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.

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?

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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?

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

Some Words from the ‘Hood

It’s been a while since ImagineVenice had something to say. Why? …because no one likes to read an edition comprised of rants. It seems like all the action around here provokes one rant after another – so, we guess, it’s time to let it rip.

Residents often talk about how “cool” Venice is. You know, along with all the other platitudes about how much more Venice was before and how Venice has changed. We have. Many worry we are on an irreversible course towards losing our “uniqueness” maybe even our soul. We are. In the next breath these landed gentry complain “tsk, tsk my friend still can’t find a place to live here with all these Airbnb’s taking over all our rentals.” If you are grousing about the changes around this town, you better get ready for the big one.

Last week our local Chamber of Commerce lead its business-minded membership, along with many restaurant owners, developers and architects to the polls to vote at the Venice Neighborhood Council election. They called in their chits and their dishwashers and Sparklett’s delivery guys marched dutifully to the polls along with anyone else who “owed” them. It was a rout. The election turnout was almost double from the last election. Many of the newly “Venice committed” voters have absolutely nothing to do with the Venice community. They could care less about it. Their required declared “relationship” got them a ballot and they voted. That’s the way this election dumped the old team and brought in a new one. We know it sounds ridiculous that non-residents or non-property owners could actually determine your future by voting in someone else’s local election. That’s what happened. An interpretation of the election rules allowed this corruption. Manipulation like this of our local council vote has never happened before. The Chamber and all of its business-interested members have utilized their group power and joined together to serve their common interests using this avenue. It doesn’t matter whether it is moral. It is legal. You would be right to question if anyone not focused on money-making development issues in Venice needs to pay any future attention to the happenings of the VNC. With this new group running the VNC show there won’t be a development they won’t like or a rule they won’t break or change or a rent stabilized apartment they won’t want to change into a short-term rental for a buck. Whatever it is, if it puts money in their pockets or in their friend’s pockets they will approve it.

Get ready for a very different Venice.

Enforcement? Not in Venice

If you want local laws enforced, better move to Brentwood. Somehow, even though we are in the same council district, trash cans are plenty over there and homeless people are not setting up tents on their sidewalks. Shops don’t get to illegally expand without parking and restaurants don’t get away with adding illegal seating. Citations mean absolutely nothing around here but somehow have their intended force and effect in Brentwood. There are no driveways on San Vicente or Wilshire converted into “pop-up” shops of one stripe or another or vendors setting up businesses right on the street out of their cars, vans and even on blankets. In Brentwood you won’t find apartment houses with illegal structures built in their front yard selling cookies. No amplified music event is approved if it is within 500′ of residences. The ABC doesn’t approve just about every request it gets to sell alcohol. We in Venice must live in another world. Maybe we do. Here, anything goes. Despite a year’s worth of citations our hottest restaurant still uses the neighbor’s driveway to provide seating for a no-seating-allowed takeout. That property owner continues to ignore citations demanding the seating be removed and his driveway returned to a useful driveway. There are numerous illegal acts, too many to list. For some reason, enforcement just doesn’t happen around here, no matter how egregious the behavior.

The newest hustler on the block, Greenleaf, asked for and got a permit for an outside parking lot “beer garden” to add to the mix during our last First Friday. Never before has a restaurant or shop on the street sold alcohol from an outside parking lot or a shop received a special event permit to sell alcohol on a First Friday. Greenleaf has now opened the floodgates to alcohol special event sales on First Friday. Thousands of young people pack our sidewalks those nights while eating from various food trucks. Now they have the “opportunity” to walk off the sidewalk and get a beer or three and return back to the crowd. Imagine kids all juiced up packed in like sardines on the next First Friday. Imagine your kid at this event. If it’s a hot night, it will take just one troublemaker to make this event a disaster. The decision makers use no discretion when they give out alcohol-related permits. It will take much more than common sense to say “no” to the powerful and connected — especially if the Chamber is behind them. You would think these “deciders” were Chamber members themselves! We dodged a bullet last Friday. It was a cool evening. We are unlikely to be that lucky in the future. Greenleaf now has a sidewalk sandwich sign advertising their parking lot alcohol event for future First Fridays. Looks like future approvals are in the bag for our avaricious new neighbor. It is all about making money.

Sometimes newcomers are the target of our disdain because of their disinterest in what made Venice, Venice. The new “new” matters most to them. They really don’t care if this place is turned into another Grove. But they are not villains. They are what they are. The real truth behind the big changes here can be found with our own “movers and shakers.” They are our villains — our very own — our super land rich. Because Venice has become a magnet drawing international businesses from all over the world, our own landed gentry are now so very rich and loving it. They never dreamed money of this magnitude would drop from the heavens right into their laps. All they had to do to get it was be here at the right time. Like a drug, they just want more, more, more. No matter the cost.

Venice in the word of that famous song just doesn’t get any R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Snapchat!

Time and again, our city fathers boast about the new “Silicon Beach.” They are practically ecstatic over the influx of start-up tech companies opening up shop in our beach community. At the same time they curry favors with our new elite. Our elected ‘deciders’ want that newcomer money to fund their upcoming elections. They are blind to the collateral and negative issues this tech rush generates. These new arrivals need politicians to grease the skids as they blast through city codes and it’s permitting processes. They expect plenty for their political donations. They burden our tiny and old infrastructure with their demands and do little if anything to support the needs of our community. Our ‘new economy’ nouveau riche spend millions on lobbyists to assure they get what they want. It’s time they spend some of those millions on their newly adopted town.

Have these newcomers done any real good for our little community? Has Snapchat, the voracious predator now taking control of a huge proportion of our limited commercial space while loudly proclaiming how they ‘love the Venice culture’ done anything at all for any of our local organizations and groups dedicated to working for the betterment of the many people here truly in desperate need? Little if any of their huge startup funding from Wall Street and Silicon Valley venture capitalists has found their way into Venice to support our desperate housing issues, homeless programs, healthcare programs, gang problems, schools, or disabled resident’s programs in any significant way.

This billion dollar start-up is sucking up our choice commercial properties with the determination of a Vegas high-roller. At the same time, their growing number of employees happily proclaim themselves Venetians and excitedly take the many gifts our unique community offers them.

Commercial building after commercial building has been snapped up by Snapchat. Many long-term commercial tenants were evicted. More prime properties will soon be added to Snapchat’s commercial building stable. Plans advertised for new shops and restaurants are happily scratched by landlords anxious for Snapchat dollars and long leases.

What will happen to Venice when this Silicon Beach star settles down and wants to consolidate its large work force under one roof, picks up stakes and moves on over to the Playa Vista business park? The lure of all that easy parking, cheaper leases and other amenities built there just to lure new economy companies is beckoning. Oh, they probably will retain some small presence here to keep their newly acquired edgie Venice status and that caché a Venice address offers. But one day soon they will leave, fed up with our frequent and growing gridlock traffic conditions and all those annoying things which tax even the most committed Venetian. They won’t be the only Silicon Beach star who migrates South for greener more spacious pastures. Think about it.

These Silicon Beach startups are really transients. Their leases are just five or ten years and all have sublet provisions. When they begin their exit, they will leave behind an army of real estate agents scrambling to find subtenants to take over their massive amount of commercial space and relieve them of the burden of all their leases. No one knows what effects the inevitable real estate dump will have on Venice real estate or on the entire Venice community. But, sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, these temporary Venice residents will pick up stakes and their presence here will be just a fading memory.

Hey, Snapchat! While you are here and enjoying all that Venice has to offer you, commit yourselves! Step out of your fabulous mode and jump into Venice’s deep well of need and start doing some real good for our little beach community.