By Krista Schwimmer
Across the nation, individuals and communities are gathering to talk about one thing: the tsunami wave of hyper-gentrification. This newest form of gentrification is gutting old communities, particularly minority and working class communities. These homes are often replaced by out-of-character, massive structures, or what Venice resident Laddie Williams calls “BUBs” – Big Ugly Boxes. More importantly, however, hyper-gentrification is pushing out real people, with real lives in these very communities.
Recently, one such conversation took place at Electric Lodge in Venice. On Wednesday, April 30, Occupy Venice finished its series of films with one on gentrification. The public was invited to both a healthy meal and a lively discussion, featuring an interesting panel of experts on this topic, as well as four short, documentary films, addressing a variety of topics around this issue. For those who do not know what gentrification is, in the first film, “Gentrification & Urban Planning in Chicago,” David Stovall, Associate Professor in Urban Education gave this simple definition: “one group in, one group out,” with often times the rich group being white, and the poor, colored.
According to the first panel speaker, Erin McMorrow, an urban planner herself, there are ways to attack the wrongs of evil development projects. Each community can create their own community plan, called a “sustainability plan.” She said that San Francisco has done it. “This could be a new moment”, McMorrow said to have such a conversation to create a community driven vision.
Excerpts from the second film, “There goes the neighborhood – Anacostia,” set the tone for discussing just what is happening to African-American communities across the country. Anacostia, east of the river it was named after, is a largelyAfrican-American community with the right mix of history and location in Washington, D.C. to attract the gentrifiers. Following this film, Laddie Williams talked about how this is happening here in Oakwood, an area of Venice with some African-American families going back to the time of Abbot Kinney himself. Laddie’s own grandfather moved to the area in 1945 because he was tired of the lynching and the killing in the south. Today, a mix of LAPD and developers are pushing these long-time residents out. The process begins with harassment. Only recently, her own mother was cited $1,100 for a few missing slats in her fence. Luckily, she has children to come to her aid. Other residents might not have such family support when developers next come in offering to pay cash for their property. Not happy with how both the Venice Neighborhood Council and the Land Use and Planning Committee are representing Venice, Laddie and three other women have been taking matters directly to LA City Council and the Coastal Commission, through their recently formed group, Venice Coalition to Preserve Unique Community Character (VCPUCC).
Jataun Valentine, a descendent of Irwin Tabor, later spoke about how Oakwood came to be gentrified. The separation from the community began when the area was coined, “Oakwood” and more police sent into the neighborhood. Despite some of its violence, Jataun said folks living there were not afraid. Several times, she commented, too, on how people that have moved into the area more recently no longer show respect to the ones living there like they used to do in the past.
The third film of the night, “Frank Murphy – Developer,” showed one developer’s point of view. Apparently, he preferred working with Councilperson Ruth Galanter, as her “litmus test was clear.” (Ironically, during her watch, she successfully pushed through a 14 month moratorium on developments, with some conditions, something not mentioned by Murphy, and forgotten by the current VNC/LUPC!) Murphy showed his true colors when he said, “This was never a suburb by the sea. It will never be a suburb – get over it.”
Several speakers suggested everyone pressure our current Councilman, Mike Bonin. How? First, by asking him to ratify a Local Coastal Plan, apparently already authored. This would require a commitment of money on his part. Second, by asking him to uphold the current Venice Specific Plan. Finally, by offering support to the residents rather than to the developers.
Speaking to some of the current homeless issues in Venice, David Busch brought up the beach curfew. Since the beach curfew, the homeless have no toilets at night. The Coastal Commission is willing to address this curfew; to do so, however, the commission needs to see the tickets that the police are issuing to those breaking the curfew.
Excerpts from the film, “Boom, the Sound of Eviction” completed the gentrification film series. This 2001 documentary by film makers Francine Cavanaugh, A. Mark Liiv, and Adams Wood focuses on the housing crisis of San Francisco during the 1990’s dot-com era. Two other panel members, Becky Dennison of Los Angeles Community Action Network (LACAN), and Bill Przylucki of People Organized for Westside Renewal (POWER), suggested more solutions to stop hyper-gentrification. Dennison, who lives in South Central, first said that we should be unabashedly against gentrification. Organizing must then come from the position that we are the ones in the moral right. She then said we should create a common vision and stand by this vision every time. She also insisted that we dig into every single development in the community. Przylucki brought up shaking down the developers with a legally, binding contract called a community benefit agreement. According to the handout distributed, “a community benefits agreement is a project-based, legally enforceable contract between a community coalition and a developer that outlines the project’s contributions to the community and ensures community support for the project.” (Could this replace the conditions that VNC/LUPC have been adding to motions when they do approve projects???)
Throughout the night, not only did the panel members offer interesting and insightful information, but encouraged by the moderator, Rob Dew, many audience members offered their experiences working in other neighborhoods such as Santa Monica and Leimert Park. Only recently, Santa Monica residents succeeded to reverse the approved Hines Development project that would have added 7,000 new daily car trips to Santa Monica.
And so, a larger conversation has begun in Venice. A conversation, like the Venice of old, that was and will continue to be inclusive. Throughout the night, there was no one silencing anyone, no one repeatedly using the misused term, “by right”, and many valuable suggestions were made on how to continue our actions, both in groups and as individuals.
Thich Nhat Hahn, the re-known monk and activist, once said that he believes the next Buddha is not an individual, but a collection of individuals. Who knows – perhaps that’s us! In any case, let’s continue the conversation: in coffee shops, at Coastal Commission Meetings, on front porches, on blogs, and in the surf. And then – of course – let’s act!
Local Groups Working On This Issue:
Venice Coalition to Preserve Unique Community Character – Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Los Angeles Community Action Network – cangress.org
People Organized for Westside Renewal – power-la.org
Occupy Venice – Facebook page: Occupy Venice Beach
Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy – laane.org
Missed the Gentrification Films? Check them out at these links:
“Gentrification & Urban Planning in Chicago” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v-nVIWoFw6pzo
“There Goes the Neighborhood – Anacostia” http://www.vimeo.com/27888795
“Frank Murphy – Developer” http://www.kcet.org/socal/departures/venice
“Boom, the Sound of Eviction” http://www.boomthemovie.org