Is Real Independence for Venice Possible?

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By Jim Smith

Venice
A dream so sublime
A fate so unfair

What more can be said about Venice after 105 years? Venice has nearly everything: a beautiful beach, a great climate, walk streets galore, a multi-racial and multi-cultural population, a thriving arts and poetry scene, a habit of creating trends that sweep the country and the world.

Yes, Venice has everything except independence. Does it really matter that we can’t make decisions for ourselves, and that our highest form of democracy to is be able to advise others when they make decisions for us. Well, yes, it does matter. In a supposedly democratic country, we are ruled by politicians and bureaucrats in a building many miles to the east of us.

Recently, Venetians have conducted long struggles that have resulted in victories. Just last month, we convinced the Coastal Commission to deny a pay parking scheme devised for us in that high-rise city hall in downtown Los Angeles. Years of effort by many Venetians preserved the biggest chunk of our reasonable rental property – Lincoln Place. Last year at this time we defeated pay parking (it’s starting to be a regular event). Before that, we stopped the giant shopping center where Ralphs, Rite-Aid and Ross now reside. We’ve prevented numerous attempts to run a freeway through the center of Venice, we saved the canals, more or less. At least they didn’t become a yacht harbor. Those high-rises along Ocean Front Walk, like Santa Monica Shores, never got built.

These, and many more, are all great victories for Venice. Problem is, we were on the defensive every time. Strategists including Sun Tzu, Clausewitz and Napoleon, will tell you that you can’t really win a lasting victory unless you go on the offensive. We’ve won many battles, but the war cannot be won if we are always responding to someone else’s initiative.

This is why everyone who wants a Venice that is unique, and democratic, should now turn their attention to working for and restoring our status as a city.

So they faked an election, back in ’25
And there our independence died
Rise Venice Rise

When Venice lost its cityhood in 1925, it was a real tragedy. Most of the canals were filled in, many businesses went bust, oil revenue that could have made Venice rich disappeared downtown never to be seen again, and ultimately Abbot Kinney’s fantastic pier at the Windward Breakwater was torn down. The only lasting improvement L.A. made in Venice for many years was a police station and jail.

The election in ’25 was itself dubious. It was the third annexation vote in as many years. Threats were made to cut off Venice’s water supply, shady characters moved into Venice to agitate for annexation and to vote. There should be no doubt that a vote to restore cityhood would be equally difficult.

But restoring cityhood will be easier than reforming Los Angeles. It is a city of four million people. It is bigger than half the states in the United States. It has a bloated bureaucracy and a police force larger than the armies of more than 50 countries. It has so many vested interests that it cannot balance its own budget. Most of its city council is bought and paid for by developers and assorted billionaires. With or without Venice’s 40,000 residents, L.A. is too large and unwieldy to function effectively.

Would Venice do any better? Yes, because it does not need such an overwhelming bureaucracy.

Of the 88 cities in Los Angeles County, Venice is larger than nearly half of them. These small cities are doing just fine financially. Some are very rich, others have less revenue than Venice will have. Just how much revenue would Venice have? I asked L.A. City Controller Wendy Gruel that question a couple of months ago when she appeared at a Neighborhood Council meeting. She said she didn’t know how much revenue comes from Venice, or how much is spent here.

We can safely assume that Venice revenue to the city of L.A. is in the millions of dollars. At least it is far more than the $50,000 a year that L.A. gives back to the Neighborhood Council. With it, we would be able to beautify Venice, adequately fund social service agencies that do good things for Venice, and make our streets more pedestrian and bicycle friendly. Shuttles could take us to shop and transport visitors, urban gardens could provide much of our food.

Will having our own city stop the bickering among Venetians? Not entirely. But if it comes from frustration at not having any power to fix our problems, then there will be less of it and Venetians will work together more than in the past. We will still differ on many issues, but we will be able to resolve them among ourselves, instead of relying on others to decide what’s best for us.

Isn’t it nearly impossible to get out of L.A.? It is not easy. There are two ways to do it. We can go to the state agency, Local Agency Formation Commissions (LAFCO), <http://www.calafco.org/docs/CKH/2009_CKH_Guide.pdf> and circulate a petition according to their rules. One of their rules is that all of L.A. would have to vote in favor of Venice cityhood!

Or, we can change the rules. It’s logical that a former city that voted for annexation should be able to opt out. That is, there should be a “buyer’s remorse” clause that allows a former city to vote again on restoring its cityhood, without L.A. also voting. L.A. residents didn’t vote to annex Venice. Why should they vote on the reverse?

We can petition our state legislative representatives to author a buyers’ remorse bill. They would be under intense pressure from Los Angeles lobbyists not to introduce such a bill, or vote for it, so we had better have lots of signatures of Venetians in favor of the bill to modify LAFCO.

There is no reason to wait for someone to do this. To paraphrase Rabbi Hillel, “If not us, who? If not now, when?

All this and more will be discussed at our old city hall, now Beyond Baroque, 681 Venice Blvd. on Sunday, July 25 from 3 – 5pm. Be there if you care about the future of Venice.

One morning we will come out of our homes
with picks and shovels and dig out our canals
We’ll come with hammers and saws
and build homes for all of our Venetian family.

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