By Phyllis Hayashibara
What’s happening with the Venice Japanese American Memorial Marker? What’s taking so long? It’s been fourteen YEARS since the idea first came about, to memorialize the northwest corner of Venice and Lincoln Boulevards. At this intersection over several days in April, 1942, some 1,000 persons of Japanese ancestry, forcibly removed from their homes and businesses in Venice, Santa Monica, and Malibu, reported for transport to an American concentration camp in a place called Manzanar in the Inyo Valley. They came in their best clothes and with only whatever else they could carry. They cooperated with the federal government’s “military necessity” line, in accordance with Executive Order 9066, signed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt on February 19, 1942 to demonstrate their patriotism. Executive Order 9066 authorized the military to purge the West coast states of Washington, Oregon, and California of U. S. citizens and permanent residents who looked like the enemy that had just bombed the U. S. naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941. No due process, no writ of habeas corpus, just a sweeping violation of Constitutional rights based on ethnic prejudice, economic covetousness, and political expediency.
The Venice Peace and Freedom Party first took up the campaign to commemorate the Japanese American evacuation and incarceration in the wake of the September 11, 2001 jet plane attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Virginia, and the one diverted to a field in Pennsylvania. Muslims and Middle Easterners, or people perceived as such, suffered indiscriminate physical harm and property damage, and became targets of demands for their mass identification, imprisonment, or deportation. Alarmed by such prejudice, Venice activists and artists joined the Venice Peace and Freedom Party’s call to remember what had happened to Americans of Japanese ancestry on the West coast at the beginning of World War II. What had happened in 1942 should never happen again, to any minority group, based solely on ethnicity, religion, or national origin, they vowed.
The campaign for a permanent marker stalled without the active endorsement of local politicians on the Los Angeles City Council. Then, the April 2009 edition of the Free Venice Beachhead published the April 25, 1942 photo of well-dressed Japanese Americans and their families with boxes and sacks at their feet, lined up along the north side of Venice Boulevard, just west of Lincoln Boulevard. The Beachhead featured an article by Scott Yuda, Jr. about his aunt Akiko Yagi, his great grandfather George Inagaki, and Inagaki’s friend and business associate Mike Masaoka, and their personal experiences with property loss, stifling heat in desert barracks, and the formation of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which became the most decorated unit in American military history. Masaoka campaigned for the all-Japanese American 442nd, and enlisted volunteers FROM INSIDE the ten War Relocation Authority Camps that imprisoned their Japan-born parents and American-born younger brothers and sisters. In a small blue box titled, “Lest We Forget,” the Beachhead encouraged readers to write to then-Los Angeles City Councilmember Bill Rosendahl, 11th District, for his support of the community’s concept of a “marker, monument, or sculpture” at the site where “one of the grossest violations of civil liberties in this country’s history took place,” as an “ongoing reminder of how easy it is to lose our precious democratic rights if we are unaware.”
Scott Pine, while a junior at Venice High School, brought the April 2009 edition of the Beachhead to Mrs. Hayashibara’s 11th grade U. S. History class for a current event discussion with historical relevance to what the class had been studying. Mrs. Hayashibara took up the Beachhead’s challenge to contact Councilmember Rosendahl as a Service Learning Experience, then a high school graduation requirement. Students wrote to Rosendahl, and cc’d their emails to the Free Venice Beachhead, which published the students’ letters in the June 2009 edition.
Councilmember Rosendahl responded immediately, inviting the Venice High School students to a full City Council meeting to make a presentation, and sending a chartered bus to transport about twenty-five students to City Hall in downtown Los Angeles on May 29, 2009. Student Felix Barron represented the other students by reading his letter to Rosendahl before the City Council. Barron’s letter acknowledged that the memory of the Japanese American internment had slowly begun to fade, but with a permanent marker or monument, the legacy of the Japanese American internment could be remembered, so the same mistakes would not be made again. Rosendahl gave a spirited endorsement of a permanent marker or monument, and on July 16, 2010, entered a motion to support “the installation of a commemorative marker at the northwest corner of Venice and Lincoln Boulevards to commemorate the start of the internment of hundreds of Japanese and Japanese Americans living in the Venice community on April 25, 1942.”
The City Council referred the motion to the Board of Public Works, which granted its approval on October 20, 2010. The City Council approved the motion on November 2, 2010.
But wait! There are many other requirements for a nine foot six inch tall obelisk of solid black granite, with a three foot by three foot base, as the volunteer Venice Japanese American Memorial Marker (VJAMM) Committee learned. The VJAMM Committee diligently complied with the various rules and regulations required before the VJAMM could be installed, and researched professional referrals for civil, structural, and geotechnical engineering; prepared documentation and presentations; and submitted applications which resulted in the following actions:
Then-State Assemblymember Betsy Butler, 53rd District, and then-State Senator Ted Lieu, 28th District, co-sponsored Assembly Concurrent Resolution 46 in April, 2011, requesting that the California Department of Transportation grant an encroachment permit for the VJAMM. The VJAMM Committee made its initial application to CalTrans for an encroachment permit in April 2012, which was denied, pending additional requirements. On September 12, 2012, the Los Angeles City Council adopted an amendment to Rosendahl’s original motion, proposed by the Public Works Committee, to “INSTRUCT and AUTHORIZE the Bureau of Street Services to negotiate and execute the necessary agreement with the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) for the maintenance of this monument/marker within the State highway right-of-way.” Due to the design change from an obelisk with a concrete core with granite slabs, to a solid granite obelisk, the VJAMM Committee submitted its re-application for an encroachment permit in February 2015, also pending additional requirements which the VJAMM Committee is currently working to resolve.
