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Controversial Planner Quits West Hollywood Post for Campaign Job

November 12, 1987|MATHIS CHAZANOV | Times Staff Writer

Having withstood a firestorm of criticism for his public comments as a member of the West Hollywood Planning Commission, Peter Weinberger resigned last week and has taken a job with a congressional campaign in Illinois.

"I've been negotiating with these people for a long time and I was pretty confident I would get the job," said Weinberger. "So if I wanted to, I could have just gone and stepped down quietly from the Planning Commission."

Instead, he went through an evening of public criticism at a Nov. 2 City Council meeting that ended with opponents withdrawing a motion to recall him when it became clear that Mayor Alan Viterbi would stand by his appointee.

"The point had to be made and we had to show these people who are just playing politics and want to silence opposition in this town," Weinberger said Monday, the day before his departure.

"This is not the way this town should be run," he said. "People should be encouraged to speak their minds when they see something wrong. I hope other people will follow my example and speak up when they see bad decision-making and unfairness."

Weinberger, 26, sparked the imbroglio when he said that the City Council was motivated by racism and fear of mob violence when it heeded neighbors' concerns and blocked an Iranian-born developer from going ahead with a development project on the Sunset Strip.

Three City Council members and a likely City Council candidate called on Viterbi to remove him from office, saying that Weinberger had insulted the council and the city.

Viterbi defended Weinberger's record, while acknowledging that the commissioner may have been off-base in his charges of racism. Under city rules, a commissioner cannot be removed without the agreement of the City Council member who made the appointment.

"I think the process we went through was an important one, because we made a statement that commissioners cannot, or at least should not, be removed for their views," Viterbi said this week.

While critics said they were concerned that Weinberger's attitude was discouraging people from testifying in public, Viterbi dismissed that as "a cover-up for the attack on his views."

"Peter was outspoken in his attitudes, but it was always directly related to policy issues," Viterbi said. "Peter won't mince words the way a lot of people in the political process will."

Viterbi said he has not yet picked a new appointee for the Planning Commission, which is hammering out a general plan that will help determine the shape of West Hollywood for the next several decades.

He said he will review the files of people who have applied in the past to serve on city boards, hoping to name the new commissioner at a City Council meeting on Monday.

Cheered by Departure

Opponents said they were cheered by Weinberger's departure.

"I don't particularly think we've run this man out of town, but I'm glad he's resigned and I'm glad the controversy is over and we can get on with business," said City Council Member Abbe Land.

"As it got towards the end there, I felt his attitude and his behavior were getting in the way of commission business," she said. "People have to feel comfortable to come up and speak, and that's real important. I don't feel Peter was giving out that impression."

City Council Member John Heilman said he wished Weinberger well, "but I wish whoever replaces him will be more sensitive to the community."

Weinberger, whose previous political experience was largely in direct-mail fund-raising, said he will be the key organizer for a Democratic campaign to unseat a one-term Republican incumbent in a Chicago suburb.

"I wanted the congressional people to let me stick around through the general plan process, but we've got a fund-raising event scheduled in four weeks and we've got to get some money in the bank right away," he said.

"I feel kind of sad to leave this in the middle," Weinberger said. "I wouldn't if I didn't have to."

Jeff Richmond, chairman of the Planning Commission, said any appointee will find it hard to catch up with the rest of the board in order to take part in deliberations on the general plan.

The new commissioner would have to listen to eight hours of tapes of public hearings and read a stack of letters and official reports in order to be legally qualified to vote on the proposed plan, he said.

"I suppose they could do it if Alan makes the appointment Monday night and they immerse themselves in it," he said.

Difficult Majority

With Weinberger's seat vacant, it may be difficult to secure a majority among the six remaining members on some issues, he said.

While he declined to comment on the public criticism of Weinberger's behavior, Richmond credited him for focusing on the need for construction of new, affordable housing in the city.

"He argued very strongly for policies that would allow sufficient future density (of population)," Richmond said. "He also encouraged the adoption of design guidelines that encourage buildings to be more oriented to the street rather than the inside."

Weinberger said the newly incorporated city has failed to provide affordable housing in West Hollywood, where concerns about increased traffic and congestion are frequently cited in arguments about whether to approve the building of new apartments.

"I think a lot of revenue that was going to other parts of the county is staying in West Hollywood now because of incorporation," Weinberger said. "We have a moral obligation to provide housing to people who need it, and that's the city's greatest failing so far.

"The city is great on proclamations of human rights for everybody, but when it comes to the brass tacks of providing for human needs, we've fallen short because of petty politics, and it's really pathetic."

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