those sources are facing severe drought conditions; crucial storage reservoirs have never been lower.
The Metropolitan Water District’s Board of Directors has declared a Water Shortage Emergency calling for consumers and businesses to reduce water use and help preserve the region’s storage reserves. The West Basin Municipal Water District’s Board of Directors has moved to activate its Water Shortage Contingency Plan (WCSP) and declare a Water Shortage Emergency for the service area representing nearly one million people in 17 cities and unincorporated areas in Los Angeles County, including West Hollywood.
The City of West Hollywood offers tips for saving water on its website at www.weho.org/waterconservation. Visit the State of California’s “Save Our Water” drought action website at https://drought.ca.gov to learn about being drought-aware and using water wisely.
Water conservation tips are also available at:
LADWP is also urging customers to take advantage of the many water- and money-saving rebates and programs available to both residential and commercial customers. Residential customers can find a comprehensive list of rebates and programs, including rebates for efficient clothes washers, toilets, and turf replacement, at www.ladwp.com/save. Commercial customers can visit www.ladwp.com/cwr for rebates and programs.
For more information from Beverly Hills Water, please contact Beverly Hills Public Works Customer Service at (310) 285-2467 or at [email protected].
For people who are Deaf or hard of hearing, please call TTY (323) 848-6496.
City Council Receives Update about the West Hollywood Homeless Initiative
The City Council of the City of West Hollywood received an update regarding the City’s Homeless Initiative as part of its regular meeting agenda on Monday, July 18, 2022. The update provided the City Council and the community with details about the Homeless Initiative’s progress towards the goals of the Five-Year Plan to Address Homelessness in Our Community, as well as notable activities in the regional homeless service system, the delivery of local homeless services, and program outcomes from City-funded non-profit agencies.
The City’s Human Services and Rent Stabilization Department’s Strategic Initiatives Division oversees the West Hollywood Homeless Initiative in coordination with the City’s Social Services Division. The Homeless Initiative is a multi-disciplinary, multi-agency collaborative response, which includes multiple City Departments, City-funded social service agencies, the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, and Los Angeles County agencies.
The 2022 West Hollywood Homeless Initiative progress report is available at www.weho.org/homeless.
Notable Homeless Initiative updates and highlights include:
- Beginning the process of developing a bridge housing, and supportive housing facility for people experiencing homelessness in West Hollywood. In May 2022, the State of California Homekey Program awarded the City a conditional grant award in the amount of $6,007,661 to support capital and operating costs to convert the Holloway Motel into an interim housing program that will be operated by Ascencia. Following this, on June 6, 2022, the City Council approved the purchase of the Holloway Motel with the intent to use the property for this purpose for the next 15 years. An interim housing location within the City of West Hollywood will provide people experiencing homelessness a place to stay temporarily while receiving supportive services on their path to permanent housing. There will be significant community and stakeholder engagement throughout the process to create this resource in West Hollywood;
- Participating in Mayors for a Guaranteed Income and developing the City’s first guaranteed income pilot, which will also serve as the nation’s first pilot of this kind focused on older adults. The pilot will provide unconditional cash payments of a $1,000 a month to 25 adults ages 50+ for 18 months. The pilot is part of the City’s efforts to help prevent homelessness, assist community members to age in place, and reduce the stressors of financial instability;
- Developing the West Hollywood Care Team, a new program envisioned to be a first responder service that supports community members — housed and unhoused — in behavioral health crisis stemming from a mental health condition, substance use, or other factor/s. The program is intended to reduce reliance on law enforcement by positioning this service as the first responder to people in a behavioral health crisis; and
- Assessing the social service needs of community members of color to strengthen City-funded outreach programs. Findings from the study were presented to City Council on May 2, 2022 and the Social Services Division incorporated the recommendations into the FY 22-25 Social Services Request For Proposals.
