HOUSING CRISIS - It’s only May and our City Council has already voted twice this year to approve the politically motivated, astronomically wasteful, and unnecessary assault on our Coastal environment at The Gateway to Venice Beach known as the Pacific-Dell Median Project.
More embarrassingly, you’ll be heading back to PLUM this Thursday, May 17th to go through the motions for the third time in five months! Chances are, you’ll be back for a couple more mop-up sessions to correct all the unforced errors that our lame duck Councilman keeps making in his haste to ratify this profligate land grab, masking as affordable housing, before his duly elected replacement is given a mandate by the voters in CD11 to stop it.
Councilmembers, with one prominent exception (thank you for hearing our pleas, Joe), opted to stand with a troubled colleague, who earned praise for sharing how his battles with depression impacted his decision to not run for re-election. Yet you have not held Councilman Bonin accountable to his promise that it was time “to focus on health and wellness” – his and ours. Why?
Both your silence and your continued support for The Pacific-Dell Median have allowed Mike to continue his pattern of manipulation and distortion of the public record -- empowering him to launch brutal personal attacks on constituents who disagree with him over substantive issues like The Median and/or the transients flocking to Venice Beach from out of state.
Those of us who started tracking the project’s disregard for public safety and lack of transparency six years ago, have grown accustomed to our Councilman’s incessant name calling. But a mere two weeks after Mike’s emotional farewell on YouTube in mid-January, his adversarial relationship with Venice took a very dark turn.
Here’s the timeline. It’s February 2nd. The Pacific-Dell Median is up for a vote for the second time. Bonin grabs the mic to remind Councilmembers on the Zoom call that “there is a long history of litigation against homeless housing on the Westside,” before snarling, "to those who have called in, let me just say if you don't want encampments, you need housing.”
Abracadabra, a few days later, with brand new tents provided by St. Joseph’s (reportedly spending half of the $5 million slotted for Ocean Front Walk’s Encampment to Homes program to pay its staff) squatters start showing up at Centennial Park in droves – and, voila, we have ourselves a filthy/terrifying mini-skid row full of known drug dealers that spans the entrance of the Venice Public Library to the corner of Abbott Kinney.
What we have is a vindictive politician punishing the residential communities as payback for instigating his recall. He has refused to invoke the new ordinance you recently passed to clear out encampments from shared spaces, and continues to let blight, and a putrid stench degrade our residential quality of life and further tarnish Venice’s image as an unsafe area on the cusp of a much-needed summer tourist season for our local businesses.
Moreover, by not pressing Mr. Bonin on specifics, you have allowed him to perpetuate the myth that this project is supported by a majority of residents. The truth is, right from the start, he misrepresented the Median as an “underutilized parking lot” and failed to acknowledge its historic status or environmental pitfalls.
Even worse, he and his cohorts at Venice Community Housing and Hollywood Community Housing Corporation presented architect Eric Moss’s massive, Brutalist design, woefully out of character with our eclectic and sublime Venice Canals, as a done deal without letting the neighborhood consider ANY alternatives, or allowing the nearly unanimous opposition by the Venice Neighborhood Council (VNC) to factor into the decision-making process.
Councilmembers, please stop deferring to Mr. Bonin. Everyone knows his dismal polling numbers from January figured mightily into his decision to run for cover and spin a false narrative about support for his policies.
Moreover, Bonin’s Machiavellian alliance with The Los Angeles Times, whose editorial board endorses his surrogate who supports Mike’s failed “Housing Only” solution, while its columnists and political reporters refuse to cover a high-profiled lawsuit filed by The Coalition for Safe Coastal Development because it’s not news? What this editorial does, btw, is give Mike a pretense of power.
The reality is quite the opposite. To better illustrate how little political capital Mr. Bonin has left in CD 11 among those whose, at a Candidate Forum in April, five of the top six candidates said they were against the Pacific Dell Median project and would kill it if elected. Here’s a sampling.
"I’m absolutely opposed to the Venice Median Project. My wife and I have been annual supporters of Venice Community Housing and the Venice Community Housing Corporation. I think they do a lot of good work. It’s a bad idea. You don’t have to get any further than looking at the price tag. The arithmetic just doesn’t add up, it’s not a good project."
"I will squash this on day one. Not only did the VNC vote it down, over 1,000 community members have objected to this, It violates the Venice Local Plan, it violates CEQA, it violates the Coastal Act, it’s a waste of money, it’s wrong for the community, it’s a no go, it’s done."
"I’m absolutely against the Monster on the Median project, I think it’s a travesty. I think it’s a great example of the corruption in our City because of spot zoning. I think it’s unacceptable that this happened, and with the price tag now of 1.1 million dollars per unit, you can take up a wing at the Ritz Carlton and load it with people. Cuckoo bananas. "
Here’s something else a few of the candidates told us that night. If you continue to vote with Mr. Bonin, and this project is ultimately approved, you are preventing whomever we vote into office in November to start over with fresh, feasible ideas and a true community spirit, including re-allocating the money earmarked for Mike’s Monster for other shovel-ready projects like Tiny Houses, or refurbished buildings being developed at a market rate.
That is why we are asking you to hold Mr. Bonin accountable and demand that the matter is tabled until his successor is sworn in.
In the meantime, we are having productive and ongoing conversations with the campaigns of Karen Bass and Rick Caruso relative to the Median. Like Joe Buscaino, both have listened to our frustrations with keen interest, and we’re hopeful you’ll be hearing from them in the next few days as well.
We must also draw your attention to the seminar recently conducted by The City of Los Angeles’s Emergency Management Department in mid-April (yes just last month) in which experts for the city, county, state, and federal governments weighed in to discuss sea level rise and Tsunami evacuation procedures.
Our takeaway is that Climate Change is very real, and we do not believe you would have been so easily swayed six years ago had you been made aware of the tremendous risk you are putting the community and all visitors to the immediate vicinity under -- especially if an evacuation occurs while The Monster is under construction. That scenario, in particular, is almost too horrible to contemplate with thousands evacuating under extreme conditions, navigating closed traffic lanes, construction equipment, and other obstacles.
For the past few years, the bar for Good Government at City Hall has been very low, rife with cynicism and alienation; no-bid contracts, charges of corruption, and a true lack of anything resembling fiscal responsibility. By voting to table this project until the next Councilperson is sworn in, you and the other Council members would be sending a strong message that the health of our civic culture depends on a healthy dialogue between elected officials and their constituents, including the ones they (you) don’t always agree with.
Mike Bonin denied the vast majority of stakeholders in Venice such a dialogue, forcing constituents to file a lawsuit in order to be heard, instead of it being vetted properly in the city planning process with full transparency, allowing elected officials like yourselves to understand magnitude of this fiasco before it’s too late for the next generation of Venetians to sustain this community’s historic commitment to the Coastal environment and beach access for all.
Vote to table the matter. Let the truth come out.
(Chuck Rosin is from Venice and The Coalition for Safe Coastal Development.)