The Corporate Carnage Continues

All of this is not much different than the raping of our housing market by Wall Street and foreign owned investor-syndicators.They’ve illegally taken over thousands of our rental units and turned them into Airbnb’s. We shouldn’t blame this just on outsiders coming in for their latest kill. Far more despicable is that many of our rental unit losses have been at the hands of powerful local movers and shakers. They have turned entire apartment buildings into quasi hotels and some of them are now being sued by the city attorney.
Out-of-area developers are amplifying our loss. These predators have totally changed the ‘touch and feel’ of the oldest community. They have slapped up two-on-a-lot boxes on many Oakwood streets. They are the slam-bang-thank-you-ma’am kind of developers — they’re in and then they are gone forever on to their next target.

Unlike the local developers of past years, these developers have a clear focus — to make money and lots of it — and get out. They do not have a scintilla of interest in the Venice community. Our city deciders don’t know the word ‘’overbuild’ or understand, or even grasp the concept of mass, scale and character. Pretty much everything gets approved. If the lobbyists prevail, don’t be surprised if Venice’s most important and most congested street is forced to choke down a huge city-block-long hotel. The collateral damage from such a huge project will creep insidiously and permanently into our lives in many, many ways — some will be subtle and some will smack you in the face forever. Place your bets on how long it will be after it gets built before you see a Marriott sign up on the place. That’s where the big bucks lie.

Is there anything anyone can still do to maintain some semblance of our authenticity and uniqueness?  No.

The Mauling of the ‘Coolest Street in America’

Or is it malling? It’s both. And it’s bad.

Neon lights and mall glitz is what has now been inflicted on Venice residents’ most important commercial street. Neon.

When avariciousness runs amok, we get what we just got this month: two mall stores normally found at the likes of the Westside Pavilion or the Santa Monica Promenade just opened for business on the street. We’re talking about the huge Adidas and the ubiquitous shiny Smash Box make-up purveyor. It’s not just the newbie property owners bringing in these corporate mall stores. Those owners who used to see themselves as shepherds of the street have succumbed to the big bucks too. That is just a sweet memory now. The syndicators and the money guys have taken over. This is a takeover by the corporate dis-engaged who don’t know or care about the community they have just settled into. Their trash piles up uncontrolled in the alleys, graffiti remains on their newly painted building, and the sidewalks are mucked up with filth. This benign neglect is on every block where you have a dis-engaged corporate operator — donuts, coffee, makes no difference. They are pretty much all the same. We know corporations have no soul. Around here they are blind too.

It is ironic that the Adidas operation opened in the former space of the most local and community-committed restaurant, Hal’s. Smashbox encamped in the old classic Bountiful space. No Venice funky anything in these two operations. No committed anything in these corporate entities — just young beautiful sales people who are here today and will be gone tomorrow. These two, new shiny objects all replace long gone icons. It is stunner. Anyone who still believes there is a chance in this era of the Snapster to retain some, just some, of the authenticity that made Venice a truly unique local town, forget it.

That Venice is over.

Goodbye Dandelion

When Crayola can kick a color like the beloved ‘dandelion’ to the curb, how can we whine about the oh-so-much less monumental changes in our beloved Venice?

If an iconic crayon color like dandelion can be replaced by some new new — some yet unnamed ‘amazing’ blue, should it worry all believers that no tradition is essential to maintaining culture? Should we be surprised much less alarmed when some soul-less entity kicks (ok, pressures) some old tenant out of her rent-stabilized ocean view apartment for their office demands? Is it just ‘the times?’ Is it just the new new taking its rightful place? If we are no longer Venice but ‘Silicon Beach’ what else should we expect? What else should we accept? Is it true, that we must accept ‘change’ or be left behind? Is it just that we need to ‘get with it.?’

The last piece of authentic Abbot Kinney street culture is counting down to its last day. When Abbot’s Habit closes, we will lose a big chunk of Venice’s heart and soul. This old grungy coffee shop resisted the pressures all these years to doll itself up with some computer-generated millennial decor. There’s NO glitz at Abbot’s. It has remained local in touch and feel, actually serves up decent coffee and honest-to-God real bagels — you won’t find one of those Ralph’s air filled pieces of dough sold at Abbot’s.

