Prior to 1984, West Hollywood was an unincorporated pistol-shaped enclave of highly developed urbanity surrounded by the cities of Los Angeles and Beverly Hills.
West Hollywood had a long and lively history of ranchers, outlaws, business magnates, railroad workers, movie stars, mobsters, hippies, gays, lesbians, artists and other independent souls who enjoyed its fine ambience.
West Hollywood is 1.9 square miles in area and home to 36,000 residents. Under the sometimes loose and often negligent rule of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, West Hollywood had the densest population of any area west of the Mississippi. Nearly 85% of the residents of West Hollywood were renters. Approximately thirty percent were senior citizens and nearly 30% were gay and lesbian.
The great real estate boom of the 1970s hurt tenants everywhere in Los Angeles and the surrounding area. Rents shot up and there was nothing to be done about it, except pay up or move out.
Proposition 13, the tax break for property owners, was supposed to alleviate the galloping rent increases. Landlords promised rent reductions if Prop. 13 was passed, the tax savings to be passed on to tenants. Instead, rents continued to shoot upwards. Although Proposition 13 became the catalyst, CES had already begun working to win rent control.
In 1976, CES set up tenant rights information hotlines, trained volunteers and began advocating the need for rent control. In the beginning an idea, a hope, indeed a necessity—rent control was on the long hard road to becoming a reality. There was a great deal of tenant fury against the relentless rent increases. CES focused this fury, organizing tenants, and forced the Los Angeles City Council to enact rent control in 1978.
However, West Hollywood was not part of the City of Los Angeles. West Hollywood was an unincorporated area of L.A. County, where there was no rent control. Rents continued to leap upward in West Hollywood, fueled by speculation, development and a lack of County laws.
A West Hollywood Chapter of CES was formed, at first composed mostly of seniors. CES members reached out to the community, organized, made phones calls, knocked on doors and held rallies, one of which drew over 1,000 people. This effort led to a rent control law in L.A. County in 1979, but it was weak and had to be renewed each year. The limited County rent control law allowed larger increases and easier evictions than the L.A. City law. It permitted conversions of apartments into hotels and condominiums and contained no controls on vacancies.
In 1983, CES forced a countywide referendum on rent control. It failed, given the large majority of homeowners in the County and the millions of dollars spent by the landlords to defeat the measure. But it passed by an overwhelming 5 to 1 margin in West Hollywood. The defeat was seen by CES as an opportunity. This was the turning point. It showed the possible electoral support for cityhood, and rent control provided a strong catalyst. Municipal empowerment was the only answer.
The CES West Hollywood Chapter quickly grew to over 2,000 members. To their ranks CES attracted residents who wanted a city that would be responsive to their needs as citizens and taxpayers.
The newly-formed West Hollywood Incorporation Committee approached CES for support. CES decided to pursue cityhood when County analysis showed that West Hollywood could be a financially viable city. CES members were seated on the Incorporation Committee and provided the effort its grassroots, activist constituency. CES took responsibility for getting the signatures of registered voters needed to put the cityhood initiative on the November, 1984 ballot.
From the beginning, CES insisted that alliances be established across class, age, gender and sexual orientation differences. CES was convinced this was essential for the drive to succeed. A coalition was forged between the elderly, gays, lesbians, tenants and some homeowners. CES canvassers and signature-gatherers set a county record obtaining signatures from 27% of the 19,000 voters in only 52 days. Signatures from 25% of the registered voters was needed to put the referendum on the ballot. The urgency was necessitated by the pending phase-out of rent control, starting January, 1985.
West Hollywood residents overwhelmingly voted in favor of cityhood on November 6, 1984. Rent control provided the most powerful coalescing factor, but gay and lesbian liberation and the quest for better community services were essential issues as well. It was the right time, the right place and the right organization.
City Council elections were held at the same time of the incorporation vote. CES supported five candidates for the five City Council seats. Campaigning for a strong rent control law, four of them won. One of the first laws passed by the new Council for the new city was a rent control law, one of the strongest in the entire nation!
CES continues its grassroots involvement in West Hollywood, organizing tenant unions, protecting the rent control law and lobbying for progressive city policies. CES works at election time to ensure that pro-tenant rights CES candidates are elected. Since the city was established, CES-endorsed candidates have won 20 out of 24 City Council races.
The famous Sunset Strip lies within the borders of the City of West Hollywood.