Since October 2016, through West Hollywood’s focused efforts, the City of West Hollywood and its partners have successfully supported more than 208 youth and adults in establishing permanent housing and ending their experience of homelessness; notably, 125 of these housing placements have occurred since October 2019, which marked the beginning of the City of West Hollywood’s FY19-22 Social Service Grants contract cycle.
The City of West Hollywood looks to a range of data to understand trends in the number of community members experiencing homelessness in West Hollywood relative to the number of people getting housed. For example, in January 2020, the Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count tallied 66,436 people experiencing homelessness across the region and 112 people in City of West Hollywood. Through the City’s contract with Ascencia, the outreach team provides the City with monthly data on the number of unsheltered community members in city public spaces and reports from the last year show a monthly average count of 40 people experiencing homelessness. The crisis-level number of people continuing to experience homelessness across the region is a barrier to detecting the impact of year-over-year housing placements by West Hollywood’s contracted partners. Even with West Hollywood’s work supporting people to exit homelessness, the regional flow into homelessness remains a stronger pressure on the homeless system.
The City of West Hollywood is also an “Everyone In” city. Everyone In is a community movement with United Way of Greater Los Angeles to end the homelessness and housing crisis by building public and political will to create solutions, and affordable and supportive housing in every part of Los Angeles County. Upcoming Everyone In events are listed on the Everyone In website at https://everyoneinla.org/events/.
The West Hollywood Homeless Initiative’s agency partners continued to deliver critical services during the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic:
Throughout the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Homeless Initiative has focused on promoting and safeguarding the health of vulnerable community members and frontline staff. The following activities continued or resumed during year two of the pandemic:
- Prevented homelessness among vulnerable West Hollywood renters with City Council-approved emergency funding for rental assistance and emergency meals. Two of the City’s contracted Social Services agency partners, the National Council of Jewish Women and the Alliance for Housing and Healing administered the City’s COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance programs. Since March 16, 2020, a total of $1,629,222 has been allocated to emergency rental assistance. A total of 70,000 emergency meals and packaged groceries have been provided to vulnerable residents with the help of MV Transportation, American GTS, and Ambiance delivering meals prepared by Project Angel Food and Jewish Family Services;
- Increased outreach and engagement at West Hollywood Park, following the park’s re-opening in February 2022. In addition, with the full re-opening of West Hollywood Library, outreach teams reinstated in-person drop-in homeless services as of May 2022. The drop-in program, which began in October 2016, is a strategic collaboration between the City of West Hollywood, LA County Library, and City of West Hollywood’s contracted social services organizations, which include APLA Health, Ascencia, the Los Angeles LGBT Center, Step Up on Second, and Tarzana Treatment Centers. Drop-in hours are scheduled Monday through Friday, allowing unhoused community members a safe and consistent location to access services and get connected to support;
- Continued facilitating local access to COVID-19 testing and vaccination through pop-up events focused on connecting community members experiencing homelessness with LA County Department of Public Health and Department of Health Services; and
- Ongoing public health promotion through distribution of emergency supplies to community members experiencing homelessness in need of hygiene products, masks, hand sanitizer, bottled water, sleeping bags, blankets, and ponchos.
Through the West Hollywood Homeless Initiative, in partnership with the community, and with funding support from LA County Measure H, in 2018 the City established the “Five Year Plan to Address Homelessness in Our Community.” The plan identifies seven goals — and key actions to reach these goals — based on feedback from the West Hollywood community and stakeholders:
- Goal #1: Provide support and resources to City staff and contractors in responding appropriately, safely, and effectively to persons who are experiencing homelessness in West Hollywood.
- Goal #2: Support businesses and residents in responding appropriately, safely, and effectively to persons who are experiencing homelessness in West Hollywood.
- Goal #3: Establish bridge housing and day center facilities in West Hollywood to serve people who are homeless in the City.
- Goal #4: Continue the City’s support for the Rapid Re-Housing program to prevent homelessness among West Hollywood residents.
- Goal #5: Increase the number of supportive housing, special needs housing, and other permanent housing options in West Hollywood for people who have experienced or are at risk of homelessness.
