By Krista Schwimmer
The superstitious believe that Friday the 13th is an unlucky day. One reason is because King Philip IV ordered Jacques de Molay and theFrench Templars to be simultaneously arrested on a Friday the 13th in1307. Many Templars were then tortured and executed, including their leader, Jacques de Molay. Although the King claimed it was for their idolatry, in reality, the king simply needed to fill his empty coffers with the Templar’s vast treasures.
On Friday, June 13th, the California Coastal Commission (CCC) ruled in favor of another form of gold: Venice real estate. With little debate, the Commissioners approved eight new demolitions of residential homes in Venice for so-called cutting edge, oversized architectural projects posing as family homes. They also gave the green light to the restaurant, “House of Pies”, setting a new, unfortunate precedent that significantly lowers required restaurant parking in the Venice coastal zone.
It was only a few years ago, when Venice was fighting OPDs, that the Coastal Commission heartily had her back. In fact, more recently in March, they made the decision to stop di minimus waivers in Venice, causing enough of a halt on development that architects, developers, and even Councilman Mike Bonin came pleading to them to reverse their decision. One such architect, David Hertz, argued that change can be beneficial, and asked the commissioners not to “let people who are afraid of change – which is a vocal minority – use bureaucracy as a process to slow things down.” Easy to say when he himself would not only benefit from the project he represented that day, but the many others he is involved in, including the Abbot Kinney Hotel.
As each of the individual projects were heard, Jack Ainsworth, Senior Deputy Director, Los Angeles County, South Coast District, gave the impression that the Coastal Commission’s hands were tied, particularly around the protection of affordable housing in the coastal zone. In 1981, Ainsworth stated, the legislature removed the provisions for preservation of low cost and affordable housing in the coastal zone. As a result, the
CCC had “no regulatory authority over affordable housing” and could only encourage it. He did say that other coastal areas were having a similar problem with the loss of affordable housing because of gentrification.
During his lengthy explanation of how the City’s own coastal program works, however, Ainsworth did claim that the CCC could assess “whether or not the project is compatible with the area.” This one comment alone should have been enough to stop the projects being proposed that day. Testimony from real neighbors living near the different projects proved it. One heart wrenching moment came when Debra and David Blocker, 25 year residents of the Venice Canals, spoke against the three story mansion that was being proposed 30 feet from them. “I don’t understand how anyone could say this is the character of the city,” she said. “They are creating white box neighborhoods.” His voice shaking, David added that some neighbors had already moved out because of the mansionization of the canals. Over the last five to ten years, he continued, the canals were losing their ducks, geese, and other bird residents. Wasn’t the CCC created in part to protect them?
Project after project, Venetians cried to the commissioners to protect them against the City of Los Angeles. The CCC did nothing, despite the fact that several Venetians showed that the city was breaking building codes, as well as using loopholes to push through big development. During the hearing on the restaurant, “House of Pies,” Mr. Aronson, involved in planning for the last 20 years, spoke strongly against the restaurant. Why? “What I’ve seen in the last few years is that the city is chipping away at our local coastal program. They’re increasing density and reducing parking at the same time. This is one of several examples. The city changed their policy. The policy conflicts with your policy.” In this instance, Aronson was referring to the fact that any restaurant in Venice should provide MORE parking than elsewhere in the city. When calculating the number based on Service Floor area, the applicant did not include the “path of travel”, something contrary to what the CCC has done themselves in the past. In any other area of LA, this same restaurant would be required to provide 37 parking spaces rather than the proposed 20. In spite of his and other people’s pleas, the CCC unanimously approved this restaurant, setting a new precedent in Venice that LOWERS required parking.
Even when presented with a blatant disregard for legal process, the CCC did nothing. Agenda item 10(d), requesting the demolition of a single family home at 2413 Wilson Avenue, had ALREADY been demolished without the proper coastal permit. After Ainsworth publicly admitted that this was a violation, the commissioners nevertheless unanimously approved the application.
Towards the end of the day, one lone commissioner, Martha McClure, began to speak up for Venice. She even asked if all of her “yes” votes could be changed to “no”. Even if this had been possible, one vote would not have been enough.
As Lydia Ponce said in her testimony before the Commission: “Ladies and Gentlemen, you’re being bamboozled.” The City of Los Angles needs to “know the law, apply the law,” Ponce continued.
What will happen to Venice now? Like the Knight Templars, some residents such as the 5th generation, young family who testified at the June meeting, have already fled. Unlike the Templars, such families are forced to leave their treasure behind.
Venetians, don’t let government bodies erode the character of Venice. Don’t let money force change. The “architectural renaissance” promoted by developers here in Venice is an architectural sham. Let’s get together and create the next vision of Venice, one that embraces all of its relations – from human to insect. Let’s get together and free Venice from the self-made kings and queens who lust after her remaining treasures.
By Krista Schwimmer