A dispute simmering between West Hollywood and Los Angeles County officials over the city's attempts to add an anti-discrimination clause to its contract with the Sheriff's Department was temporarily eased last week when city officials agreed to sign the contract without the controversial passage.
But the rift over the county's official attitude toward West Hollywood's large homosexual population may have clouded future relations between the city and the Sheriff's Department. And at least one exasperated City Council member said that if a compromise is not reached, he would be interested in the prospect of building a city-administered police department.
"We have to say to the county that if they are not willing to change their stand one iota, we are left with little choice but to indicate to them that they are forcing us into a corner," said council member Alan Viterbi, "and that at one point or another--not too far off--we will have to look at contracting with another government agency or providing the service ourselves."
OKd Without Clause
Viterbi's angry comments came last week as the City Council approved a contract with the Sheriff's Department without a clause that would have forced the law enforcement agency to abide by a city ordinance banning discrimination against homosexuals.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday June 6, 1985 Home Edition Westside Part 10 Page 4 Column 1 Zones Desk 2 inches; 58 words Type of Material: Correction
An article in the Times' June 2 Westside edition reported that the West Hollywood City Council voted 3 to 1, with one abstention, to accept a county contract with the Sheriff's Department but add a letter requesting changes in county contracts that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. In fact, the 3-1 vote was to send the letter to the county; the council voted unanimously to accept the contract.
The council had inserted the clause into the county contract a month ago as part of its attempts to legislate against all forms of discrimination. Although the county has nondiscrimination ordinances, they do not include specific protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation in their standard contract language.
The clause proposed by the City Council would have banned any discrimination in hiring based on "sexual orientation" and required the county "to comply with city and government regulations and affirmative action responsibilities."
But county officials rejected the clause, claiming they could not cater to West Hollywood's demands without reworking their contracts with 35 other cities that also pay for police services from the Sheriff's Department.
In a letter sent two weeks ago to West Hollywood officials, Sheriff Sherman Block and county Chief Administrative Officer James Hankla said they would not recommend Board of Supervisors approval of the "modified law enforcement contracts."
Last Wednesday, the West Hollywood City Council voted 3 to 1 with one abstention to accept the county's contract, but add a letter that, according to Viterbi, "says we do not find this a good long-term solution." Voting in favor were Viterbi, Steve Schulte and Mayor Valerie Terrigno. Councilwoman Helen Albert was opposed and John Heilman abstained.
Later that day, Schulte and Terrigno, along with City Manager Paul Brotzman, met with Block and his aides. The council members left the session cautiously optimistic that the dispute had been settled. The two council members said Block had agreed to provide city officials with a new letter reaffirming the department's commitments to honor West Hollywood anti-discrimination laws.
Undersheriff Ted Von Minden, who attended the meeting, said the "meeting was an amicable, exploration-type meeting of each other's objectives." He said Block had agreed to send a letter to the council "reaffirming the nondiscrimination policies of the department."
Minden said he thought any tension between the city and county had been abated. "I don't think there was any real conflict between the entities," he said, adding: "The county can't tailor its contracts to the wishes of every government it does business with. We'd end up with 35 different types of contracts concerning the same subject.'
Terrigno said she came away convinced "it was a significant meeting. I think we're moving in the right direction."
Schulte, who said he wanted assurances that were less vague than Block's earlier letter, was more cautious. He said he preferred to "wait and see what kind of language the sheriff uses in his letter."
Despite the easing of tensions over the current contract, the long-term relations between the city and the Sheriff's Department no longer appear as solid as they were when the city incorporated last November.
Had Close Ties
The Sheriff's Department has traditionally had close ties with West Hollywood's gay community dating back to the mid-1950s, when homosexuals began moving residences and businesses there to escape harassment by the Los Angeles Police Department.
During last year's cityhood drive and council race, relations between sheriff's deputies and West Hollywood's homosexual community were hardly a public issue, overshadowed by concerns about rent control, gay pride and the financial costs of incorporation.