May 30, 1996 - From the May, 1996 issue

Reynolds: West Hollywood as an Urban Village

The West Hollywood City Council recently adopted the award-winning Sunset Specific Plan for the Sunset corridor between L.A. and Beverly Hills, and is now embarking on their first redevelopment project, as well as a new code compliance division. Leading these efforts is the new Director of West Hollywood’s Community Development Department, Ray Reynolds, who joined the City two months ago from Dayton, Ohio.


Ray Reynolds: “(W)e cannot deny that the future of West Hollywood is inextricably tied to the Los Angeles metro area."

Mr. Reynolds, what is it about your new job in West Hollywood that induced you to leave your position as Director of Community Development in the City of Dayton, Ohio? 

I always wanted to live a in larger city, and I had come to a point in my career where I had been the Director of Community Development in Dayton for eight years, and was approaching 50 years of age. I felt that if I didn't make a move now, I probably never would. 

I like West Hollywood. I like the feel of it. I like the ability to live in this huge metroplex, with all the advantages of a city like Los Angeles, and yet be anchored in this village in West L.A. 

When you went through the City's professional selection process, you must have considered the pros­versus-cons of the opportunity in West Hollywood. Can you share any or your private deliberations with our readers? 

Certainly. One of the challenges offered by West Hollywood was the creation of a code compliance division. In Dayton, I had a fairly elaborate housing inspection division which I operated. I was anxious to try my hand at code compliance here. Additionally, I am also looking forward to working with the Planning Commission here. We have just received feedback on the Planning Commission's effectiveness in the city. 

On the negative side, anyone from the Midwest is concerned obviously about the cost of living in Los Angeles. With respect to other relocation negatives, I honestly can't recall any. 

Give our readers a short primer on the specific responsibilities of the Director of Community Development in West Hollywood. 

Community Development, from my way of thinking, is responsible for the look and feel of the place. The look of the place in terms of the planning decisions, the developments that are attracted here through efforts like the Eastside Plan, code compliance, etc. Community Development is the heart and soul of the place.

Following up, urban design has traditionally been a high priority in West Hollywood. Where does design fit into your agenda/priorities, and how do imagine urban design playing a role in the further development of the City? 

The amount of the public participation in public design here in West Hollywood, as well as on much of the West Coast, I'm learning, is at a much higher level than in the Midwest.

I can't represent that urban design is one of my stronger abilities, although it is an interest for me. Perhaps the fact that we are now recruiting an urban designer is an indication of its priority.

Tell our readers about the prospects for a redevelopment project in the City. How does redevelopment fit into your experience and your priorities?

We are beginning to set up the mechanisms right now for Eastside Redevelopment. I have previously worked on a downtown redevelopment project, as well as several industrial projects in Dayton. 

The eastside of the City is just ripe. A small amount of public investment could make a big difference in the future. There is some new investment in that area, and the public sector could help boost confidence. 

What are the City's goals and your intentions for the Sunset Specific Plan and the Sunset Corridor?

One of the attractions for me to West Hollywood was the world-class nature of the place. There is nowhere else in the world like the Sunset Strip—the class of businesses, clubs, restaurants, and corporations is absolutely unique. The Sunset Specific Plan retains that feel on Sunset Blvd. In some places the plans scales back development; in other areas it allows development to be a little more intense. 

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One of our major goals will be to attract and retain businesses in this area. We're already talking to a number of businesses that want to expand. 

Does the Pacific Design Center (PDC) offer possibilities for economic growth in the City? 

I just spoke with PDC representatives last week. We will be working with them over the next few weeks to help in some thinking on the project. There may be alternative uses for some of the floors, such as a conference center or non-design office uses. PDC is very unique and a landmark building—everyone knows about it and wants to visit it.

What are the unique opportunities that exist in small metroplex cities like West Hollywood? What can a Director of Community Development accomplish here that appears less possible in an adjoining jurisdiction like the City of Los Angeles? 

I hear a few things over and over. Developers and realtors who come to the City are amazed at the kind of accessibility they have to the organization. A developer or realtor sitting in a meeting with the City Manager is unheard of in the next largest city. I think we can offer a certain level of accessibility and control that a developer would be unlikely to find in a larger city. 

How are residential versus commercial planning disputes settled in West Hollywood? For example, a dispute recently erupted over City permitting of the restaurant, La Colonial—a bustling new restaurant which encountered opposition from concerned residential neighbors. How did the City approach this dispute and was the approach a sign of the rising political strength of City residents? 

I actually dealt with that issue on my second day here. I see that particular issue as finding a balance between an intense restaurant use and a small compact neighborhood immediately adjacent. We were able to find that balance; we were able to change traffic patterns, move parking, alter the hours. We worked to find the conditions that would mitigate the negative effects on the neighborhood. I think we achieved it. We have the confidence of the neighborhood, of the business owners, and I think that we have found the balance there. 

Economic development by cities is a buzzword right now. What can West Hollywood do in terms of economic development? 

Economic development is much different now than it was in the 1980s. The 1980s were the years of the big real estate deals. The market today is more directed to niches, with much smaller projects. In terms of the Eastside Plan we won't be looking at the large-scale, urban renewal/redevelopment projects that we might have been looking at 10 years ago. 

We also need to retain those businesses we do have. They are really our most important effort. West Hollywood could never recreate what now exists. 

What is the interdependence of West Hollywood with the other local cities and the 900-pound gorilla that is the City of Los Angeles? Is this City tied to the vitality of the other cities, or are you an island in this County? 

There is no way to separate West Hollywood from West Los Angeles or the entire metro Los Angeles area. Our fate is probably more closely tied to Culver City, Beverly Hills, Santa Monica—the cities in West Los Angeles. But we cannot deny that the future of West Hollywood is inextricably tied to the Los Angeles metro area. 

That is not to say, however, that West Hollywood isn't a separate place. We have our own identity, and a strong sense of pride in our cityhood. We have unique ordinances and a unique position in the County. But we need to worry about transportation, the future of Hollywood, downtown and all the rest. 

In closing, let me pose the following question: A year from now, when we return to interview you, what projects do you hope to have completed, or at least have well underway? 

I expect that I will have a code compliance decision in place and operating. I would like to have a good definition and strategy for Eastside redevelopment. I would like to develop a good sense of the image we would like the Planning Commission to have. I expect that we will have streamlined some of our processes to make the department more user-friendly.

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