by Mark Lipman
Maybe you’ve noticed this, maybe you haven’t?
A lot of very dramatic changes are happening around Venice.
It seems like overnight entire neighborhoods have been transformed. Family businesses have been forced to close, while high-end trends and tourist boutiques pop-up in their place. Seniors, disabled, long-term fixed income tenants are being displaced faster than you can say “The Ellis Act,” while luxury fortresses are being constructed at breakneck speeds. Just walk down Abbot Kinney on the First Friday of any given month and ask yourself how we got here and if this is really the Venice that we want as a community?
It has already made several rounds through the press how on Monday, April 18th, the Westside Tenants Union, along with several ally organizations in the community worked together to say, “Enough,” and shut down a private, “Invitation Only” meeting with the City Planning Department, a room full of Real Estate Development interests and a few hand-picked “representatives” for the community for the purpose of re-writing the Venice Local Coastal Program (LCP).
The following evening, we heard the Venice Neighborhood Council falling all over themselves, once we exposed the situation, saying how these secret meetings to determine public policy and decisions, which affect all of us, should never take place … yet that is the very root of the problem.
What we as a community shined the light on – and why this is so important – is that this is not a unique occurrence … it happens all the time.
At that very same meeting Odysseus Bostick, of Assemblywoman Burke’s office, reported that their office is trying to fix the Coastal Act to give the Coastal Commission the ability to weigh “affordability” as a measure when deciding on Coastal Development Permits and to add 3 Environmentalist Seats to the Coastal Commission … things that were originally omitted, as all the affected voices weren’t represented around the table during the original decision making process.
Then, at the very same meeting, Debbie Dyner-Harris, from our Council Office, gave an update on a BID (Business Improvement District) reporting that meetings have been taking place for the last two years by Business Owners to create a BID along our entire coast from Venice Blvd. all the way to Santa Monica, that the community really doesn’t have a say on this and that the City Clerk’s Office will be signing off on it soon.
This in itself is completely outrageous and deserves a series of articles to talk about all that is wrong with this plan … put up to the public with a false narrative of “they have to because the government isn’t providing the needed public services.” However, in the same breath, it is never brought up that companies like Google and Snapchat, some of the richest companies on this planet – are given an 80% Tax Break by the City of Los Angeles — that’s our money – money taken out of our community – money that is not – and should be – going to our public services. Instead of making those who are profiting the most pay their fair share, their solution is to give these Private Entities even more power over our Public Spaces.
What we are seeing is not just one isolated incident, we are seeing an entire pattern and practice of major decisions being made behind the scenes and behind our backs, without proper community input, while those with the financial influence receive access to the policy writing process.
Now, when we confront our public officials about what, by all appearances, are grave Conflict of Interests concerns, our questions are brushed aside. We are told to believe that
“This is the way things are done all the time. Everything’s fine.”
When we then point out that “This is the way things are done all the time. This IS the problem,” there is suddenly a mental disconnect. Those who work within the system have great difficulty understanding that Business-as-Usual, the very way decisions are made across the board – at every level – for decades – where we listen to the moneyed interests first and the community last, if at all – is the fundamental problem with our government.
If we do not include all the voices from our community – especially those who are most affected by the decisions we make – from the very beginning of the process – then how can we be surprised when we see Venice spiral into greater and greater inequity?
Perhaps there are those who don’t know, or even just don’t care, there’s plenty of money to be made for those who never have enough. For those of us though who really do care about the future of Venice, we need to think long and hard about the direction we are going in, of what is being built and all the people who are being left behind.
We’re all in this together. Business-as-Usual will not solve our problems. Together though, by including all of our voices and perspectives, we can decide for ourselves, as a community, what our future will be.