- Goal #6: Strengthen partnerships with other cities and with nonprofit organizations to support regional and individualized solutions to homelessness.
- Goal #7: Prevent homelessness among West Hollywood residents, especially seniors, individuals living with disabilities, and vulnerable families.
Making progress toward the goals of West Hollywood’s Five-Year Plan remains critically important in directing the local response to homelessness.
The West Hollywood Homeless Initiative seeks to effectively address homelessness. If you are concerned about a community member who is homeless, call the West Hollywood Homeless Initiative Concern Line at (323) 848-6590. If your concern requires time-sensitive assistance during nights or weekends, please call the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station at (310) 855-8850.
For additional information about the West Hollywood Homeless Initiative, please visit www.weho.org/homeless. To learn more, watch a brief video overview about the West Hollywood Homeless Initiative on the City’s WeHoTV YouTube channel at https://youtu.be/aAvwRExSeYY. For more information, please contact Elizabeth Anderson, City of West Hollywood Strategic Initiatives Program Administrator, at (323) 848-6839 or [email protected]. For people who are Deaf or hard of hearing, please call TTY (323) 848-6496.
Goodbye Big Gay Starbucks WeHo- Thank You for the Memories
Moments after store manager told customers they had to go, ladders went up in front of the store & the Starbucks letters were promptly removed
By Paulo Murillo | WEST HOLLYWOOD – The beloved Big Gay Starbucks West Hollywood, located on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Westmount Drive, officially closed its doors forever at exactly 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, July 31, 2022—“Thank you for joining us today, but today is our final day of operations. We are officially done” store manager, Acacia Blenchard, told a group of loyal customers inside the store.
“Thank you for allowing us to serve you for 27 years. It’s been wonderful. We’ve appreciated being a part of this community, but on that note guys, I have to ask you all to go.”
I worked the front desk at the Sports Connection when Starbucks Coffee West Hollywood first opened its doors across the street in the year 1995. I was young and too self-possessed to pay attention to the opening ceremony of a coffee shop back in those days. I had no idea the space at 8595 Santa Monica Boulevard would become such huge a part of my West Hollywood experience. Truth is, that Starbucks always existed in mind’s eye, and I figured it would continue to live on way past my own existence, so being asked to go for good on a Sunday afternoon was beyond surreal to me. I still need some time to process that I can no longer walk through those double doors and reminisce about the good old days.
And good old days they were.
The West Hollywood Starbucks was my jam. I kept it simple with a Venti Drip. I hung out there almost every day for its first two decades of operations. It was never really about the coffee, or the pastries fresh off the fridge, but more about the social setting on a corner where there was always something happening and something to see while you sipped on some coffee or tea.
Memories take me back to a time when LGBTQ+ meant you were gay, and guys sat behind a glass wall to gawk at the men passing by in spandex short shorts and spaghetti tank tops on their way to the gym (we called it bird watching, IF you know what I mean). It was common to see shirtless guys stretched out on the patio chairs, posing for cameras that weren’t there, way back before God invented selfies. Men made a spectacle on Santa Monica Boulevard while they sunned themselves, giving the Big Gay Starbucks more notoriety with a spot that was dubbed “The WeHo Beach.”
It was a place for cruising before hookup apps like SCRUFF and Grindr ruined our social sexual skills. Guys would do their seductive dances while nursing a cup of joe. Then one guy would get up and the other guy would follow him to the restroom by the pool area of the Ramada Inn a few doors down (or so I’ve been told…cough).
However, the Gay Bux wasn’t always about looking at boys, or hooking up, or being surrounded by friends for hours on end. Many times we’d embrace our inner nerd, and crack open a book and have what I’d call Super Quiet Reading Time, which is telling of how much we loved being inside the Gay Bux.
There are so many memories on that corner. I fell in love with random strangers, I laughed my ass off with the employees at the counter, and no matter how I practically lived there, the baristas always found a new way to jack-up my name.
