By Krista Schwimmer
As California experiences one of its worst droughts in over 156 years, creating dangerous conditions for wildfires, a different kind of fire is burning in the neighborhoods of Venice. This fire is kindled by avarice and arrogance. This fire is driven by rapid, sometimes rogue, real estate development. Whether the development project stems from a misuse of Small Lot Subdivisions or, as in the case of the proposed 1414 Main Street Project, a twisted interpretation of California’s SB 1818, the result is the same: destruction of the unique landscape of Venice. Luckily, it is not too late to meet these fires with another equally powerful fire, one kindled by outrage and assembly.
Such community outrage was evident in the January 15 meeting of the Land and Use Planning Committee (LUPC) at Oakwood Recreation Center. The turnout was so large that everyone was moved to the gymnasium, delaying the start of a night packed with serious building agendas. Before addressing one of the most contentious development projects, 1414 Main, the chair opened the floor for five minutes of public comment. Four individuals spoke out against Small Lot Subdivisions (SLS’s) in Venice. Peggy Kennedy said that there is a motion before the city committee run by Tom Labonge to look into this matter. She reminded LUPC that the Coastal and Venice Specific Plans (VSP) supersede the general city plans, as well as that to qualify for a three lot subdivision, the lot needed to be at least 5,500 square feet. She and Ivonne Guzman, also concerned about SLSs and the Mansionization of Venice, said the community was not being notified enough. Guzman is petitioning that a moratorium be placed on all SLSs in Venice.
The next agenda item, 1414 Main Street, was a continuation from last month’s LUPC meeting. The applicants, Jason Teague and Brian Silveira, were given five minutes to speak on new information to their mixed-use project. In this case, it was the development’s proforma, delivered to LUPC at 6 pm. The proforma showed the projected costs of the development, as well as its initial net profit in the first three
years: two percent, or approximately $500,000. Although this may not be much for a developer, it well exceeds the median, annual income of $56,241 for Los Angeles County residents, according to the most recent Census data.
Teague claimed that Main Street is part of the seven percent of Venice that should be commercially developed. “Abbot Kinney did not design Venice as a sleepy little beach town,” he said. He went on to say that Main Street in all cities is the place people go to hang out. Sadly, Mr. Teague seems to have forgotten that in Venice, Main Street was originally Coral Canal. Mr. Kinney had a different idea about “partying”, one that included gondola rides, and not parked cars.
Public comment continued on this project, beginning with a 5 minute proposed motion to reject and revise the current design based on community feedback. The speaker, Renata Pompelli, made twelve recommendations. These included reducing the number of stories and height to comply with the VSP; eliminating the ground floor commercial and underground bar/performance area; denying access to the underground parking garage through residential alleys; and making Main Street the front of the complex. She also showed the committee a petition with 933 signatures against the project. At the end, when she asked all in the audience against the project to raise their hands and stand up, the majority of people in the room did.
More individual public comments followed, with the majority expressing views against the development. Michael Wamback succinctly pointed out that the VSP existed to avoid this kind of confrontation and chaos. To go against it would set a precedent. Mark Kleiman claimed the developers were “only doing the bare minimum” for the community by not revealing things easily. Point in case was how the developers delivered their proforma right before the meeting, allowing no one in the community to examine it prior to the meeting.
Jonathon Kaplan called attention to a very important element that no one had publicly addressed: the historic nature of the district. In a letter sent to LUPC prior to the meeting, Kaplan stated that three houses that would be demolished are part of the original canal district. Both 202 and 208 Horizon also appear in Charlie Chaplin’s movie, “Kid Auto Race,” where he first revealed his famous character, the “Little Tramp”. Kaplan is working with the Los Angeles Office of Historic Resources. Until the properties’ historic value can be assessed properly, Kaplan asked the project not be permitted to go forward.
The few people in favor of the project gave no compelling testimony as to why this megalith should go through. Several people merely commented on the character of Mr. Teague rather than the quality of the project. One supporter, Brad Neil, after applauding Teague for bringing in robotic parking, contradicted himself by adding that if he lived next door to the project, he probably would be pissed off,
After the public comments were closed, the developers made a brief rebuttal. Although they were replacing three existing, affordable rental units, the rentals on these units could change if the tenants moved out; the price on their new units would be maintained for 30 years. Mr. Teague failed to mention that at least one of the tenants forced out had been living there since the 1970s – hardly an indication of tenant fluctuation. On top of it, the majority of Teague’s condominiums would sell for close to $1,000,000, proving that his intent is to serve the wealthier community. Right before the vote, when asked by one LUPC committee member if he would consider changing the design, Teague said he would not if it meant removing the fourth floor.
Fortunately for the community, Mia Heron, case project manager, made the motion to deny the project. Some of the reasons were: they were asking for too many incentives; the character, mass, and scale of the project did not fit the neighborhood; and they had not proven the need for certain off-menu incentives. The motion passed 7-0-1, with the chairman, Jake Kaufman, abstaining. LUPC’s findings will now go the Venice Neighborhood Council, possibly at their next meeting, Tuesday, February 18.
That night, LUPC also made two other motions on projects. Both the Firestone Project and the AK Boutique Hotel received the green light to go forward. In the case of the AK Hotel, a motion was made to approve the project “based upon compliance with the VCZSP,” with nine conditions attached to the motion. The majority of the conditions detail constraints around delivery and loading place and time, as well as parking restrictions related to construction and use. The motion succeeded: 6 in favor, 1 opposing, and 1 abstaining.
Venice is experiencing an unprecedented amount of development. Although development can revitalize a community, we must look deeply at current building projects and ask ourselves if these serve an elite group or our entire community. Interestingly, Abbot Kinney himself did not seek to serve just one class of people. According to Tom Moran, when Kinney was asked by a reporter if he had stopped trying to attract the wealthy, Kinney replied, “Understand, I never had any idea of making this a resort for rich people. The devil can attend to the rich without assistance.”
Whether your home is owned, rented, borrowed or transitory, you, too, have a voice in this matter. Your voice, however, needs to be heard not only at local meetings such as LUPC and VNC, but also at the Los Angeles City level. Let’s hold Los Angeles to our specific, coastal plans! Here are some ways in which you can achieve this:
* Read Specific Plans For Venice: You can find a copy of the Venice Coastal Zone Specific Plan (Ordinance No. 172897) at: http://bit.ly/MlJyqV
* Read California SB 1818 at: http://bit.ly/1gvDLx5 Then, go bug your self-taught legal-savvy friends about its implications.
* Read and respond to “Notices of Hearing” placed on any homes in your neighborhood. Attending these ZA hearings is crucial! Your words are considered legal evidence, but must be heard at the lower level hearings.
* Write to these people and express your unique concerns: Council Member,
District 11, Mike Bonin, firstname.lastname@example.org; Tricia Keane, Planning Director, District 11, email@example.com; Cecilia Castillo, Del Rey, Venice & Marina Peninsula Field Deputy, firstname.lastname@example.org; Venice Neighborhood Council, email@example.com; and Land Use and Planning Committee, firstname.lastname@example.org
* Stay informed about the current, proposed projects by attending the next VNC meeting scheduled for Tuesday, February 18, 7 pm, at Westminster Elementary School Auditorium, 1010 Abbot Kinney Boulevard. For 1414 Main, you can stay updated by going to www.veniceagainst1414main.com
* Stay informed of other projects coming through LUPC by attending their
meetings, the 1st and 3rd Wednesdays of the month, 6:45 pm, at Oakwood Recreation Center, 767 California Street
* Send articles and letters to the Beachhead about this issue.
* Notice the beauty of Venice around you. It will make the fight against over-development even more meaningful.