We Try Again – A Parking Solution for Our Council Member’s Consideration

Everyone knows that Abbot Kinney is in desperate need of parking. Parking is not only for the patrons who shop and eat on the street but no one is focusing on all of the employees and general workers on the street who are forced to park all day in adjacent residential streets.

Some time back, ImagineVenice proposed a parking solution to former Council member Rosendahl. It was met with silence. Here we go, with another shot at it:

We propose a reversal of course with the ‘Centennial Park’ property. While the idea of a park in Venice was doubtless an immediate ‘yes,’ no one really gave enough consideration to who would actually use this park on the medium strip on Venice Boulevard. We have had years to observe that families do not take their kids to play in this park because it is too dangerous for the children. With traffic whizzing by on both sides of the park parents can’t let their children run free and explore. Because it is located in an unfriendly location, you rarely see any local resident relaxing, reading a book and enjoying a bit of green space with all the traffic noise. Transients find its emptiness attractive. Right at this moment, community members are getting approval to refurbish the tired landscaping in this park. We propose a U-turn before more money is spent on a mostly unused park. While a noble idea the park has not panned out to be a good one.

ImagineVenice proposes again that the median strip be re-graded, paved, gates installed and dedicated entirely to employee parking. Vendors could subsidize any monthly costs for their employees. And, best of all, this solution takes the parking space hunting pressure off the employee and returns the residential streets to the residents.

We hope our council member will give this simple parking solution serious consideration. It would solve many parking problems around here and it is not a mega-expensive project. It would make truly efficient use of pretty useless land.

Our next edition will re-visit the proposal for re-activation of the old Venice Historical Society’s shuttle to run on weekends in a loop between Venice Boulevard to Rose Avenue with the shuttle stop at the Westminster School parking lot.

The Abbot Kinney Hotel (Now Venice Place Project)
Where Are We Now?

A hotel in Venice on Abbot Kinney. This could have been a true landmark development. It could have been neighborhood friendly and a real enhancement to the community now and in the future.

Soon, we can expect that the new permutation of the old program will be up for review and consideration at the Venice Neighborhood Council and the LUPC. And, shortly thereafter, the Zoning Administrator will be holding a hearing on the project. Residents will have an opportunity to voice their views and listen to other views before the ZA, both for or against this project.

Perception by many is that the new design with its separated buildings does nothing to reduce or eliminate its former built-in problems. Primarily, the negative effects on the Oakwood community and increased traffic and truck congestion will be neighborhood changing. Many worry about the likely deleterious effects in the safety arena as all of its trucks will be loading and unloading at the curb on Broadway creating new risks for the school children who use Broadway as their main route to Westminster School.

There is nothing wrong with the idea of a hotel on Abbot Kinney. The problem with this project is that it will exacerbate the already congested area with its idling trucks waiting to load and unload at the Broadway curb. Have you ever seen a trash truck pick up at a curb? Can you imagine the huge Budweiser truck easily making a delivery at the curb?

The developer chose not to allocate land to take all these trucks off the street and direct their exit back to Abbot Kinney and thereby keeping them from using the Oakwood community’s residential streets as an alternate exit route. The use of streets to load and unload was done in 1940. We know better now. When you have lots of land and can easily dedicate some of it to solve this problem, you should use it. Yes, this land won’t be revenue-generating land but what it would generate would be a huge amount of appreciation and goodwill from the community.

It is very important to understand that the traffic assessment made for this project does not reflect actual realities on the ground. The Department of Transportation (DOT) uses ‘tables’ and ‘schedules’ and outdated historical data. It concentrates all of its deliberations on ‘signalizing’ and pays little attention to intersections which are not ‘signalized.’ It made no actual real-time study of the traffic action at all the intersections and residential streets near this huge project nor did it review the impact on already heavily used 4th which is the most direct route to the Santa Monica Freeway. While this is the way DOT ‘assesses’ traffic, to believe it is reflective of the realities in Venice is foolish.

An opportunity for greatness has been lost.

