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They'll Be Home for Christmas in West Hollywood

December 11, 1986|STEPHEN BRAUN | Times Staff Writer

'There was a growing sense that West Hollywood was out of step with the rest of the country. Now we've righted things. So much for the Grinch law.'

--Mayor Stephen Schulte

The West Hollywood City Council has recovered its Christmas spirit, voting Monday to restore the holiday as an officially recognized day of celebration.

The 4-1 vote rescinds a controversial council decision in August, 1985, that eliminated Christmas as a city holiday and kept City Hall open last Dec. 25. The 1985 decision was disparaged by some residents as the "Grinch law," named after the fictional Dr. Seuss villain who had a pronounced aversion to Christmas.

The council's new ruling will close city offices this Christmas, although city employees who do not want to observe the holiday will be allowed to work that day. "We're returning the city to the way it was before the (earlier) vote," City Manager Paul Brotzman said. "All that's really changing is that City Hall will now be closed to the public."

Floating Days Retained

One aspect of the council's earlier vote remains unchanged, however. When council members voted in 1985 to eliminate Christmas as a city holiday, they gave city employees 4 1/2 floating holidays each year. That system will remain in effect, with workers using one of those days if they choose to take Christmas off.

The council's reversal was sought by Mayor Stephen Schulte, who had originally voted to do away with Christmas as a city holiday but later saw his vote as an error. "There was a growing sense that West Hollywood was out of step with the rest of the country and unnecessarily so," Schulte said. "Now we've righted things. So much for the Grinch law."

Schulte was backed by council members Helen Albert and John Heilman, and by newly installed council member Abbe Land, who said she felt that the city's image had been tarnished by the earlier Christmas vote. "It was one of those things that people have used to point their fingers at us," Land said. "I think we should be in conformance with other cities."

The only council member opposing the measure was Alan Viterbi, who introduced the original ordinance that eliminated Christmas as a city holiday.

"I think this is a mistake on the council's part," he said. "We're compromising our principles."

Legal Flaws Found

Viterbi proposed the original ordinance after City Atty. Michael Jenkins found legal flaws in an earlier council decision that made the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur a city holiday. Told that the city could not close its offices on Yom Kippur, Viterbi asked the council to allow the city government to operate on all religious holidays--including Christmas.

Viterbi said he was aware of recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings which established that Christmas could be celebrated as a national holiday because it had come to be observed as a secular holiday. But he insisted that Christmas is a religious holiday and not a secular one.

"This may be a 200-year-old mistake," he said, referring to the long-standing celebration of Christmas as an American national holiday, "but there's always time to change it."

Viterbi said he thought the council's reversal would lend credibility to recent efforts by fundamentalist groups to pressure the city into restoring Christmas as a city holiday. "To cave into the fundamentalists was an error," he said. "By reversing ourselves, we're sending out a message that we've backed down."

Christians Prayed

Although Schulte and other council members scoffed at that concern, a born-again Christian legal secretary who led the effort to restore Christmas said she believes that fundamentalist and other religious groups did make a difference.

"I think we did have an impact," said the secretary, Kathy Wagner. "We wrote letters and we prayed. The Lord overrules man's power when he wants something done."

But council members said that one effort to mount a fundamentalist boycott against city stores had no effect. West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce President Tony Melia said he had received a letter from a group calling itself "Christian Unity" that urged fundamentalist Christians to boycott city stores if Christmas were not restored as a city holiday.

Melia and several council members said they did not take the boycott threat seriously. And Wagner added that neither she nor other fundamentalist groups who responded to her calls were involved with the boycott threat.

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