VENICE POLITICS - This Thursday, The LA City Planning Commission will be holding its second Public Hearing on the controversial Venice Median Project--
after unanimously voting to approve it seven months earlier despite some serious pushback from The Venice Neighborhood Council, and its land use planning committee, which, as you might expect, unanimously opposed the project.
Same thing with our esteemed City Council. It already has voted twice to approve the same project– the first time unanimously on December 1st -- and just two months after, by a 13-1 margin. Yet, it too will have the Median back on its agenda in mid-March, and, most likely, again in April to correct mistakes and clarify its obfuscations.
Even more peculiar is the twisted relationship between the Council’s PLUM Committee and the Median Project, located within the historic Venice Canals district – which, btw, was originally called The Reese-Davidson Community Project to honor Venice’s most prominent Black Forefather, Arthur Reese, until his granddaughter, demanded the developers remove her family name off the project, in part, because of its “misleading descriptions.”
But that’s not why PLUM abruptly cancelled its regularly scheduled meeting in December, a mere one week before the Council’s vote -- only to be forced to take it up again this February to fix the many inaccuracies it should have/would have caught if the meeting had not been cancelled.
The reason all these revisions had to be implemented can be traced back to two culprits: a) the sloppy paperwork and glaring omissions in the documentation provided by Venice Community Housing and Hollywood Housing Corporation b). the rushed timetable for approval demanded by our lame duck Councilman to beat the City Clerk’s mid-January deadline to certify the 39,000 signatures gathered by the effort to Recall Bonin.
Yep. Sorry. This is all about Mike. I know. I know. Like everyone else, you thought that when the Recall Bonin fell short, and he tearfully announced he would not seek a third term due to various mental health issues he’s been battling for years while in office –it meant his priority would be to take care of himself as any patient would; perhaps resigning from office.
Falling short of that, you maybe thought it would mark the beginning of some transformational behavior, or, at least, a toning down of some of the harsher, more divisive elements of his personality and rhetoric that led to the Recall in the first place?
No such luck. Before the motion went up for a Council vote, an agitated Bonin asked to speak after the thirty minute Public Comment ended, to challenge the three people from Venice who spoke. "To those who have called in, let me just say if you don't want encampments, you need housing."
You know what else we need, Mike? We need our planning commissioners, elected officials, and voters from the other Council Districts to realize that the fracas over The Venice Median is not some parochial land-use dispute, but a cautionary tale.
The Venice Median is basically an outrageously blatant land grab masking as affordable housing that speaks volumes about the play-to-play /quid pro quo culture at City Hall that goes on behind closed doors. And what’s worse -- unless your councilman is named Joe Buscaino – your Councilmember most likely voted for the project because Mike asked them to, without making even a modest effort to learn why we locals were flipping out.
In a nutshell, here’s why:
- It’s the largest/last parcel of open space in Venice, one block from the beach in the Venice Canals Historic District.
- It’s in a FEMA Special Flood Hazard Area, with a catastrophic sea rise projected to be 8 feet above sea level in 30 years.
- It’s a Tsunami inundation zone with a high-water table.
- It grants numerous exemptions including replacing easily accessible beach parking with a 45-ft robotic tower with tiered-parking 500 ft further from the beach for the working-class families from Inglewood and East LA that join us for weekends on the beach
- Its costs are prohibitive: 141 units, each 460 sq feet, costing an estimated $1.1 Million per unit which, unfortunately, is severely underestimated.
- No priority for Venice’s homeless. No sober living required.
- A state mandated exemption from environmental review under CEQA.
The last one -- -- the CEQA exemption – AB1197 – is the one to remember. It allows any shelter or homeless housing project being developed in L.A. (and ONLY LA) to be exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act in order to speed up its approval process for affordable housing – and the only reason the politicians in Sacramento rushed this through was because there was no way “Mike’s Monster” could pass any type of the city’s environmental review.
And here’s the most confusing part – what some of us who have been trying to figure out for seven years is why would Mike insist that the “Dell-Pacific Parking Lot’ be chosen to anchor the first wave of eight city-owned properties targeted for Permanent Supportive Housing via funding from Prop HHH in 2016, even though its twice as large, and projected to be twice as expensive, as any of the others.
More puzzling is why a city desperate to get people off the streets and into shelter and/or treatment propose a project of this size and scope for the Coastal Zone knowing all the extra time it would take to clear the permitting process? I mean, do we have ourselves a major humanitarian crisis that requires immediate intervention on the scale of FEMA, or is all this pretext to legitimize a pathway to profit for everyone involved?
Like I said before, this has always been all about Mike. He misled his fellow Councilmembers to first get their approval by describing it as “an underutilized parking lot” without bringing up its historic status or environmental drawbacks. He signed off on architect Eric Moss’s brutally austere design, out of character in every way with our eclectic and sublime Venice beach culture. And during the first Council vote he explained to his colleagues that this was “a no brainer” because the city owned what he would later cynically describe before another Council vote as “Low-hanging fruit”.
Low hanging fruit?!! Seriously? Come on, Mike. Venice beach has always been the people’s beach, much like New York’s Central Park -- shared and enjoyed by every socioeconomic group from every other council person’s district.
Last October, before the first Council vote, I sent an emotional plea to the other Council Members trying to give context by asking them to imagine how their constituents would react if a massively disruptive construction project that will cost a fortune and take years to complete, was slated on Public Land in their districts. Here is a sampling:
District #1 - Gilbert Cedillo – at the entrance of Dodger Stadium,
District #2 - Paul Krekorian – across from TV Academy
District #3 - Bob Blumenfield – across from El Camino or Taft High School;
District #6 - Nury Martinez – across from Lake Balboa, or Bob’s Big Boy
District #8 - Marqueece Harris-Dawson – in the heart of historic Leimert Park
District #9 -- Curren D. Price, Jr. – across from L.A. Live or Exposition Park
District #12 - John S. Lee – across from CSUN; Chatsworth Nature Preserve
District #13- Mitch O’Farrell – across from Echo Park Lake, or The Reservoir
Additionally, I reminded them that the districts they represent encompass 500 landlocked miles while Venice is a vibrant 3 ½ mile beach town, with a unique beach culture that still attracts way more tourists than any other place in the city, despite the encampments and drug dealers pushing Meth and Fentanyl.
I ended my email with a call to action, begging them to abstain since Mike and The Developers haven’t given them enough information to judge the project on its merits. Again, only Councilman Buscaino, joined by Curren Price from District #9, effectively, abstained as requested.
Next time the project is theirs to consider, I will ask them to vote against it instead of humoring the wounded ego of a bitter, soon to be ex Councilman, so that the tax payer dollars earmarked for this site can be redirected to shovel ready projects that can house and shelter many more in need, at a better location, for the same price.
But that’s down the road. This week, it’s about the Planning Commission. I have one question for each of them. After reviewing the documentation brought forth by the residential and business communities of Venice, please tell us one good thing about this project as conceived. Just one good thing.
Not so easy, is it?
(Charles Rosin, a retired native of Los Angeles, moved to Venice ten years ago to catch waves and be closer to the beach. Rosin serves on The VNC’s Neighborhood Committee and is a Board member of the Coalition for Safe Coastal Development which has brought suit against the city and the developers of The Venice Median Project.)