W. Hollywood Mayor Vows to Build Housing for the Needy

Times Staff Writer

Newly installed West Hollywood Mayor Alan Viterbi said Monday that creating affordable housing will be his first priority for the city, where one resident in three makes no more than $10,000 a year.

"Affordable housing is a nice term . . . like motherhood, apple pie and Chevrolet," he said. "This year we must stop making it a catch phrase for our election campaigns and create for it a meaningful set of policies."

Speaking at a brief City Council meeting before his catered kosher inauguration party at a nearby bank, Viterbi praised outgoing Mayor Stephen Schulte for being arrested at a demonstration in Washington to protest the Reagan Administration's policies on AIDS.

"Steve is participating in a very important act of civil disobedience to protest the shamefully low level of AIDS research," Viterbi said. "We understand he's been given a $50 fine for his good efforts."

A crowd of about 400 in the auditorium of West Hollywood Park applauded and cheered.

Viterbi praised Schulte and previous Mayor John Heilman for their services, but he made no mention of Valerie Terrigno, who became mayor when the city was founded just over two years ago. Terrigno was forced out of office last year after being convicted of financial misconduct in a previous job.

Members of the City Council take turns being mayor, a largely ceremonial post that brings with it the advantages of increased publicity.

In his speech, which was larded with wisecracks, Viterbi thanked his colleagues "and the unwitting citizens of West Hollywood for entrusting me with this honor."

After more jokes in which his colleagues suggested that anybody but Viterbi should be given the post, the vote was 4 to 0 to name him mayor. Councilman Helen Albert, a retired teacher, was named mayor pro tem.

Viterbi will soon leave his job as executive director of a Jewish community organization to devote this summer to city business and to complete his master's thesis. He is the city's fourth mayor and the first who is not homosexual.

Community activists have estimated that 25% to 30% of West Hollywood residents are gay or lesbian. However, in spite of the attention focused on the city because of its homosexual population, rent control has dominated city politics since incorporation.

In his speech, Viterbi pledged to continue enforcement of the city's strict rent control ordinance. He also said the city would fight any legal challenge to rent control in the Legislature and in the courts.

But he also said that the city will have to allocate more funds to a newly created Community Housing Corp. and encourage developers to build low-cost and moderately priced housing if it is to come to terms with the high cost of housing.

'Not Easy Decisions'

"These are not easy decisions to make, but if you wish to truly accomplish something in this arena, we must tackle them head on," he said, warning that any increase in the number of rental units would be controversial because of concerns about increased population density and traffic.

With a population of 37,000 in an area of 1.96 square miles, West Hollywood is already one of the most densely populated cities in the state.

Although it has a glitzy reputation because of its proximity to Hollywood and Beverly Hills, an estimated 35% of its households get by on incomes of less than $10,000 a year. These include senior citizens, who make up about a quarter of the population; Russian immigrants, some of whom live on county welfare payments, and unemployed actors, actresses and musicians.

"Many of these people live on fixed incomes and they're getting poorer," said Dan Cohen, the city's housing manager.

With no federal funds available for housing, he said, the city will have to look elsewhere for money to rehabilitate existing buildings and underwrite the construction of new apartments for the city's poorer inhabitants.

The city requires developers to set aside some apartments for low- to moderate-income tenants or pay a fee to the city's housing corporation, but Cohen said additional sources of revenue are needed.

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