The Project Approval Process is the Wild West

Hardly a day passes when a new approved project filled with exemptions, exceptions and questionable mass and scale issues doesn’t pop up. Who cares? Is anyone watching? The answer is no. No one is really watching. If anything happens around here to rein in the scofflaws it is because of an accidental observation or fed up reaction to it from some resident. And that happens only when an alarm bell is ringing really loud.

The damage that has been done to Venice because of simple ennui and ‘benign neglect’ by the ‘deciders’ is way beyond what any of you realize. Only when you start adding up the approvals and inconsistencies from Planning and Zoning Administration over the past seven years or so does the magnitude of the damage done to this small town become powerful and meaningful to Venice’s quality of life. Much of the parking deficit and increasing gridlock problems are self-inflicted, caused by careless decisions from various departments. They need a mandate to do no harm. None of the deciders are concerned if decisions they make might be harmful in the future. If they can mark that box in an application with an X they are good to go.

The bottom line: Planning does not plan. There is no charter from its highest level to plan. Enforcement does not enforce. Enforcement rarely happens no matter how egregious the offense might be. Only when residents make ‘big noise’ with the higher-ups does a problem even get anyone’s attention. This problem is at every level in the city. When you can’t get anyone’s attention, your temperature boils and you worry that if a real big problem happens around this place we are going to be in real trouble — this town is run like some kind of Banana Republic. Anything goes.

If we did not have an active and attentive council office things would be much much worse. But why should residents have to turn to the council office to get ‘saved.’ They shouldn’t. Why should residents have to be the sheriff around here to try to effect a system that works — fairly and thoughtfully?

When you look more deeply into the approval process it reveals many ‘discretionary’ approvals and ‘interpretations’ allowing for reduced parking, no parking at all, restaurant expanded service areas without required parking and worse. Never are these discretionary decisions made with concern if it is good for the community. The latest revelation was that Planning actually made ‘discretionary’ decisions on a project under the purview of the California Coastal Commission. They have no authority to do that. But they did it. The Planning Department has become the actual ‘enemy within.’ This needs to be reined in and fast and a new mission put forth which will look at projects requiring discretion with eyes focused on what is good for neighborhoods and what will be good for the longer term.

If projects actually were planned within the scope of the current Venice Specific Plan many arguments would never develop between developers and residents. When the plan is silent on a particular issue, Planning should be directed to make their ‘discretionary’ decisions in concert with the spirit and intent of the Venice Specific Plan. The VSP is the superior ‘decider’ in Venice and it should be respected not thwarted by using creative loopholes.

The VSP is a plan that needs updating for sure. Changing conditions in Venice these last 10 years demand its update. But, for the moment, it is the operative document. Applying the city code to Venice issues as an override to the VSP is wrong and illegal.

Is there anyone at the top of the Planning and Zoning Administration departments who will step out — take a little risk of shaking things up — and take a hard look at the mess their decisions have created here in Venice? We’re hoping. What else can we do?

What is Venice?

We’re pretty old. Yes, we are old, unique, bohemian, creative and one-of-a-kind. Small cadres of residents have found themselves “manning the barricades.” They are, in their small way, holding back the barbarians at the gate. The new barbarians are a small group of architects and their consultants determined to change this place into their vision and that vision is focused on $$$. They burrow through the Code looking for that weak link to bust this or that rule or precedent and ingratiate themselves with our local Planners and DOT decision-makers while they work hard to do the same with our council office.

Our new barbarians are here mining our riches because they wanted our vibe but what they are doing now is sucking the blood right out of this small town. They don’t care what impact the project they are pushing has on the town’s residents, even their own neighbors, its congested streets and its very, very limited infrastructure. They are going for it. One guy is even attempting to change zoning laws which now restrict how close restaurants and bars can be to residential properties. He says times have changed. Reaping their big commissions, getting a piece of the action is the game of the day. And they are playing for keeps.

