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'Doublespeak' in West Hollywood

September 07, 1986

I was very disappointed with Steve Braun's article (Times, Aug. 24) on the plight of West Hollywood's Mary Simonson.

A more accurate headline (than "Landlady Files Suit to Double Rents") would have read: "West Hollywood Suit Discloses Hypocrisy in Rent Law."

Mary Simonson's crime was being too considerate to her tenants for 20 years. Under West Hollywood's law, in her retirement, she is forced to provide huge subsidies to young, working tenants. The sports cars parked on her premises are paid for with Mrs. Simonson's subsidies to her tenants, but they do not belong to Mrs. Simonson.

When it sought rent control, the Coalition for Economic Survival bused in elderly tenants from all over the area to make the argument that elderly (people) on fixed incomes must be protected. "We need fair housing policies," they said.

The point in the Simonson case is not she needs to raise her rents "all the way to $350." The important point here is to expose to the thinking public the Orwellian "doublespeak" in which the city of West Hollywood engages.

Your article cites Assistant City Atty. (Rochelle) Brown as saying that Mrs. Simonson did not receive an increase because she did not prove she was denied a fair return. Brown failed to note that the "fair return" she was denied is the city's (i.e. the CES's) definition of fair return, under which no owner has ever been found lacking. (The message to owners in other cities is clear. Raise your rents as much as you can now, because being kind to tenants will cost you dearly when the storm troopers get to your town.)

The CES's (leader) was present during Mrs. Simonson's hearing. It was one of the few times he attended a commission session. He sneered reminders to the rent control commissioners that he did not want the rent control law "weakened." (So much for his concern for the elderly.) After the hearing, Rent Stabilization Commissioner Doug Routh, who is second in command at the CES, said Mrs. Simonson could not be poor, because she owned a building. (Again, the CES's definition.) He denied taking her equity; she could always sell her building. It was distressing to learn that despite his intelligence, Doug Routh's bias had prevented him from learning that West Hollywood's law makes her building practically worthless.

West Hollywood is engaged in a vicious charade. The city says that (it is) fair, but (its) definition of fairness is what the CES dictates as fair. Concern for the elderly is voiced, but it is only political theater.

Proof of (the city's) "doublespeak" is provided by City Atty. Michael Jenkins. When he says, "They (landlords) are constantly taking adversarial positions when we ought to be sitting down and developing ways by which we can all live with this law," he means "Be a good victim, resisting is no use, learn to do things our way."

To Mike Jenkins I say, "I do not want to live under your punitive, insulting, 'controls.' " Perhaps if there was an owner on the council, on the rent board, anywhere in city government, I might listen, but tenants dictating housing policy is like children dictating a school curriculum. West Hollywood's "leaders" either do not understand, or worse, do not care that their politically expedient law is destroying West Hollywood's housing supply, most of which is over 50 years old, that their policies create hatred and discord in the community, that they dry up the housing available for the elderly, and on and on. These policies are motivated by politics, not by what is best for the community, and owners, who, unlike renters (and the entire City Council) have invested in the community, have an obligation to resist!

Perhaps because my grandparents fled Austria when they were selectively isolated as a minority, I grew up with fear and loathing for a government that follows one set of rules for one group and another set for a selected minority group. I have heard all my life about government officials who tell the oppressed to stop fighting and, in Jenkins' words, "live with (the) law."

Mr. Jenkins, I say to you and those whose self-serving and hateful policies your "good soldiers" carry out: Never again. Never again. Never, never again.

JOEL SILVERMAN

Beverly Hills

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