I also went THROUGH IT inside that place. This is the spot where I nursed my fair share of hangovers the morning after; it was my reliable go-to when I needed a pick-me-up after crashing and burning from a bumpy night of drugs and debauchery during my party and play days; it’s also where I lost some major cool points after I got sober and made it a place to fellowship with local sobers (the full circle of WeHo life).
I’m not sure when my perception of that space changed and the energy didn’t seem the same. I think it dates back to when they decided to fix what was not broken in 2010. They remodeled inside, removed the tables and chairs on the Westmount Drive side, and they added a patio railing that separated sunbathers from Santa Monica Boulevard. It was goodbye WeHo Beach; hello WeHo Corral. It just wasn’t the same.
I can’t pinpoint why I stopped making that space my usual hangout for the past five or six years. Maybe I got tired of seeing the same faces setting up shop and taking up office space day-in and day-out; maybe it was the homeless issues with the screaming man making it impossible to have my Super Quiet Reading Time; maybe it was the closure of 24-Hour Hour Fitness (former home to the Sports Connectiom) and the lack of endorphins that depressed the living hell out of me.
It stopped being my jam, but I always took comfort in knowing that the Big Gay Starbucks in West Hollywood would always be there for me, should I ever want to visit and relive the good old days of WeHo.
And now the place is gone.
“I haven’t been in a room so solemn since Rock Hudson’s memorial,” said local WeHo personality Bobby Trendy while he waited for the place to officially close.
“It’s a sad, sad day,” said store manager Blenchard right before announcing the closing time, “It’s been a day full of heartbreak. We’ve been saying goodbye to the entire community. So now we’re asking everyone to leave so our partners can have a moment of decompression. We want to say our own goodbyes to this space and console each other privately.”
Whether you believe the place shut down because of safety reasons, because Starbucks corp was making a political statement about defunding the police, or because it was a union bust, none of that really matters in the end. We lost yet another West Hollywood gem.
Adding insult to injury, they didn’t waste any time erasing 27 years of community history. Moments after store manager Acacia Blenchard told customers they had to go, ladders went up in front of the store and the Starbucks letters were promptly removed and the WeHo Corral vanished on Santa Monica Boulevard.
Goodbye Big Gay Starbucks Coffee West Hollywood. Thank you so much for the memories. You join the French Market, Yukon Mining Company, Silver Spoon Restaurant, Coffee Bean WeHo, The Athletic Club, 24-Hour Fitness Sport, and a long list of LGBTQ+ spaces that have been erased from our GPS apps, but will never ever forgotten.
The preceding article was previously published by the WeHo Times and is republished by permission.
Tail O the Pup sells out of pups – will be closed till Monday
“WOAH! You loved our pups so much, you sold us out. “We’ll be back Monday, see you then! Thank for all the overwhelming love and support”
By Paulo Murillo | WEST HOLLYWOOD – The newly reopened Tail O the Pup closed for this weekend shortly after its grand re-opening ceremony this past Wednesday, July 20, 2022.
According to the owner’s social media, they are fresh out of pups—“WOAH! You loved our pups so much, you sold us out,” reads a post on their Instagram account. “We’ll be back Monday, see you then! Thank for all the overwhelming love and support.”
It is not yet clear how many “pups” were in stock and sold in less than a week. What is clear is that those planning to drive from afar to taste a pup this weekend, will need to wait just a few days longer.
The historic hot dog stand celebrated its grand re-opening with a ribbon-cutting ceremony hosted by the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. West Hollywood Mayor Lauren Meister joined co-owner Bobby Green and his business associates at the celebration for the ribbon-cutting.
Tail O the Pup was officially acquired by the 1933 Group in 2018. The new owners spent the past three years searching for a location in West Hollywood—positioned on a corner along a major street and near its original location 75 years ago on La Cienega Blvd. near Beverly Blvd. They chose 8512 Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood as its new home. Positioned along a walkable corridor of Route 66, the 2,700 square foot property offers a can’t-miss facade for the walk-up food stand and will include al fresco dining areas complete with a beer garden.
