Edition 20
July 23, 2015

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?


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.


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.