There have been glimmers of understanding coming from Bonin’s office. His team seems to have a sense that they really have a jewel here in Venice and they have stuck their necks out a bit to try and protect it from the avaricious. This is not an easy task with every developer pounding on the door of their office to lobby, lobby, lobby. Residents nag the team on a daily basis. Residents know that their little voices must become big noise to have any chance of reining in the developers and their lackeys who say they love Venice. The growing big noise is consulting with lawyers, reading the code and growing in increasing numbers. They are sick and tired of decisions coming out of Planning and the DOT which have absolutely no foundation in reality or the slightest understanding of our real world. They gather “reports” and make their decisions and push those papers off their desk. We’re not even sure they know where Venice is!

The bottom line is that Venice is small. Small is why it is such an extraordinary community of one helluva mixed-up population. It’s that kind of community which glows in its smallness, its oddness, it downright eccentric ways. That’s why we never became a Brentwood or Santa Monica despite all the money that has poured into this place these last 10 years. Venice always welcomed all comers and relished its smallness. It believed those built-in limiting factors would protect them naturally from the big at any cost people who are now ripping it apart.

Residents of Venice making all the noise at the moment, are alone in the battle to preserve the essence of Venice: intimate and small.

One-of-a-kind.

Searching for a BLT on Abbot Kinney

Have you noticed? On our street of the cool and fabulous you now can buy a pair of Fluevogs (their website says they are ‘divine’) or pick up a fabulous Italian pair from Floretini & Baker out of Bologna. You can buy up a pair of Illesteva sunglasses (you’ll build them yourself to be your heart’s desire) and then walk on up the street to IVO where you can pull all this style together by slipping into that snappy sundress that sold real well at their Paris boutique. What you can’t do, is slip into a comfy booth, settle in, and order a BLT!

Vegetarian and Vegan is the new cuisine around here now. This must be what the cool people eat. It must be the new wave Millennial cuisine. They tweaked Feed a little to save it and brought in real food and dumped that $10 bowl of granola — but that did not stem the vegetarian tide. Kreation is serving seriously healthy and seriously expensive food and Axe is being replaced with a cool vegetarian spot. And opening soon, direct from NYC, is the offspring of The Butcher’s Daughter cafe; a vegetarian and vegan hip restaurant serving $9 glasses of carrot and orange juice in a super cool, highly styled environment by a famous designer. She, no doubt, will interpret our Venice vibe into the new new. At this moment, the old Local 1205 is being built into a grand emporium of healthy cool food. This place is big. They are planning on making a major impact in Venice to fill this building… and there is not a hamburger in sight.

What will the rest of us eat?

The Abbot Kinney Hotel Project (now called Venice Place)

What’s New is Old

The developers invited a select group of guests to see their ‘big reveal.’

Now, it’s gussied up with a very ‘current’ look. It ties 8 lots together with a new sleight-of-hand technique which divides up the project and ties the now separate buildings together with catwalks, while they claim there is no restricted lot tie. It is still a huge project. They are good to go now in their view. After one year they will finally submit a complete application to the city for approval and for review by the community.

Still, the entire city block-long project will load and unload all trucks on Broadway at the same 3 curbside spaces.

Still, the hotel’s entry and exit utilizes Electric Avenue entirely. None of the traffic is directed away from the residential streets of Oakwood. The brunt of the entire hotel circulation continues to fall on one of Venice’s oldest communities.

Still, school children risk the traffic on very narrow Broadway and Westminster as they make their way to and from elementary school.

Still, another opportunity lost by the developers to build a hotel viewed by residents as good for Venice. Instead, they continue not to listen to residents. The new hotel plan makes absolutely no changes which would eliminate or mitigate the major issues which will impact Oakwood.

The latest plan will increase opposition to the project as people lose hope that the developers will create a plan which works for residents and puts neighborhoods first.

ImagineVenice

Really

Let’s not mince words, it’s over.

We are fabulous. GQ said so. We look good on the outside.