Soon we won’t have our authentic eccentric hang-out that welcomed all comers. No longer will you see your neighbor’s dogs tied up outside patiently waiting for a treat. No longer will you experience the true comfort of recognizing person after person early in the morning pass by when you walk over to pick up breakfast or sit down with a cup of coffee and the morning paper. No longer will you get to experience what Venice is all about at its core — a true community with a real sense of place. We’re not The Grove. We are real, not some corporation-generated faux community. Abbot’s Habit is real. You fit right in at Abbot’s, no questions asked — no matter who you are — or what you look like. Everyone may not ‘know your name’ at Abbot’s but you know you belong there. Ask yourselves, where will you go when it closes — where you belong — really belong?

Is change always good? Maybe change is inevitable, but is it good? That is the anthem sung by the landlords, developers and architects as they raise the rents and pitch their over-size built-to-the-max project. Maybe we need to re-write the words to that anthem.

Goodbye Dandelion.

One Step Forward, Two (or Three) Steps Back

Despite challenges from two local residents to unseat the current council person, our councilman gets to continue his benign neglect of Venice for another six years.

There is nothing sexy about our issues. None of them will grab any headlines. They are just the mundane; people camping on sidewalks, selling out of cars and on blankets on the sidewalk, Airbnb’s continue to decimate our housing stock, food trucks are parked illegally all day running their compressors and spewing food smells into homes as they pay the ‘rent’ from that rare parking ticket. Enforcement issues continue to pile up — unenforced. The enforcement issue is very unique in Venice. This couldn’t possibly happen in Brentwood. Their residents wouldn’t put up with the stuff we endure here for a minute. You won’t see a campground on any one of their sidewalks. The scofflaws here are so certain that nothing will happen to them, they continue their creative ways to avoid compliance of city codes, whether it is using property (despite numerous citations) as a moneymaking billboard or a restauranteur determined to avoid compliance with his building permit(s.)

Problems linger and linger. The effort to stop the Bonin-supported land grab of the Sr. Center at Westminster Park for a homeless storage operation continues. Short-term rental syndicates still plunder our housing stock and the ABC is still considering an alcohol license for a so-called ‘bakery’ that slams right up to residences. Alas, the ‘gold rush’ continues. There is so much money being made in Venice now that it is just about blasphemy to speak against our new warlords.

Many individual groups are working to fix things in this community. Not much progress is being made despite lawyer involvement in a multitude of neighborhood struggles. Residents put in endless hours working to protect our quality of life in this town but they are pretty much on their own.

The big money people get what they want in Venice. Snapchat comes to the head of the pack for the antagonism that operation generates. They are like an octopus. Landlords give them other people’s precious parking spaces and they take over entire residential buildings and units for their commercial use. Their quasi-military force is now seen all over Venice. Created to protect the “Snapsters” from the unwashed who might hassle them a bit while at the same time, they claim to like our “culture” and love “being part of the community.” You are what you do and the truth is quite the opposite. They demand protection to live and work here. Their security force, in the minds of many, represents exactly who our super new rich people are. They are our new elite. We call them our eiliterati. They certainly are not Venetians. They eat our food, drink our wine and throw some money around where it shows for PR purposes. They keep the streets around their venues cleaner. But does Venice need theirs or any private security force patrolling our public streets?

They are grazing here.

We need to mention our latest newcomer: Adidas is moving into the old Hal’s restaurant space… they announced their arrival on the front of the building with signs that proclaimed they will be “defining Venice.” Adidas heard the very loud cries of community outrage and quickly removed the signs. Not much more can be said about that huge display of corporate hubris — especially while authentically Venice-grungy Abbot’s Habit is in its final countdown to make room for the next new soulless shiny object.

In the meantime, all that fairy dust will continue to float on our ocean breezes. When it floats out to sea and stays there, what will Venice be left with beside lots of vacant buildings and apartments?

Maybe that will be a good thing.

Is Venice a Myth?

IMG_9176

Maybe there really is no there here — not now — maybe there never was.

Did we just all fall in love with the irascible Venice of our dreams? We imagine ourselves as the unique one — the interesting — the doers — we bask in the idea that we are the vibrant happening town overflowing with artists, one-of-a-kind, seriously intent on cultivating the feeling of being in a real place.