The West Hollywood building itself offers additional historical backstory for the new Pup. Dating back to 1958, it once operated as a music studio where The Doors recorded “L.A. Woman” in 1971.
The original hotdog stand first opened in 1946. Dennis and his Father Eddie Blake owned the hotdog stand since 1976. It originally stood on the northwest corner of Beverly and La Cienega boulevards.
The opening of Sofitel Hotel in the 80s moved it down the street to the northwest corner of Beverly and San Vicente boulevards. It would move further north to a Cedars Sinai parking lot on San Vicente, before vanishing in 2005. It’s been in storage since and rumored that it was reopening at various locations dating back as far as 2016.
A roster of Hollywood stars became longstanding fans, often photographed in front of the Pup, including actresses Sigourney Weaver and Betty White as well as band members of Devo and The Go-Go’s.
It has made several television cameos—showcased by Jim Henson in a 1987 episode of The Muppet Show, featured in George Benson’s music video for his 1980 Billboard hit “Give me the Night,” and lured culinary legend Anthony Bourdain during a 2002 episode of his travel and food series “A Cook’s Tour.”
The preceding piece was previously published by the WeHo Times and is republished by permission.
WeHo Black leadership in solidarity with Block by Block ops manager
“Ask yourself: would you want to be defined in life by the worst mistakes of your life? Would you want society to throw you away?”
By Paulo Murillo | WEST HOLLYWOOD – West Hollywood Black community leaders, including present and former West Hollywood Public Safety Commissioners, and a West Hollywood task force and Advisor Board member, released statements in solitary with Shea Gibson, the Operations Manager of Block by Block this week.
The support comes on the heels of an ongoing recent controversy after a local blog dug up Gibson’s criminal record from 27 years ago and published articles about his voluntary manslaughter conviction in Georgia, in 1995. The context published by the blog according to Black community leaders and others was the appearance of questioning Gibson’s personal integrity and effectiveness because of his status as a convicted felon.
The Block by Block security ambassador program was first established in 2013 to provide a highly visible uniformed presence at the street level in West Hollywood. Block by Block security ambassadors are deployed on bicycles along major streets, alleys, City parking lots, and residential neighborhoods, which has a direct positive impact on safety and neighborhood livability.
The controversy over the program escalated after a City Council vote June 6, 2022 that approved a two-year agreement for services with Block by Block, which includes a regular deployment of approximately 36 full-time security ambassadors, plus 6 additional ambassadors at kiosks and on foot patrols, and approximately 13 full time ambassadors as fixed-post security guards at the City’s facilities.
The approved council motion on Monday, June 27, 2022 expands upon this by 30 full-time security ambassadors and an updated agreement for services is anticipated to go to the City Council for approval in August 2022.
This came after the city council voted 3 to 2 in a late month June session in favor of eliminating four Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies over the next nine months. One deputy on average costs the city $330,000 a year.
“Prioritizing people’s safety doesn’t just mean people with guns and badges on the streets,” councilmember Lindsey Horvath said at the time of the vote.
The Block by Block program costs the city roughly $70,000 a person. The council set a goal of adding 30 Block by Block members, using most of the money they’ll save from eliminating the four sheriff’s deputies.
This move has angered some in West Hollywood’s business community which has accused the city council of pandering to a far-left “wokeism” agenda. Crime however remains a principal concern.
But some residents don’t believe now is the right time to be eliminating armed sheriff’s deputies telling KABC News 7 reporter Josh Haskell,
“I think in light of our current situation across the country, it seems like a curious time to be taking police officers off the street. I would definitely feel safer having more,” said Josh Forte, who works in West Hollywood.
“I do hear from residents every single day that they are very scared in their communities, and I know we all do, and I take that very serious,” said John Erickson, a West Hollywood City Councilman. “And I don’t know if the Block by Block team will help alleviate that fear.”
According to crime data from the sheriff’s department, the city of West Hollywood has seen a 59% increase in average monthly crimes from 2021 through May of 2022 — a 28% increase from the average between 2015 and 2019.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva says that it is his belief that the majority of West Hollywood residents are against the cuts.