The impending and imminent exit of Hal’s, Casa Linda, the old Angela shoe repair and the glorious eccentric Bountiful, closes out the era of a street actually used by locals. A street where we once belonged. Abbot Kinney becomes even more fabulous every passing day — too fabulous surely for anyone here more than five years. We figure it won’t be much longer before people don’t even recall that it was once our street — a place for the regulars —  ordinary not-so-fabulous people who thought it was their street and fit into it like it was the proverbial old glove. It had a sense of place. That’s a very rare experience in L.A. and perhaps it exists nowhere else. Heck, today people think “The Grove” has a sense of place.

Hold your memories close, they are more important than ever as our town morphs into all that we disdain. You know, all those reasons you don’t live in Brentwood. It soon will be hard to remember how good and comfortable that old glove fit.

The Venice Tsunami – ‘Silicon Beach’

It wasn’t that long ago when our local politicians were slapping themselves on the back and taking bows before an adoring crowd of Google-ites and Venice residents.
They were extolling a brilliant future and never-ending opportunities that the big shots from Silicon Valley will be laying at the feet of the grateful. Visions of sugar plums sparkled in the eyes of local landlords and property owners. Real estate agents could feel the coming commission boomtown.

Water began lapping at our shores. Quietly, landlords began evicting long-term tenants. Many of the evictees were local artists renting old grungy studio spaces. These artists are the foundation of what is Venice and most certainly they are the heart of what we are – or what we think we are.

Speculators began to build condos. Owners began to figure out what they could build on their old industrial building properties. Property owners saw pretty quickly that the motherlode of profits from increasing rental income and top record-breaking sales prices was soon to be theirs for the taking. Venice new arrivals will all need homes, and housing is already in very short supply. The new arrivals will be happy to pay the inflating prices just to call Venice home. There are so many developments underway it feels like a big destructive wave has washed over our streets.

Venice has become even more fabulous. Nearly every guide book now includes Venice’s Abbot Kinney as a ‘must see.’ The current retail shops on Abbot Kinney and even those on Lincoln (if you can believe it) will fill the increasing demand for super high-end shopping and office space. One shop after another has left to be replaced by a corporate-run operation. Money is no object. Making a profit is secondary. If you are anyone in retail, you need to be ‘cool’ and need a presence on Abbot Kinney to validate your fabulousness.

Landlords are drooling at the gold rush. They can’t raise their rents fast enough. They have taken on the airs of emperors doling out their precious spaces to the worthy who pay up. Arrogance rules our day now. Landlords practically auction off their newly vacant spaces, treat applicants like they were supplicants and and look only for the highest credit-worthy bidder.

So where else do we see the water lapping at our shores? Right here in our residential neighborhoods, which really are loaded with charming unique homes and units.

House after house, unit after unit are being taken over by the predators of the short-term rental industry and turned into day rental quasi hotel rooms. Headed by Silicon Valley’s Airbnb and its operatives, this new industry is intimidating long-term tenants out of their homes and selling the big money vision that Airbnb promotes to landlords and property owners. Professional lobbyists invade our government offices pushing their vision of a ‘sharing economy.’ Yes, you are right. You thought less than 30 day rentals were illegal in Los Angeles – but who is looking? Who cares about destabilizing entire neighborhoods? The city council is ‘studying’ this. Will they vote for regulations which put neighborhoods first?

Lastly, we come to the devastation of the rental stock for small business owners in Venice. Many ‘creative’ commercial spaces are being torn down in favor of condo lofts or leased to one of the ‘big boy’ well-funded start-ups. Little production companies, and individually owned and run local business services are on the road to eviction to be replaced by corporate entities willing to pay anything. The biggest hit Venice will take to our small commercial rental stock will be if the persistent rumor is true that Silicon Beach’s newest love-child actually takes over our only ‘business park’ at 606-654 Venice Boulevard at Abbot Kinney. The rows of individual offices housing many local services who have served the community for years and years will be evicted so Silicon Beach’s Wall Street funded billion dollar Snapchat can create a campus on the huge parcel. If the deal does not go through, you can be sure that another huge operation will get in line for this property now known to be ‘in play.’ Why would the landlord choose to maintain his current multi-tenant operation with all the hassle that having many tenants bring to property management when your goldmine can be leased to one golden well-funded Wall Street tenant-baby? This is the new reality in the world of leasing property in Venice.