We smugly look at the ‘others’ with sad eyes. They, who hold urgent meetings to deal with a cracked sidewalk. We, the noble ones, superior human beings determined not to be swallowed up in that ‘good life.’ No utopia for us here! We’re Venetians! We thrive on the internecine development fights occurring on a near daily basis. We thrive on the latest outrage inflicted on us by the city. We beat our chests to get the LAPD to take a report about a mugging on ‘the coolest street in America.’ And, we remind you, some schmo just paid 8 million bucks for a tear-down. We can only guess that he thought it was worth the price of admission to drink the best wine, eat the best sushi, crow about the endless new restaurants selling one kind of faux food or another, and who gives a damn if he has to wait a couple of days for the LAPD to get an officer out here to take a police report. Over there, where the sidewalks don’t have a crack, three cop cars respond at once to the most minor crime. The biggest story there is the guy with his RV parked on the driveway for months — who knows, maybe they Airbnb there too. But, we unique ones — we’re tough! We’re tolerant. We’re patient. We’re loyal. We take all comers. One moment we grouse about the kid sleeping on a shop’s front porch, the next, we are trying to figure out if his puppy is getting its shots.

Maybe that’s our secret. We are not a myth. You can throw anything at us—we deal with it all like conquering soldiers — we don’t quit. Just don’t make us live where all the houses are white and the roofs are red. We reject their architecture police. We crave the distinct place. The big idea! Where else will you find impromptu cocktail hours form on a Sunday afternoon where regulars migrate like they were magnetized — all living that idea that this place is real. In this crazy topsy-turvy world our craziness is almost charming. No matter how Aspen-like we are becoming, the kernel of uniqueness is alive. But we sure have to put up with a lot of **** to live this vibrant madness. We don’t want that groomed HOA controlled neighborhood here — don’t clean us or polish us!

Corner lots sell for 8 million, lofts rent for 40K — one creative marketing company is even renting two of them on the street now — hot dog trucks park illegally for days, the line is around the block for $5 ice cream scoops and $4 donuts. And yet, they come. They come because they feel alive and that’s why we are not a myth—where else can you say that?

We old Venice denizens just want the cops to show up when we call them… and the Rooster truck to take a hike.

ImagineVenice

Headline:  “Venice Residents Hire Law Firm on Retainer”

That hasn’t happened yet! — but it won’t be long before Venice residents really do hire a fully engaged law firm just to represent all their neighborhood concerns and interests.

Sick and tired of endless meeting hours, organizing and talking, talking, talking with city officials in one city department or another and the California Coastal Commission, residents are organizing. When all that talk falls on the deaf ears of the ‘deciders’ and legitimate questions and problems blown off, the noisy annoying resident rabble will rise up — and they are doing that now.

Serious misdeeds are ignored and rules regularly broken. Our ‘deciders’ quickly and efficiently serve constituents with ‘juice.’ In case you don’t know what ‘juice’ is… it’s those big landowners, developers, ‘Silicon Beach’ powerful techies and ‘hot’ restaurateurs who have lots of power, real influence, spend plenty of money paying for consultants and who put lots of dollars in politician’s coffers. Voila! Parking requirements get changed secretly, bar operators get permits to take over public parking spaces for their private moneymaking use and building and safety rules get massaged with private ‘adjustments.’ Public property deed restrictions are ignored and bogus building permits issued. Might makes right in Venice now. There are so many pissed off people around here and so many real problems, they don’t know which war to join.

Residents have engaged the services of law firms to force enforcement of the rules. Groups not yet in full combat are consulting with lawyers now. Residents want development decisions based on the rules and that’s not happening now in Venice. Lobbyists, consultants of one stripe or another are running the show. Residents don’t have those kinds of warriors on their side. Banding together and hiring lawyers to even up the playing field is mandatory in Venice now.

Don’t think for a minute that residents want to spend their own dollars, put in endless frustrating hours of personal time exhausting themselves because they love a good fight. Everyone of the ‘hot’ issues here in Venice are all about resident’s unmet expectation that the rules on the books are for everyone and the rule of law is important to the ‘deciders.’

