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West Hollywood sheds fur sales

Council's tentative approval irks the Chamber of Commerce and retailers, who say the city did not get enough input from the business community to determine the economic effects of the ban.

September 21, 2011|By Hailey Branson-Potts, Los Angeles Times
  • Chris DeRose, founder of Last Chance for Animals, talks about West Hollywood's ban on fur sales during a news conference at City Hall. With him are City Councilman John D'Amico and Ellen Lavinthal of the animal advocacy group.
Chris DeRose, founder of Last Chance for Animals, talks about West Hollywood's… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)

West Hollywood has long been known for its animal-friendly laws. After all, this is a city where pets are formally recognized as "companions" and their owners as "guardians."

In its latest effort, the City Council on Tuesday tentatively approved an ordinance that would ban the sale of apparel made of fur, making it one of the first municipalities in the country to adopt such a law. The sale of leather would not be included in the ban.

After a boisterous seven-hour hearing, dozens of people crowded into the council chambers rose to their feet in a standing ovation following the panel's vote at 1:15 a.m.

"This was very exciting, and it was unanimous by this brave and thoughtful City Council," Councilman John D'Amico, who promoted the fur ban during his election campaign this year, said after the meeting.

"I am so proud of my city," Ed Buck, a volunteer with Fur Free West Hollywood, said Tuesday. "We've been leaders in animal welfare, and this is just another expression of our values. We are a group of people who express our values in the laws we pass."

But not everyone was pleased. The Chamber of Commerce and retail area The Avenues — Art, Fashion and Design district opposed the ordinance.

Genevieve Morrill, president and chief executive of the chamber, said she received several calls from angry retailers.

"It's pretty heated right now," Morrill said. "People are pretty upset."

The council did not get enough input from the business community to determine the economic effects of the ban, Morrill said, adding that the chamber would have preferred to work with the city to develop alternatives.

"We feel it's not only unconstitutional but arbitrary and capricious, and it's selectively banning products from one industry versus another," she said.

Keith Kaplan, a longtime resident and executive director of the Fur Information Council of America, said the ban runs counter to the city's efforts to establish itself as a fashion destination.

"You cannot be a fashion destination if you cannot represent the designers' full collections of designs in retail establishments," Kaplan said. "There's no truer determination of consumer attitudes than the cash register."

His organization hired a research firm to conduct an economic impact study of a fur ban that will be completed this week, Kaplan said. Retailers told Kaplan they were afraid to speak against the ordinance out of fear of retaliation, he said.

The ordinance would ban the sale of apparel made in whole or part from the pelt of an animal with hair, wool or fur.

The ordinance will be given final approval at a later date. The council must still decide on a start date for the ban and whether it should apply to sales of used clothing. D'Amico proposed next June 30 as a start date.

In the meantime, council members said they would speak with business owners about their concerns.

This isn't the first time the city has taken a stand in defense of animals.

In 1989, the City Council passed a resolution that proclaimed West Hollywood to be a "cruelty-free zone for animals" and banned cosmetic testing on animals and the use of steel leg-hold traps.

In 2003, West Hollywood became the first city in the country to ban cat declawing. Last year, it passed an ordinance prohibiting the retail sale of cats and dogs.

Steven Jay Bernheim, a former resident who founded a public charity aimed at easing animal and human suffering, said he hoped that other cities would follow West Hollywood's example by passing similar laws banning fur sales.

"I think it makes a very important statement to the world, and I think it reflects the will of the people of West Hollywood," he said.

hailey.branson@latimes.com

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