“They want to experiment with your public safety,” Villanueva said about the three councilmembers who voted in favor of removing the deputies. “So, they might want to start re-imagining another line of work than being elected officials if they’re not going to represent the wishes of their own constituents.”
Not all hold the views expressed by Villanueva. Nika Soon-Shiong, a public safety commissioner with the city of West Hollywood told KABC;
“Police and law enforcement agencies are asked to do so many functions in society that they aren’t trained to do, and that real public safety means further investments in affordable housing, permanent supportive housing, mental health, alternative response teams. “These are solutions that we know work. That we know keep people safe.”
The Black West Hollywood community members made their statements supporting Gibson for having paid his debt to society and having served his time in prison after the local blog pressed the issue over the elimination of the four sheriff’s deputies contrasting his past and other staff of the Block by Block program to the uptick in crime in the city.
The support was expressed via the following statements submitted to the WeHo Times for publication:
Statement by Tod Hallman (Safety Commission Chair)
I am Tod Hallman, and I have lived on the Eastside of the City of West Hollywood for over 30 years. I have been the WEHO East Neighborhood watch captain since 2015, and I currently serve as Chair of our city’s Public Safety Commission.
I was first introduced to Shea Gibson by David Aguliar, who was the Block by Block (BBB) Operations Manager prior to Shea’s tenure in that position. From our very first encounter, I felt completely confident that as David was moving into a new position, we were in very capable hands with Shea Gibson. Since 2019, Shea has served West Hollywood’s residents, visitors, and businesses with passion, devotion and professionalism. Many of you might not be aware that BBB was originally deployed on the Eastside in a limited capacity; however, since the program was so successful, its hours of operations increased, as well as its city-wide presence. Since day one I’ve had a wonderful working relationship with Shea. He’s thorough and has a full understanding of the public safety issues in West Hollywood. With City Council’s recent vote to reallocate Sheriff’s funding to increase our BBB Security Ambassadors, all hell has broken loose. Our once beloved BBB team has found itself in the crosshairs, especially Shea, as his past arrest record was brought to light. I personally find this infuriating as a Black man, for I question: would this be happening if Shea were White? Would we not find more compassion for a man who has already served his sentence? Would we not have asked more questions about the circumstances surrounding his case? With very little information about his past, there were some in our community who seemed to take pleasure in destroying a man’s career and name.
I’m tired of the racist undertones in our current climate, and yes, that includes West Hollywood. Shea Gibson paid his debt to society. Like anyone else, he deserves the opportunity to find redemption and a second chance at life. It’s insulting that his past is being used as a pawn in the current city debate. Shea’s tireless service to our community and a blossoming career are so easily destroyed for some with a political statement to make. A Black man remains too easy a scapegoat, even in this woke, liberal city.
I ask my fellow West Hollywood residents: do not condemn this man or anyone so easily. Accept that there may be a reality in which this man is a different person today than he was many years ago. Ask yourself: would you want to be defined in life by the worst mistakes of your life? Would you want society to throw you away without even thinking twice?
Statement by Alana Roshay (former West Hollywood Safety Commissioner Vice Chair)
I stand with Shea Gibson. As former Vice Chair of the Public Safety Commission I have worked closely with Mr. Gibson during my term and he has been consistently professional and respectful. Mr. Gibson’s commitment to the City of West Hollywood has been proven repeatedly since 2013. It is incredibly disappointing and hypocritical that the same individuals who are now using him as collateral damage to instill fear and panic–not to mention during an election year–are the same individuals who supported him and the entire Block by Block team to handle unmanageable and reoccurring issues the city was facing at Plummer Park, as well as the intersection of La Brea and Santa Monica Blvd. When the city approved to re-allocate ambassadors to these “problematic” areas, the number of incidents were dramatically reduced. This impact was due to Block by Block’s ongoing presence and immediate action. It is unclear as to why Mr. Gibson’s personal history after all these years has been dug up by local media when he has been nothing but an excellent contributor to West Hollywood.
