Some Say City Has Been Portrayed 'to Make Us Look Like Crazies' : After Year in Spotlight, W. Hollywood Decides Its Image Needs Polish

Times Staff Writer

Concerned that West Hollywood's public image has been harmed after a year of media attention, the city government is on the verge of doing some image-making of its own.

A committee of business leaders and city officials has been working in recent months with a private consultant to develop strategies to alter the city's image. Although their work is far from completed, committee members expect to recommend the creation of a nonprofit corporation, jointly run by the city and the business community, to emphasize the city's attractions.

"What we want to do is portray West Hollywood as an attractive, vital place," said City Manager Paul Brotzman. "We have to communicate to the world what's available here."

Brotzman, other city officials and business leaders said that message has not been getting out during the past year. Instead, they complain, the media has focused most of its coverage on the city's homosexual minority (estimated at 25% to 30% of the city's 37,000 residents) and its accompanying human rights issues, the AIDS crisis and the City Council's political and personality squabbles.

'Qualities Being Ignored'

"The special qualities that make this city unique are being ignored," said Ronald S. Kates, an influential real estate broker and member of the Council's Ad Hoc Promotional and Marketing Task Force, which has been looking at image-improvement programs.

Concern has been expressed by some business leaders that continuing media preoccupation with the city's highly visible homosexual population, at a time when public fears about AIDS have been heightened, could lead to losses in business.

Brotzman said that the city's revenues from sales and transiency taxes continued to increase last year, indicating that restaurants, hotels and shops in West Hollywood had not suffered appreciably because of AIDS fears. "Yet there were a number of reports that talked about isolated drops in business among some of our restaurants because of AIDS," he said. "How does a city defend itself in situations like that?"

City officials say the West Hollywood City Council has become a sounding board for any issue that involves homosexuals. One official told of a local television crew that showed up during a City Council meeting last year to interview Mayor John Heilman about gay bath houses in West Hollywood. "In fact, there weren't any bath houses in West Hollywood," the official said. "But they came to us anyway."

"I think the city has an image of an offbeat community," said Richard Rosenzweig, executive vice president of Playboy Enterprises, which maintains its western headquarters on Sunset Boulevard. "There are good elements of that, when people look at us as kind of a Left Bank of Los Angeles. But there have been times when that has been exploited to make us look like crazies."

Members of the city's promotional task force say the city has to take steps to protect its image. "What we want to do is to show this city's attributes to the world," Kates said.

Those attributes, according to committee members, include the city's thriving design industry, high-profile restaurants, art galleries, recording studios and nightclubs.

"The concern is that people only know a part of West Hollywood," Brotzman said. "Maybe they know about some of the controversies. But they don't know that we have as many as 200 restaurants in two square miles, including some of the finest of the world. Or that we are the heart of the music industry and the design industry."

Working Together

To change those perceptions, a consultant hired to analyze the city's image problems has recommended that the city create a nonprofit "entity" to promote its strong points in "multi-year positive media campaigns," which could be reviewed and updated every few years.

"What we think is necessary is for the city and its business community to work together on the city's image," said David Wilcox, of Economic Research Associates, the consulting firm. "We think it needs to be done quickly."

Wilcox has recommended that the nonprofit corporation carry out a campaign emphasizing West Hollywood as a "creative city," emphasizing its design, music, entertainment and restaurant industries. The firm has also suggested that the city consider promoting four distinct districts within its boundaries.

In one district, the Sunset Strip area, the city would promote its nightclubs and music industry offices. In the eastern portion of Santa Monica Boulevard, the city would promote the Warner Hollywood film studios. A third district would focus on the commercial strip along the western portion of Santa Monica Boulevard. And a fourth district would feature the design shops of Melrose Avenue, Beverly Boulevard and Robertson Avenue.

Committee 'Receptive'

"We still haven't come to full agreement on the district concept," Wilcox said. "But I think the committee's been receptive."

All of these plans, in the end, depend on the reception of the City Council. Viterbi, who chairs the council's economic development subcommittee, said the city's preoccupation with image is crucial to its financial health.

"At least 50% of our revenues come from the business community," he said. "We want to be sure they're doing well so that we do well."

In the coming year, city officials hope to obtain a high bond rating. Faced with the prospect of eventually having to build a new City Hall and off-site parking structures that could cost as much as $250 million, city officials have already begun discussions with financial analysts.

"Sooner or later, we're going to want to secure bonds to pay for municipal projects," Brotzman said. "A city's image and its bond rating are not completely tied. But I wouldn't be surprised if the better the general perception of the community, the better our bond rating turns out to be."

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