by Jon Wolff
As the theory goes: A long time ago, a man named Abbot Kinney came to the West Coast, dug canals, built a little city with attractions and amusements, and called it Venice. Then the economy went bad, Los Angeles took over, and everything got real cheap. In the ‘50s and ‘60s, the Beatniks and the Hippies appeared and made a lot of art, music, and poetry. Eventually, the real estate speculators came in and the property values went up.
Nowadays, the rent is too astronomical for human beings to afford and everything nice has to get torn down and replaced with the ugliest concrete cubes the world has ever seen. Soon, Venice will be paved over and a wall will be built to keep out all the non-millionaires. It can’t be stopped. The End.
This is the Theory of the Evolution of Venice and it’s absolutely ridiculous. There is nothing natural about the causes of events over the last hundred and ten years or about the current state of things in Venice. The problems that Venice has faced throughout her history and the problems of today are all man-made. They are not caused by any law of physics or natural order. No force of nature causes the problems. Bad individuals and companies cause the problems and Venice people are solving them.
There is before us now a plan by commercial property owners to establish Business Improvement Districts, called B.I.D.s, around parts of Venice. These are privately and publicly funded areas of authority wherein the wealthier business owners get all the votes and the average citizens get none in the administration of services. Officially, these services are called “security” and “sanitation”. What they really mean are armed goon squads who get paid to harass houseless people and anyone else who isn’t dressed fashionably. This is the Private Police Force that consists of the shock troops of gentrification. But it’s not an eventuality; it’s a move by really awful businessmen to gain private control over access to public space. They’re proposing it and good people are opposing it.
Already, there have been meetings of Venice citizens to convince the L.A. City Council to oppose the B.I.D. There is an outreach effort to get local business owners to oppose the B.I.D. There is a petition drive to have residents oppose the B.I.D. The B.I.D. will fail because the people will prevent it from coming into existence.
As building owners are illegally converting apartment buildings into hotels, there has been pushback from Venice people and that pushback has resulted in government opposition to the conversions. Most of us have heard that Carl Lambert and Andy Layman are being sued by City Attorney Mike Feuer over the illegal conversions. Understand that a smart elected official performs his duty as he believes the voters would have him do it. Popular opposition to illegal conversions compels the City Attorney to uphold the law. The law-breaking building owners will fail because the people will bring them to justice.
Airbnb removes affordable rental units from the market. Longtime Venice residents are pushed out of apartments in favor of short-term vacation renters. Recently though, San Francisco Chinatown residents put up posters and stenciled sidewalks with images shaming the Airbnb offenders in their city.
Surely, Venice can do as well, if not better, in this medium. Already, “Stop gentrifying Venice” stickers have appeared around Venice. Would posters, public art, and anti-Airbnb murals be out of the question? Believe that the short-term rental phenomenon will vanish from Venice if Venice is known as a place hostile to such practices. Very little effort is required to change opinions about a product or service. If tourists perceive Venice as an area where Airbnb can’t operate efficiently, they will just go somewhere else.
Along with this, progress has been made by many city governments around the world to crack down on short-term rental companies. Activists in Venice are relentlessly gaining ground to secure L.A. City support in this effort. The end of Airbnb’s dealings in Venice is imminent. Airbnb will fail because the people will push them out forever.
The recent election to the Venice Neighborhood Council of members more sympathetic to the agendas of developers and less to those of actual Venice citizens should be cause for great concern for anyone who really cares about Venice. Undoubtedly, the new members of the V.N.C. will bring irreparable harm to Venice. There’s no denying that. But their presence is, in no way, a permanent problem. Councils come and councils go.
Many in Venice will remember that, back in the ‘70s, a body called the Venice Town Council would meet regularly in the auditorium that holds Beyond Baroque events. Members would gather to discuss and decide issues pertinent to Venice and also issues of world importance. Venice was a city of activists and the local T.V. news media would send camera crews to Venice Town Council meetings. The L.A. Times would print articles and photos reporting scuffles at the meetings. The Venice Town Council was made of women and men who represented the people of Venice and who were, in no way, beholden to the City of L.A.’s rules and regulations. Is such a council possible today?
If and when a People’s Council is formed it will take on a prominence that will overshadow the Venice Neighborhood Council. Since the City of L.A. has dissolved neighborhood councils that don’t represent the issues that L.A. deems appropriate, couldn’t the people of Venice cause the Venice Neighborhood Council to cease to exist by reason of obsolescence? The V.N.C. is not permanent. When it fails, it will fail because the people will do better.
The word “Gentrification” has been around for over fifty years but it’s used more today because it’s happening everywhere. An article by Hillel Aron appeared in the July 22 – 28, 2016 issue of the L.A. Weekly entitled “Are Art Galleries Gentrifiers”. It is subtitled “Boyle Heights activists demand that all galleries get the hell out of their neighborhood”. This is a spirited battle-cry and the activists in Boyle Heights mean it. The article sites a National Endowment for the Arts paper that says that galleries and related businesses “function as a ‘colonizing arm’ “ for gentrification. The article reports a meeting where the gallery operators faced a hostile crowd of a hundred residents and one gallery owner requested that her name be withheld for “fear of retribution”. The people of Boyle Heights intend to win their fight and their brothers and sisters in Venice applaud them. But what about Venice?
Venice today sees many “colonizing arms” reaching to strangle her into submission to gentrification. We have B.I.D.s, criminal building owners, short-term rentals, and a neighborhood council holding the window open for the arms to come in. We have developers, tech companies, and overpriced bar/restaurants and boutiques to keep us busy. The bad guys would have you believe that all this is inevitable and that they’re part of some predictable Social-Darwinist melodrama. Absurd. No greater nonsense has ever been postulated. The people of Venice will win because the people have the power to choose the destiny of Venice. No law of nature commands us. We are free.