According to Vice President of Operations Derrick Hughes, “Block by Block is in compliance with the City of West Hollywood’s procurement and vendor policies in that we conduct employment prescreening, including criminal background checks, on all job applicants after an applicant has been made a conditional offer of employment. In California, employment screening laws state that employers cannot ask about, or take into consideration, criminal convictions older than seven years. Based on the guidance of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, if a background check reveals a criminal conviction, Block by Block considers the nature and gravity of the offense; the time that has passed since the offense, or the employee’s completion of any sentence given as a result of the offense; and the nature of the job held or sought.”
It is crucial that we recognize that the action taken by local media failed to acknowledge how Mr. Gibson history complies with EEOC and to further publish Mr. Gibson’s history without provocation perpetuates the ongoing violence towards black men in this country. It ultimately becomes a distraction and divisive during a time where we should be working together.
Statement by Jonathan Wilson (Social Justice Task Force Chair)
As a Black man in society, I have to acknowledge my own privilege among the Black race. While I am a native Angeleno and grew up in Pacific Palisades, among my male cousins, I was among the lucky few who didn’t end up getting caught in the system. It’s very common for young Black boys to be arrested for something very minor where they may have been innocent or just at the wrong place and wrong time. Whatever the story is for each person, I have witnessed first-hand how black boys / young men in particular are coerced into making a plead that hurts their record and chances of getting a well-paying job as they grow further into adulthood. As they get rejected over and over again while trying to find a great job or do the right thing, they become discouraged and often fall back into a cycle that welcomes them with open arms, the prison system.
With that said, while I don’t know Shea personally, I can guarantee you that I know 70% of his story and I recognize that he was hired by Block By Block 18 years after he committed his crime. He served his time and was able to demonstrate a straight and arrow path. As a society, we love to place the Scarlett Letter on Black men, driving them back into the prison system, which is the only one welcoming them with open arms. Let’s give rehabilitated members of society a chance to excel. They too have families, dreams, and a desire to add value. The hateful rhetoric targeting Shea Gibson is strictly counter to the focus within the City of West Hollywood. Social justice means equal opportunity for all. If we applaud actors like Tim Allen, Robert Downey, Jr, and Christian Slater, who are all ex-cons and have turned their life around, I’m sure that we can find it in our hearts to give Shea Gibson a chance to excel in an area where he has demonstrated success and fortitude.
As President Obama once said, “we are the change we seek.”
Statement by Mallery Jenna Robinson (Transgender Advisory Board Member)
I am in solitary with Shea Gibson as an AfraCaribbean Transwoman and board member for The City of West Hollywood’s Transgender Advisory Board and believes in their capabilities as a leader.
Letter of appreciation from an LAPD investigator
On the 25th of November (Editor’s note: date unspecified), Shea Gibson and Cesar Barrios were at an Auto Zone in LAPD’s Hollywood Division when they walked into an armed robbery in progress. Without a second’s worth of hesitation, your folks began efficiently de-escalating the situation. Mr. Gibson stayed inside of the store and began leading citizen bystanders to safety while Mr. Barrios stepped outside and called 911.
Once the suspect fled, Mr. Gibson and Mr. Barrios followed him, from a safe distance, and directed responding officers upon their arrival. After sufficient amounts of officers were at scene, Mr. Barrios and Mr. Gibson began diverting traffic so as to prevent unknowing citizens from wandering into a potentially life endangering situation.
Please pass along my sincere thanks to Mr. Barrios and Mr. Gibson for their valiant actions last November. Their conduct was instrumental in safeguarding the lives of many vulnerable community members and was well in keeping with the level of performance I’d expect from one of our officers here at the LAPD.
With much respect and admiration,
Detective II Douglas M. Johnson
Serial No. 37738
LAPD/Force Investigation Division
The preceding article was previously published by the WeHo Times and is republished by permission.
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