We could get lucky. With Google buying a giant parcel in Playa Vista and Snapchat rumored to have done the same thing, some of the pressure on Venice, its rental stock and its infrastructure might get some relief.

What will Venice be when Silicon Valley is done with it? Can a small beach town influence its future against the will of Silicon Valley and its Silicon Beach progeny?
Who knows?

Now,Venice is a sound stage for the Silicon Valley/Silicon Beach money machine. It just keeps the lights on. We are a town of studio grips running the equipment with no say in what our future and our neighborhoods will become.

We are a community out of balance.

We have no dike to hold back the sea. We are the dike and like the Dutch boy, all of our thumbs are holding back the water.

More Cracks

Our golden egg cracked a little more this month with the imminent loss of:

Pamela Barish
Mona Moore
L Frank
Koko
Axe
Neptina

Earlier Losses

Floral Arts
Glencrest Bar-B-Que
Surfing Cowboy
Euphoria
10 Women Gallery
Medley
Stroh’s
Altered Space
Double Vision
Lilly’s
Equator
Koola
Mini T’s
Stansbury Collection
Digs
Plantation
Venice Vintage Paradise
Jin Patisserie
Colcha
Just Tantau
AK 1114
Alderly Edge Furniture Design
ImagineVenice knows that pure economics is driving what seems like a never-ending turnover of our truly unique individually owned shops and their very distinct personalities. We know that their replacements are generic slick, glossy, corporate reflections of their much bigger selves—and oh so pristine they all are! But no matter what real life economics may be, we must live with the truth of the new.
Big pieces of ourselves left with the old.

The Neighborhood 2    Anti-neighborhood Developers 0

The decision was unanimous: 5 – 0 at the Planning Commissioner’s meeting last week.

One of the commissioners had the audacity to look at the city planner and ask “why did you approve this?”

The project is so bad that it received their unanimous vote to support the appeal against the Planning department and Zoning Administrator’s decisions. The 259 Hampton application approval to expand an illegally operating restaurant, approve the sale of alcohol, and permit no parking whatsoever was bad. The Commission saw why a neighborhood was willing to spend six hours at their meeting and their vote showed it.

The ZA and the Planning department ‘deciders’ again chose to ‘interpret’ silence in the Venice Land Use Plan as intent, to favor a bad project. They are blind to the negative effects it would have on its neighbors. The hue and cry from the neighbors and many other Venice residents has fallen on their deaf ears. They continue to go down the same road and approve projects where all the cars are parked virtually. If Planning or Zoning had made site visits and observed actual conditions in this parking deficient and congested neighborhood, and put the residents in first position ahead of the owner applicant and transient tourists, their conscience would have prevented them from approving 259 Hampton.

The neighborhood again came together in big numbers and said enough is enough. They testified before the commission with two sound engineer residents who totally and expertly refuted the “no noise” claims of the applicant.

The ZA and Planning departments need to be reminded that Venice’s noise, traffic congestion and lack of parking should be all that any of them need to consider and start saying NO to applicants. We hope they will now pay attention to what the actual realities are in our neighborhoods and stop looking for ways to game the system, mark the box with ‘X’ and move the application off their desks. They are responsible for the problems caused because of their thoughtless. Approvals are given without a scintilla of regard for the collateral damage those decisions would cause.

It takes tremendous effort and energy to fight bad development decisions already made. The last two ‘victories,’ with multi-department opposition to 320 Sunset and the successful appeal of 259 Hampton should wake up the ‘deciders’ that business as usual is over in Venice. They now must put neighborhoods first.

Activists working to protect Venice’s unique neighborhoods grow in numbers every day. Venice residents are living with the noise, near gridlock on many streets and overall general congestion caused by bad city decisions. No effort is now too much. Residents realize that the only way to get the city to work for Venice is to demand it.