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Opinion


Opinion and Commentary by Chris Bray

It took a while to pick up the pattern, but now I’ve lived in West Hollywood long enough to put a name to the style of our city government. I call it “cocaine governance.” I don’t mean it literally, but the metaphor perfectly captures how the city stumbles into policy: talking a mile a minute, moving on to a new thought without finishing the one it just started a moment ago, unable to weigh the importance of competing priorities, and always totally certain that oh my god, everybody’s looking at me, see how important I am?

Take a moment to read the city’s laugh-out-loud press releasefor the coming “fur-free city” ordinance. The first sentence says that the city is preparing the ordinance. Does the second sentence identify how it will be enforced? Of course not. In fact, no sentence anywhere in the press release says so much as a single word about how the ordinance might, in theory, work: nothing about whether violators will be subject to criminal or civil penalties, nothing about who will enforce the law, nothing about the process by which the law will be enforced, nothing about the cost of enforcement.

Instead the second sentence says this, with emphasis added: “The effort will encourage the promotion of West Hollywood as a destination for cruelty-free and animal welfare events and establishing West Hollywood as the Humane Capital of the United States.”

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It will encourage our promotion as a famous city! Everyone will be looking at us! We’ll be the capital of something for the whole country!

How will it work?

Silence.

Third sentence: “The City of West Hollywood is one of the West Coast’s premiere shopping destinations for luxury fashion and known worldwide for its unprecedented commitment to animal welfare.”

We’re “known worldwide” for how we feel about animals. I invite you to test the latter premise by questioning random passers-by on the street in Cleveland, Lima, and Vladivostok. You can’t even order lunch in Dar es Salaam without the waiter going on and on about how much John Duran loves kittens! We’re famous to everyone in the world, and let’s duck into that stall and do another line — it’ll remind us how important we are.

Fourth sentence, with emphasis added: “The West Hollywood City Council also directed staff to work with the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, the West Hollywood Visitors and Convention Bureau, the Sunset Strip Business Association and the Avenues – Art, Fashion and Design District as well as local businesses and non-profit organizations to develop a strategic plan to establish and promote West Hollywood as a destination for the humane movement including cruelty-free fashion shows and conferences.”

So not a single word about how the law will be enforced, but three sentences in a row about how famous we are and the process by which we’re going to figure out how to market the new ordinance so that more and more people will look at us, look at us look at us! We don’t know what we’re doing, exactly, but look at it!

Cocaine logic at its best. This isn’t a law; it’s a tourism billboard that will occupy a symbolic place in the municipal code. Is there someone out there in West Hollywood selling fur today who won’t be selling fur anymore once the ordinance takes effect? Uh, visit the Sunset Strip!

More seriously, we’re headed for the one-year anniversary of the Guys and Dolls shooting. You’ll remember, I hope, that the coward who pulled the trigger that night took the life of a valet parking employee whose family was standing nearby because they had come to pick him up at the end of his shift. Gabriel Camaro died in front of his wife and son, shot down in the street merely because he went to work that night.

Eleven months later, no one has been arrested for that murder. Last Tuesday, I asked the city’s director of public safety about the status of the investigation. Her complete initial response: “I do not believe an arrest has been made, but I have asked for an update and will let you know.” The director of public safety had to ask to discover the status of the unsolved murder, less than a year old, in our small city.

Later, I asked her if the city council had offered a reward for information leading to the arrest of the murderer. I already knew the answer: the city’s silence has been defeaning. I invite you to search the city website for the name of the murder victim, so you can see for yourself the “your search produced no results” screen. But then here’s everything the public safety director said in response to my question about a city-sponsored reward:

“I don’t believe Homicide has asked for that at this time.”

She doesn’t believe the Sheriff’s Department has asked for a reward, la-di-da. And, man, how could the mere West Hollywood City Council ever take initiative about something as picayune as an unsolved murder in the city they govern? After all, they’re busy: they have fur-trimmed collars to symbolically ban for promotional purposes so that people will look at us.

