By Eric Ruble
David Wilson (MUP ‘99) is making a big impact on a small city. As West Hollywood’s new city manager, he is working to overcome challenges exacerbated by the pandemic. The USC Price School of Public Policy alumnus says he is doing so by making responsible fiscal decisions and encouraging community-centric development.
Wilson graduated from USC Price when it was still called the School of Policy, Planning, and Development. With his degree in Urban and Regional Planning, he began working at a nonprofit organization but quickly realized it wasn’t a good fit.
“We spent most of our time raising money and not doing the things that I wanted to do, like building housing and creating jobs,” he said.
Wilson returned to a place where he once interned: the City of West Hollywood. In the 22 years since, he has served the city of 36,000 people through roles including budget manager, finance director and assistant city manager. In July 2021, he officially became city manager after being appointed by City Council.
“While it’s been a long time at one organization, I’ve done a lot of different things. And that’s really what’s kept me here,” he shared.
Completely surrounded by Los Angeles and Beverly Hills, West Hollywood’s 1.9-square-mile footprint belies its influence in the region as a center for culture and business. When Wilson became its city manager, he immediately began working on plans to build the local economy after the losses it has suffered during the pandemic.
“I’m concerned with where we are in the recovery – both for staff and for the financial recovery of the city – so I think it was the perfect role for me during this time,” he said.
One of his biggest priorities is addressing the City’s financial challenges.
“We’ve been fortunate as a city to have large reserves but we can’t afford to lose that much,” he said. “Recovering those reserves is a major priority right now.”
During the City’s mid-year budget update on Feb. 22, Wilson reported that due to cost-saving measures and the local economy beginning to recover sooner than expected, the actual deficit for the prior two years was $15 million – down from $25 million. Additionally, the projected deficit for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2022 was updated to an additional $4 million – down from $10 million. The City will also receive $9 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to help fund pandemic recovery efforts, which will also further reduce the overall deficit.
Wilson grew up less than a mile from USC’s University Park campus. When he was looking for a master’s program to boost his ability to serve his community, he turned to USC Price for its flexibility and faculty.
“The thing that I really liked about the Price School and USC was adjunct professors and having people come in with real, practical experience.”
And while he wasn’t in the real estate program, he was able to take real estate development classes which broadened his understanding of the field.
“It was learning that practical experience of working with the development community and really building cities. I think the theory is important as well, but really getting your hands into doing the work is what I found important and part of why I selected to go there,” Wilson said.
Today, development is one of the principal aspects of Wilson’s work.
People move to West Hollywood for its exceptional quality of life: vibrant nightlife, top-rated restaurants and walkable neighborhoods. But like many urban areas, the city has become unaffordable for many. Wilson says he wants to work with developers to build more housing and drive down costs.
“[Development] has helped our city grow. It’s part of why we thrive. It’s a place that people want to be, which I think is a great problem to have. But it is a problem because it does squeeze people out as well,” he said.
Wilson is an optimist. While he understands the issues facing the city, he also knows what it will take to overcome them. He plans to use his extensive firsthand experience in the city’s government – built upon a foundation of knowledge he acquired at Price – to continue fighting for residents in his new role.
“It’s going to be a big challenge. I’m looking forward to it.”