By Krista Schwimmer
As protestors take to the Venice street to battle the illegal short-term rentals here in Venice, and individual citizens sue developers over destructive projects, the Venice Neighborhood Council (VNC) continues to make motions both sober and absurd in their own version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. This was the case, at least, at their most recent Board meeting in April.
The two motions made that night that dramatically reflected the Board’s split personality were: the sober motion, item 11A, a Venice Coastal Zone Rental Housing Affordability & Availability Ordinance, presented by Robin Rudisill, Chair of the Land Use and Planning Committee (LUPC); and the absurd motion, item 12D, Topless Sunbathing on Sand, Venice Beach, presented by Melissa Diner, Chair of the Ocean Front Walk Committee (OFW).
Rudisill presented a two page motion to the Board, as well as to the community attending. The first part of the motion gives a five point background to the loss of affordable housing through short-term rentals (STRs) and defacto hotels. The background materially and effectively reminded the City of Los Angeles that there are ordinances and laws already in place that are supposed to protect affordable housing here in Venice. These include the Citywide Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO), the Mello Act, and the Venice Coastal Zone.
The motion then “requests the Councilmember Bonin call for City to act immediately to curtail the loss of affordable housing,” through a seven action plan. The first of these actions is to “fully enforce existing laws prohibiting short-term rentals in residential zones and in commercial zones if the Certificate of Occupancy is for Apartment use.”
Other actions include following the Interim Administrative Procedure for complying with the Mello Act, and preparation and dissemination of a “Tenant’s Bill of Rights.”
The majority of public comments around this motion were vehemently in favor of this motion. Testimony came from renters and landlords alike. One community member, Nick, stated that “What’s important is the character of Venice is at stake. It’s becoming faceless, anonymous, and transient.” Two other community members, John Adams and Judy Goldman, also in favor of the motion, thought that due to the urgency of the matter, existing laws should be enforced. “There are laws on the books, ” Judy said, “Every single day we’re losing housing in Venice. It’s dramatic, it’s rapid, and it’s really scary.”
A few people thought the motion was too long winded; only one, Lauren, a manager of short-term rentals nearby for individuals and homeowners in Venice, thought that STR could help pay for the money for affordable housing using the estimated $40 million (according to Lauren) in TOT taxes that would by generated by all of them in Los Angeles County.Several Board members, like Tommy Walker and Jed Pauker, also spoke to the urgency of this issue. Linda Lucks, VNC President Emeritus, called what’s happening in Venice a cancer. In the ’70s, she continued, people knew their neighbors, something she felt kept the neighborhood safe. Directing her comments to the back of the room to Cecilia Castillo, Bonin’s field representative, she then stated that “all short term rentals except in commercial zones and very specific zones are illegal. It’s on the books.” Lucks then said that Councilmember Mike Bonin had stated that they were technically illegal. “There’s no such thing as technically illegal,” she ended.
Before the vote, in response to the lengthiness of the motion, Rudisill said it was written in the style of other city motions so that it would be ready to go. The motion passed easily 12-0-3.
The second, more absurd motion on the agenda that night, topless sunbathing in Venice, sadly brought out even the local news stations. In a nutshell, the motion is to allow women to sunbathe topless on Venice Beach. The reasons? Because Venice Beach “was founded and designed around the European culture of Venice, Italy,” and “Venice Beach has been a safe haven for liberal views and free expression.”
As several community members pointed out, in the 1970s, Venice Beach had a nude beach. Many people enjoyed it, largely due to the fact that no one made a big fuss about it. In her public comments, Carolyn Rios said that there were smaller crowds then, “homegrown” homeless people, and no social media. According to her, and others, once photographs got out, the gawkers came, and then the police.
At that time, there was no city ordinance against topless or nude sunbathing. Due to the commotion that ensued, the city created one for all beaches.
At first glance, this motion may appear supportive of the old, Venice vibe. It is important, however, to remember what committee proposed it: OFW. This same committee tried twice to push through a family friendly ice skating rink during the current, terrible drought, as well as promote the remaking of the Pagodas without thought of their historical significance. What next? Titties on ice?
Melissa Diner, in her explanation of the context behind the motion said, “I want to start a conversation about an issue which I think is a serious equality issue. And I think this motion has the ability to do that . . . We have the ability to re-imagine Venice Beach and start a conversation not just here, but in the City, and probably on a national level.”
On an international level, however, the conversation around topless sunbathing reveals that Diner is behind the times. In her July 28, 2014 column in the Guardian, Deborah Orr, one of Britain’s leading social and political commentators, stated that “French women, who popularized topless sunbathing in the 1960s, have apparently retreated en mass into bikinis and swimsuits.” The reasons she sites are because of social media and health concerns. Orr also notes that even then, women removed their tops not for female liberation overall, but for female sexual liberation in particular.
Diner’s committee has also apparently forgotten about the illegal beach curfew. One community member, David Ewing, however, had not, saying, “I’d like to see clothing optional or top optional sunbathing from midnight to 5 am.”
Nevertheless, the motion passed easily, 15-0-1, with only Robin Rudisill voting no because she wanted either “all or nothing,” not the in-between of toplessness.
In a letter from Bonin distributed at the Board meeting, Bonin states he is “gravely concerned about the impact that short-term rentals are having on our rental housing stock in Los Angeles, and by extension, on our supply of affordable rental housing.” Like Mayor Garcetti, however, Bonin is seeking more to reform than to remove them. After all, according to the recently released budget by Garcetti, TOT is projected to raise $191 million in 2015. No small change, indeed. Yet, the Mayor is only budgeting a modest $10 million to rebuild the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
On top of that, Bonin recently issued a motion called “Coordinated Entry System” that smells as noxious as a bare breasted man’s sweaty armpits. In this motion, Bonin “asks officials to determine if the City can require or incentivize that affordable housing units being built as a result of state “density bonuses” can be used for the placement of homeless people via the Coordinated Entry System.” Sounds a lot like similar loopholes that developers in the past have tried to use to push through their monstrosities.
So, fellow Venetians, before you rush to the beach to bare your beautiful breasts of all colors, shapes, and sizes to the inevitable gawkers waiting to instagram and hashtag your exhibitionism, remember to bare your naked thoughts to Bonin. Let him know that he is “technically” doing his job – and that is just simply not enough.