by Jon Wolff.
If you’ve never attended a meeting of the Venice Neighborhood Council, you should come sometime to see how it all works. The Council discusses and votes on a variety of topics specific to Venice. The Boardwalk, homelessness, business, and culture are just some of the subjects covered at a typical meeting of the VNC.
One issue that comes up at every meeting concerns building owners’ proposals to demolish older buildings and build newer and taller buildings in their place. These proposals are often labeled as “remodeling” and they are usually presented as innocuous minor changes with no noticeable impact on the neighborhood. The owners present themselves as humble Venice residents who just want to improve their home to accommodate their kids. Or, if the owners are operating a business, they assure the Council that the enlargement of their building won’t significantly affect parking in Venice because they’ll include a bike rack to encourage more environmentally sound means of transportation. They sometimes bring the architects along to the meeting to show slides or models representing the changes to the building.
The Council discusses the facts and votes their recommendation on the proposal. But, before they do, there’s usually a counter argument from neighbors and concerned Venice activists about the facts not revealed by the owners. We learn that the proposed remodeling will actually be much taller or wider than the owners claimed. Or that the existing laws specifically disallow changes of this kind because they would cause phenomenal damage to the character of the neighborhood. Or, it turns out, the owners are only doing this so they can rent out the new structure as a short-term rental with “Air-BM-b”.
Now, here’s where the important part comes in. And it’s the reason you need to attend the meetings in person. Because you need to see the thing that a lot of people miss. It happens when the person making the argument against the proposal is speaking from the podium. Don’t watch the speaker; watch the building owners. When the speaker is making the counter argument and exposing the real story, check out the owners. Watch their faces. Look at their eyes and you will see their reaction to the speaker’s words. You’ll see the contempt. You’ll see the contempt for the speaker, the neighbors, the tenants, the activists, and the very History of Venice. You’ll see their plans for a Venice of their own design which doesn’t include any of the men and women who have lived in and struggled for Venice for twenty, thirty, fifty years. You’ll know that their plans are to tear down and pave over all traces of the Venice that drew them here in the first place.
To the owners and companies that are demolishing every building in Venice and replacing them with big ugly boxes, the people of Venice don’t matter. The neighbors who don’t want to live in the shadow of some new concrete monstrosity don’t matter. All the “little people” don’t matter. To a development corporation, the people who speak out at the Venice Neighborhood Council meetings are just minor obstacles in the road. The corporation expects to get its way whether by the VNC’s approval or by some political operator in L.A. City Hall. And the law be damned. You don’t matter.
This happens elsewhere. The people in Flint, Michigan didn’t matter when their environmental regulators were sending them lead-flavored tap water. That pharmaceutical CEO Bozo Shkreli laughed when Congress was on him for charging people $750 for a pill. To him, the people who needed the pills didn’t matter. And the people out in Porter Ranch who got gassed by So Cal Gas didn’t matter when So Cal Gas knew that gas was leaking from a busted gas valve on their gassy gas pit.
To the developers/destroyers of Venice, you don’t matter because you’re just one lone person with no power. While you work, sit in traffic, and sleep, they’re looking at maps, making contracts, transferring funds, lobbying politicians, and gnawing away at the foundation of Venice. No wonder no one matters to them; there’s no one left to matter. Or is there?
Right now, in the Land of Venice, there are groups of Venice people meeting, talking, planning, and acting. Just as a corporation is a body of individuals acting together to take from other people, a Union of people can act together to take back. The combined talents of many individuals working toward a common goal can match the power of any corporation. And the goal is obtainable for one good reason: there’s more of us than there are of them. We can and will win.
If you heard that people who are working to save Venice were speaking at the next VNC meeting, would you come to listen? If you knew that people were gathering in Venice to stand for the Venice you love, would you be there? If you learned that a group of people like the Westside Tenants Union were getting together in Venice to establish once and for all the truth that Housing is a Human Right, would you help? If you believed that Venice would be free again, would your help matter? Yes it will.