The California Coastal Commission granted a waiver to the VJAMM on November 15, 2012, as the VJAMM will not interfere with views of or access to the coastline. The State Office of Historic Preservation of the Department of Parks and Recreation, concurred on September 13, 2013, with the National Park Service’s conclusion of No Historic Properties Affected by the VJAMM project.
Ralph Stone and Company conducted a soils test at the northwest corner of Venice and Lincoln on November 20, 2013 and concluded that the “proposed memorial obelisk is feasible from the standpoint of geotechnical practice as the subject site.” Digalert, also onsite on November 20, 2013, found no utilities under the installation site. Sullaway Engineering originally submitted its structural engineering calculations on February 12, 2014. After the Los Angeles City’s Bureau of Engineering’s Structural Engineering Department required changes, Sullaway Engineering resubmitted revised structural calculations, and the BOE’s Structural Engineering Department granted approval on February 24, 2015. In the meantime, the Cultural Affairs Commission of the City of Los Angeles granted conceptual and final approval to the VJAMM on August 21, 2014.
All the while, VJAMM Committee members successfully sought letters of support from various community organizations, including Asian American Drug Abuse Program, Beyond Baroque, Free Venice Beachhead, King Fahad Mosque, Manzanar Committee, Nikkei Student Union at UCLA, Social and Public Art Resource Center, Southern California Social Science Association, Venice Arts Council, Venice Community Housing Corporation, Venice-Culver Japanese American Citizens League, Venice Heritage Foundation, Venice High School Alumni Association, Venice High School New Media Academy, Venice Historical Society, Venice Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, Venice Japanese Community Center, Venice Neighborhood Council, Venice Peace and Freedom Party, Venice Town Council, Voice of the Canals, West Los Angeles Japanese American Citizens League, West Los Angeles Buddhist Temple, West Los Angeles United Methodist Church.
And of course, the VJAMM Committee embarked on an intense fundraising campaign, beginning in September 2010, which has raised $100,000 towards the VJAMM’s fabrication, installation, and educational outreach. The National Park Service’s Japanese American Confinement Sites Program granted the VJAMM Committee $50,000 in 2:1 matching funding (the VJAMM had raised $25,000) in March 2012. Then-Los Angeles City Councilmember Bill Rosendahl became the first to donate $5,000 towards the VJAMM in April, 2011. Then-Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, 3rd District, became the first Los Angeles County Supervisor to donate $5,000 in February 2013, followed by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, 2nd District in August 2013, and then by Supervisor Don Knabe, 4th District in February 2014. Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin, 11th District pledged $5,000 in March 2014, and then-California State Senator Ted Lieu, 28th District, donated $5,000 in April 2014. The Venice Neighborhood Council had voted unanimously to support the VJAMM at the June 15, 2010 meeting; the VNC voted to grant $1,300 to the VJAMM in Community Improvement Project funds at the May 24, 2011 meeting. The VJAMM Committee held a benefit at Beyond Baroque on October 29, 2011, which raised $10,000 from VIP sushi reception, entry donations, DVD donations, various raffles of donated goods, and a silent auction of donated artworks from local artists. For a complete list of donors, including in-kind contributors, please visit http://www.venicejamm.org.
But the most enduring and successful of all VJAMM fundraising efforts must be credited to Esther Chaing of Hama Sushi Restaurant, “on the circle” in Venice. Since 2012, Esther has hosted the VJAMM fundraiser at Hama Sushi, donating 100% of the profits of the special lunch bento box and 10% of all dinner sales to the VJAMM Committee. Over the past three years, Esther’s contributions to the VJAMM Committee have totaled over $7,600. Many of the Hama Sushi staff have also volunteered their time to help with the bento box lunch. This year, the VJAMM fundraiser at Hama Sushi will take place on Thursday, April 23. Program begins at 11 am and ends at noon, when the pre-ordered bento box lunches will be distributed through 2 pm. Take out or eat in, but place your orders in advance. Please see ad in this issue of the Free Venice Beachhead.
So, between drumming up support in writing, raising funds, coordinating educational outreach with the Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress Committee, which conducted a workshop for educators at the Constitution Day Conference at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley on September 7, 2013 at the invitation of the VJAMM Committee; and patiently wading (and waiting) through the bureaucracies at the city and state levels, with guidance from kindly city and state officials, the Venice Japanese American Memorial Marker Committee carries on. The VJAMM Committee thanks each and every supporter for THEIR patience and support, and hopes to see YOU there at Hama Sushi on Thursday, April 23!
Breaking News: Los Angeles City Board of Public Works approved, on Wednesday, March 25, recommendations of Office of Community Beautification that would permit installation of VJAMM on public right of way, no-fee Revocable Permit, no-fee A Permit, and no-fee inspection! One step closer!