There are a half dozen neighborhood associations already formed to level the playing field. It is war.

Lax enforcement allowed a massive amount of our housing stock to be taken over by the Airbnb’s of the new economy, restauranteurs have pages of unenforced citations on the books. Zoning Administrator conditions are ignored. Citations mean nothing. Secret deals at Building and Safety and Planning are a daily occurrence. Right now there is a taking of a Deed restricted public recreation property for a homeless use. Residents’ complaints and suggested alternatives are ignored. It’s not hard to understand why this neighborhood group hired a lawyer to fight the city and protect their neighborhood from predictable future problems. Residents now believe that only a lawyer will get their voices heard.

Residents ‘manning the barricades’ are not a bunch of crazies. They are from every neighborhood. Each of the recently formed Neighborhood Associations have their own crisis to manage. They want to assure their efforts yield real results so there is a coalescing of neighborhood groups which never occurred before. Maybe now, the ‘little people’ will finally get some R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Residents just want the rules enforced. They want an end to the rules-avoiding secret deals made for the powerful. They are not asking for anything more.

The New Venice

We don’t know how many commercial buildings and how many residential apartments were converted and taken over by Snapchat this past year or two, but it is getting easier to recognize a building housing the Snapsters.

How? Take a look.

newvenice3

 

The Snapsters now have their own quasi police force. These private security people are all over our town from Abbot Kinney to Ocean Front Walk. Reminds us of San Miguel de Allende where every rich person’s villa had an uzi-wearing guard outside on 24 hour patrol.

It sure looks like our new fabulous people just don’t want to mix with Venice’s un-washed. So much for all that PR… ‘we love Venice’s culture and we love being here.’ These are our new Venetians. We know they just love to hang out on Abbot Kinney and drink at Venice’s pubs and bars — it won’t be long before we see their security force everywhere they are — protecting our new elite.

This is what we have become. First the takeover of our neighborhoods by Airbnb and the rest of the STR Wall Street gold rush tycoons who have turned our neighborhoods into neighborhoods of strangers — and now — our new ‘Silicon Beach’ eliterati who even have their oven private security protection to keep us away from them.

The sharing economy and social media crowd have brought a tide of money to Venice, got their huge tax breaks from the City, and are filling the coffers of our politicians — but what have they taken?

The Abbot Kinney Hotel (Venice Place)
First Hearing – September 8

The developers, after a couple of years, finally submitted their environmental report to City Planning. Most everyone expected Planning to sign right off on it and push this project on, and they did exactly that. Now it proceeds to the public hearing process.

We think its non-sensical new name ‘apartment hotel’ (that’s an 80/4 ratio of hotel rooms to apartments) may assist this commercial project to elude the Venice Specific Plan’s restriction against tying more than 3 commercial lots together. At this point, only the community can force a more thoughtful project out of the developers.

ImagineVenice wrote a few previous articles on this near city-block-long project comprised of an 80 room hotel, 4 apartments and a multitude of restaurants and other hotel services. When the writers first met with the developer years ago, we expressed support for a hotel in principle, and put forth a simple notion, one which more than likely would engender community support for the project — Build Less and Charge More. The developer demurred and said he was going to build to the ‘hotel model.’ One can only assume that this ‘model’ is one which the likes of Starwood, Hilton, or Marriott would find attractive as an acquisition property, ensuring a very big future payday.

Our concern is that this hotel being built over 8 lots is designed in such a way that it would negatively affect the nearby residential Oakwood community forever. We think this current scheme comprising more than 50,000 feet, creates ongoing risks to the children of Westminster School. Additionally, we believe that paramount and essential to any good hotel project would be a serious intention to control the truck traffic and car flow it generates. These are important and worrisome issues and they are being glossed over with PR and by various promo ‘meet and greets.’ We doubt there are many pesky neighbors at these ‘outreach’ events to ask the hard questions. There is an intensive PR effort to ‘put lipstick on a pig.’

