A Fur Free West Hollywood
by David Walega
West Hollywood, CA, 2012
The West Hollywood City Council made history last November with a first ever city-wide ban on the sale of garments made from the skin or pelt of animals’ hair, wool or fur. In an unprecedented vote, the council passed Ordinance No. 11-877 on November 21st, 2011.
In an exclusive interview, City Councilmember John D’Amico spoke with Art for Animals’ Sake (AFAS).
The first term Councilmember proposed the ban, including it in his election campaign. D’Amico, a long time resident of West Hollywood, listened to his supporters when making the decision to run. “I never thought of this as a statement about punishment or a statement about telling people what to do. It’s clear that in some cases two doors away, people can buy fur, but, you have to make that walk and you have to choose to go to a place that is different than this place. For me, that is where the conceptual trumps the actual. When you ask why my campaign took this on as an issue, I think that very often conceptual ideas are much more profoundly impacting than the actual experience.” The constituents in West Hollywood were apparently ready for this change and showed their support in his election. ” Many people in West Hollywood, I would venture 95% or more, have never bought fur, they never will buy fur, they never would. So this is just an idea that is already complementary or consistent with the way they live. And the other 5%, they understand.”
This small city nestled in greater Los Angeles is known as a leader in animal compassion, consistently passing legislation to support animal welfare. “There’s a long line of these sorts of thoughtful interventions on behalf of animals in West Hollywood starting back in 1989 when the city decided that it would be a ‘cruelty free’ place for animals.” Resolution 558 banned cosmetic testing on animals and steel leg-hold traps. The municipality was also first in passing bans on the de-clawing of cats, recognizing animals as ‘companions’ to their ‘guardian’ counterparts, supporting Proposition 2 which prohibited the confinement of farm animals, and successfully halting the retail sale of dogs and cats in city pet stores. “I understand that this is rather controversial. It comes down to one clear thinking sentence, which is we don’t want to be a city that supports the raising of animals that get killed just for fashion.” D’Amico concludes, ”I think that there is a place in which raising animals for their fur just for fashion, is just not the place we want to be.”
AFAS spoke with Bryan Monell, senior investigator at Last Chance for Animals (LCA), a Los Angeles based organization. The organization was an active supporter of the ban, organizing rallies and drawing local support. LCA has received worldwide attention as a result. “We were covered by news organizations from all over the world. As a direct result of the campaign, countless people and media outlets around the globe wrote about and spoke about fur.“
The recent move has come as a welcome surprise to animal rights activists, however some local businesses see the ordinance's passage as a direct threat to their future. The West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce opposed the ban, stating that the city council ignored a commissioned economic impact study by the Hollywood based Fur Information Council of America (FICA). The impact study reported that 49 % of local clothing businesses would be detrimentally affected. The city is launching its own study which will be available in the near future. D’Amico confides “Admittedly, there are some number of retailers, but it's a small number, that will be affected, but I think the [positiv]) impact has been quite large. The stories in the New York Times, The London Daily News and papers in Milan and even this website (AFAS), people are interested at all different levels to know about our situation.”
Citing that the sale of fur products are of minimal importance to overall revenues, the gesture of pulling such garments from their stock could actually improve the image of local businesses. As Monell indicated during our interview, “At Last Chance for Animals and at Fur Free WeHo we have received several calls and notes from people saying they are now going to support and shop in West Hollywood because of the fur ban. These are people who are driving in from other parts of Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, and surrounding areas.” The ban will go into effect September 21st, 2013, which will allow retailers time to cease purchasing any more fur products and sell their remaining stock.
While the economic impact of the ordinance may be debated for years to come, the dialogue created by its passage has brought the practices of the fur trade to the consciousness of people all over the world. Monell remains hopeful that the precedent will have a lasting effect and be adopted by other cities. “West Hollywood gave hope to the rest of the civilized compassionate world that indeed it is possible to ban fur and to stand up for what is right.” D’Amico agrees, saying ”I feel strongly this is very exciting and a very thoughtful way of thinking about the kinds of impact we can have both materially and conceptually.”