West Hollywood is considering adding $1 million in new taxes on businesses and doubling the annual $48 rent registration fee as part of a proposed $40.8-million city budget.
As drafted, the budget being considered by the City Council for the fiscal year that began July 1 calls for West Hollywood to spend almost $12 million more than last year, an increase of 26%.
However, City Manager Paul Brotzman characterized the budget Wednesday as "essentially a hold-the-line document." He said it contains only modest increases in operational expenses, and most new spending would be earmarked to help finance a long-planned civic center and other capital improvements.
"We think it is an essentially hold-the-line document that reflects very little in the way of expansion of city services, while addressing the city's capital improvement needs," he said.
The budget includes $5.8 million to help finance the controversial civic center in West Hollywood Park and an additional $2.5 million to purchase most of the remaining median strip along Santa Monica Boulevard. The city wants to gain jurisdiction over the land held by the Southern Pacific Land Co. and several private individuals.
It also contains $925,000 to establish a comprehensive permanent shelter for the homeless in an abandoned warehouse on the city's east side, and $450,000 to help operate the center, which is scheduled to open early next year.
A public hearing is scheduled for Monday, with the City Council expected to approve the budget in its final form on July 17.
The business license tax proposal and the increased rent registration fee have already raised the ire of business owners and landlords who would be the most affected.
Any business tax would require council approval, but no specific way of implementing it has been prepared. Several members of the council have expressed enthusiasm for using such a tax to finance the construction of several new public parking garages.
The city's lack of public parking has long been a sore spot with the business community.
Although the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce supports the idea of a tax to help solve the parking crunch, other business people, especially the owners of small businesses on the city's east side who do not see themselves gaining much from the plan, are opposed.
"A lot of mom and pop operations are barely making it already. They're the ones who can least afford the burden of a new tax," said Michael Radcliffe of the West Hollywood Community Alliance. The group has 120 members, many of them not affiliated with the chamber.
Meanwhile, landlords are opposed to the plan to double the annual rent registration fee, which would raise $900,000 in new revenue and make the Department of Rent Stabilization self-sufficient.
Although tenants pay the existing fee, any increase approved by the largely pro-tenant City Council would probably fall on the shoulders of the landlords.
"We're violently opposed to the fee increase, because they're going to try to stick it to the owners for the entire $48 (increase)," said Grafton Tanquary, who heads West Hollywood Concerned Citizens, a landlord group. "The (rent registration) law is designed clearly to benefit the tenants. The owners don't want it. Why should we be asked to pay for it?"
As drafted, the budget has also upset some gay rights activists for failing to allocate funds for a seven-member Public Safety Commission, approved by the City Council in April.
Among other things, the panel would hear complaints from gays and others who claim abuses by Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies.
Although the council voted unanimously to create the commission, several council members approved the panel reluctantly, saying they did not want it to become merely a forum for disgruntled citizens to complain about the Sheriff's Department.
Last week, Councilman John Heilman suggested naming representatives of a Sheriff's Department-sponsored Neighborhood Watch program to the commission. Mayor Abbe Land has said she wants to reduce the number of commissioners to five.
"If what they're talking about is downscaling it, it sounds like a sellout to the sheriff's lobby," said Steve Smith, a gay rights activist and a member of the Planning Commission.
Councilman Steve Schulte, who has been particularly critical of the Sheriff's Department, has advocated a commission appointed by council members that would include gay activists.
Brotzman said the lack of funding for the panel "reflects the fact that no new initiatives were included in the budget. . . . The thinking was that, if the council wanted to add (funding for) new initiatives, it could look for other areas of the budget to cut back."
However, the budget proposes $97,000 to pay for a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department community relations officer. The Sheriff's Department provides law enforcement in West Hollywood. Among other things, the community relations officer would serve as a liaison with the gay community.