We know it is hard to believe, but this huge development does not have an off-street loading and unloading area. Why? Because the city code says that developments without an alley don’t have to have loading areas. But wouldn’t you think that a developer projecting real concern and love for the Venice community would allocate the necessary land to take all the delivery trucks and trash trucks off the street? Instead, the project will load entirely from three curbside parking spaces on Broadway. These 3 spaces are expected to handle all truck pick-ups and deliveries. We are expected to believe that like magic, trucks will arrive in synchrony and fit perfectly into these three curbside parking spaces.

IM_Edition27Street_sm

It would have been the right thing if the developer wanted, and was willing to give up, revenue earning land for this essential need. Clearly no moral imperative propelled them to do it for the benefit of the community. Imagine, in 2016 a huge project is going up without an off-street loading area.

It doesn’t matter how many inch-thick surveys and elegant reports with pages and pages of charts are generated by paid-for hotel consultants. They all say this project will have no on-going negative impact on the Venice community. The results of bad planning is all around us now. How much more of it should the community have to endure?

We believe that all the fancy promised amenities of this project will do nothing to offset the forever damage it will cause Venice. The developer claims they are filling a need for hotel rooms for visitors — but who will protect the residents from more traffic congestion and over-building in the community? Our old infrastructure just can’t take much more of it.

So, what we have here is a giant project, the largest in-fill development ever built in Venice, which has the same truck loading standards as do our old historic buildings on Abbot Kinney. Venice is forced to accept, adapt and live with the conditions grandfathered long-ago. Must we now shut our eyes to the endless number of double-parked huge delivery trucks and those that fill the center lane of Abbot Kinney knowing that it will most certainly increase. We are an old town. We live daily with a parking mess created in the 1930’s and 40’s. Why must we accept a 20th Century solution in 2016? It does not have to be this way.

When a new 80 room hotel, its 4 apartments and all the restaurants, retail, offices and spa are in full operation, traffic will surely get worse for Oakwood and for most of Venice. Trucks and cars are already directing themselves inland to avoid the growing congestion on Abbot Kinney and Lincoln. The alternate route mobile App Wayz aggravates people now by directing traffic into residential neighborhoods. But who can blame people for using it? It is just one of the tools people will find even more necessary as they try to move around this town.

As we said originally to the developers and which we repeat again here — Build Less and Charge More. There is still time to reduce the size of this huge project, provide essential off-street truck loading and un-loading and develop a traffic mitigation system to keep hotel-generated traffic out of the Oakwood community and protect the safety of school children.

The community has an opportunity to weigh in and voice their concerns about this very important and powerful development.

The time is now.

Bulldog Realty Goes For It
Abbot Kinney Sinks Further into Parking Quicksand

In front of one of the original Craftsman homes on Abbot Kinney is Bulldog Realty’s Notice of Intent to obtain a Coastal Development Permit. The permit is to demolish and build new. This property represents one of the finer original Craftsman houses on Abbot Kinney built long ago when it was predominantly a residential street. Since it is not an historically designated property, it is likely that the city will permit its demolition. The Intent notices a new 3800 sq. foot office/retail/live/work building with only 2 parking spaces. All of the other required parking spaces are proposed to be supplied ‘virtually’ using ‘In-Lieu’ fees. What the City knows, as does the applicant, the California Coastal Commission will not approve ‘in lieu’ parking as a parking solution in Venice. Period.

Why do applicants go for a CDP when they know it is unlikely to be awarded? And why does the city take the applicant’s fees and push it on through the system when they know the CCC will deny the project? Like practically all applicants attempting to avoid the rules and build to the max, and who figure if they fight, they just might get at least some of what they want. Bulldog is no exception. And the City? We figure it must be the fees paid and the work these projects create for the Planners and the Department of Building and Safety that drives them to process this application for permit.

The real question here is why Bulldog Realty, a long-term upstanding business on the street, is going for a project completely under parked when it could construct a project including all the required parking? There is no other answer to this question other than the simple fact that there is no money in parking. All the value is in habitable spaces and money is what development is about in Venice. While Bulldog is an Abbot Kinney business living daily living with the street’s parking mess, we guess it is nothing personal – it is just another development that has no regard for our critical need for parking nor feels any obligation to try and mitigate it. They just want what they want and the neighborhood and the on-going parking chaos is of little or no concern.