I couldn’t quite bring myself to believe that a city government could take such wan interest in such a callous crime, so I took an extra step to check the evidence: last week, I used the Public Records Act to ask for all of the documents available at City Hall regarding the effort to solve the Guys and Dolls murder. I asked for written communication between city staff and the Sheriff’s Department, and I asked for the city’s internal messages and memoranda. I expected to be told that the city had materials that were responsive to the request, but that most were exempt from disclosure because they related to an active police investigation. But that wasn’t the response at all.

Instead, the city clerk’s office responded quickly and politely, as they always do, but with a surprising message: “We have done a complete and thorough search of our records and we have no records on file that meet the criteria of your request.”

A man was shot to death in our city in front of his family, but our city government doesn’t have a single piece of paper about it. The city will surely say that this is Sheriff’s Department business, and it is. But you’ll recall Lindsey Horvath’s campaign claim that she had used her leverage as a councilmember to push the Sheriff’s Department to get unfinished rape kits to the crime lab for testing. The city can push when it wants to; when it doesn’t push, it doesn’t want to. What does it say when it doesn’t want to?

Cocaine governance. Public policy that misses most of the big stuff, because it’s hopelessly caught up in a meaningless stream of symbols and gestures to which no weight can legitimately be attached. But, uh, hey, anyway, let’s buy an automated parking garage! We’ll have one of the very first ones west of the Mississippi! Just think of how much everyone will be talking about us! They’ll all be looking at us and and and we’ll be so important and, uh, and everybody will be looking at us!

Will it work? Whatever. That part isn’t worth discussing, because the thing will just cost $13 million — as always, we can just save the details for later. 

Chris Bray is a PhD candidate at UCLA, and a former soldier and journalist. He has lived in Weho for eight years.

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Opinion: West Hollywood's 'Cocaine Governance', 4.5 out of 5 based on 8 ratings

What do you think?

6 Comments

  1. KC says:

    BRILLIANT. Thank you for this opinion Mr. Bray. I look forward to others you write in the future. Keep it up. Weho Patch, please continue publishing these opinions. The policies and politics in this city are out of control. Where are the salaries of ALL of the public officials? Who in public office in weho (past/present) is getting a corner office in the red building of the PDC? Why do we need an automated parking garage in city hall? Viva la revolucion!

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  2. KC says:

    The guys and dolls murder un resolved? that does not make me feel safe, at all.

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  3. Jeremiah Tolan says:

    Why do you hate animals so much?

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  4. Sam says:

    Great article, and to Jeremiah Tolan, you missed the point dear. Put on you good pumps next time when reading.

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  5. Fluffy says:

    As I have never been a drug user, cocaine or otherwise, I don’t understand the connection. But, that aside, the writer makes a point. Proclamations about West Hollywood and how wonderfully sensitive it is to all fish and fauna are touching but as the writer states, unsupported by proper law and enforcement.
    It’s silliness and “feel good” politics, and it is boring.

    I love the larger point abou the slain valet. Fact is, he is not amongst the protected class in West Hollywood. If he were gay or lesbian, and of one of the esteemed victim classes, this would be a cause celeb for Abbe and John H.
    He was just another faceless brown man, unknown and frankly, not important to sustaining the cause of “victimhood”.
    Doubtful that he’ll have an intersection named in his honor.
    Fact is, all crime is hate based, regardless of color, creed, sexuality.
    But for a nameless valet, no need to bother with the politics of murder.

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  6. JG says:

    Wow – Great! One of the best opinion pieces I’ve read for a long time. I hope Chris Bray continues to write. Most of all, I hope that there are many other people who share his opinions on the state of WeHo government. I know I do, but based on the results of the last election, it seems that WeHo residents are fine with Abbe L & John H., as hard as that is for me to believe.

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