So here we go again, another battle on the horizon. Again, residents will find themselves pushing another rock up the hill to stop the City from approving another project which does not comply with the parking requirements — including the rules at the CCC. Residents are forced to ‘man the barricades’ there too to make sure projects don’t slip through the system. The CCC is the last chance residents get to stop City approved projects which hurt neighborhoods by circumventing rules. The city knows the rules and they know the Coastal Commission will not agree with its ‘virtual’ in lieu parking ‘solution.’ Nevertheless, they approve in lieu parking anyway. Why?

The city uses its ‘discretion’ to approve all kinds of things not really allowed. Why don’t they use that discretionary power to stop bad projects when they know they are bad for a community? City Planning knows how bad the parking situation is in Venice. They know how insufficient the town’s infrastructure is for 21st century demands.

How can we expect any applicant to apply for a permit that is fully compliant with the rules when there are no consistent and true ‘rules of the road’ for everyone? This conflict is the root cause of the endless battles fought against so many projects which caring residents are forced to oppose.

It does not have to be this way.

Listen! This is a Really Loud Alarm Bell!
The BID is Coming

 An entity called a ‘Business Improvement District’ or BID is almost here. The City Council will meet and vote on its creation in late August. What? You don’t know anything about it? You and just about everyone else in Venice. This is one very big secret.

Here’s what it is. A specific ‘district,’ run by a public-private partnership, whose boundaries have been gerrymandered to include properties owned by the pushers of this entity and large swathes of city property. Boundaries include Ocean Front Walk from North Venice to Barnard Way, includes part of Rose, touches parts of Main St., 4th, Sunset, Abbot Kinney, and Windward. It’s a large area. See the map for a better picture of its reach. The public relations put out by supporters is that they are goilng to make our world in Venice cleaner and ‘safer.’ I think we are hearing that line right now on our national political scene. Who doesn’t like ‘safe?’

Proposed Venice BID Map with BoundariesThis proposed BID will be run by a public-private partnership which will receive funding from the City estimated to include about $450,000 from the General Fund, to run the proposed ‘clean and safe’ services. There appears to be little accountability and oversight built into this process. The assessments on the owners (don’t call it a tax) will filter into the coffers of the partnership. We are talking about millions of dollars. Property owners who vote for the BID, will have no say in what goes on with this entity unless they somehow get on its board. Fat Chance! The gerrymandered district includes a huge amount of city-owned property. It is estimated that the assessment from city property will comprise about 25% of assessment monies collected and, in turn, the managers of city land will have 25% of the vote for or against a BID. You already know how the city will vote on this. The deck is stacked in favor of a ‘yes’ vote for a BID.

This new group will create its own quasi police force complete with batons, pepper spray and uniforms to keep ‘order.’ Call them green shirts, call them brown shirts — we all know what they are: minimally trained ‘officers’ who will attempt to assert their newly acquired authority over the residents and whomever else (think the poor and the homeless) crosses their path, get in their way or those who just don’t look like they ‘belong.’ They are the Deciders. Sounds scary, right? You should be scared. BID’s are supposed to keep the place cleaner too — now that’s not scary, right? Who doesn’t like clean? So remember the BID mantra — ‘clean and safe.’

We have not read a public statement from the council office on this BID creation. BID’s seem like an elegant way to outsource the City’s job and many of its responsibilities. Cities seem to love BID’s.

Last but not least, we should tell you that this very quietly forming BID is being pushed by some property owners who are the most interested in controlling OFW — owners who have stealthily converted many of our residential units into short-term rentals —entire buildings we should add, are pushing for a BID formation. Some of the BID pushers are now being investigated by the LA City Attorney for illegal conversions of rental units. This was announced in the LA Times.

Gentrification on OFW will be a by product of this entity as it has been in other BID’s in other cities. While there may be a lot in this BID for the big property owners, there is nothing in it for tenants who will have absolutely no say in the BID forming around them and their businesses. No vote, nada. In no way is a BID a democratic process. Tenants can expect the property owners to pass on the costs of the BID to them.

If you want this BID, stay quiet. If you don’t, say something. Make ‘big noise.’ There are many lawsuits already filed against BID’s all over the city, your big noise will be in very good company.

Tara Devine is the BID’s consultant and point person for information.
Her contact is:
tara@devine-strategies.com