Opposition to Mark Sokol’s 30-Day eviction notice to his commercial tenants on Windward Avenue in Venice

  • a Letter from Margaret Molloy

Mark Sokol, CEO of the Venice Beach Business Improvement District, is the owner of the Hotel Erwin at 1697 Pacific Avenue; Larry’s at 24 Windward Avenue; and several commercial stores to the east between Larry’s and the Townhouse at 52-58 Windward Avenue including vintage clothing store “Only in Venice” and contemporary clothing store Aya that has been there for many years.

On February 26, 2021, Mr. Sokol sent a 30-day Eviction Notice to his commercial tenants on Windward Avenue with a move-out date by March 31, 2021. What is a small business owner who has invested their savings into their business inventory supposed to do with that inventory with only 30 days notice, during a global pandemic? It is unconscionable. It also appears to violate legal protections for small business owners that Governor Gavin Newsom issued during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The stated reason for eviction is: “the owners are planning to repurpose the premises you occupy at XXX Windward Ave., Venice XXX. In response to the pandemic the entire premises will be used for outdoor dining for the restaurant next door.”

LADBS records (below) show that Mr. Sokol has no current planning approvals or LADBS permits for any kind of construction or deconstruction at Larry’s or any of these properties to the east on Windward Avenue. Additionally, the City of Los Angeles has already removed street parking and allowed the creation of a large outdoor-street-dining area for Larry’s and the other restaurants on Windward Avenue, right in front of their businesses.
Now Mr. Sokol wants even more at the expense of these small business owners? It is unconscionable. This is pure greed during a pandemic.

On Mar 5, 2021, the Venice Current ran a story titled: “City Attorney Candidate Visit to Venice ‘Eye Opening.” This story described Mr. Sokol as CEO of the Venice Beach Business Improvement District taking city attorney Kevin James on a tour of the Venice boardwalk.

The problem in Venice is not the unhoused. The problem on the boardwalk is that Carl Lambert, Luis Macaya and others illegally removed permanent tenants by illegal conversions of RSO apartment buildings into hotels…. unpermitted and operating in plain sight. The state Mello Act prohibits conversion of residential units to other uses that are not coastal dependent uses, regardless of zoning. And the illegal conversion of many boardwalk properties into Snapchat corporate offices that have sat empty since 2018 when Snapchat left Venice (see below). And the ten RSO apartments at 811-815 Ocean Front Walk that Gary & Vera Sutter have kept undeveloped for over 10yrs while they attempt to get an ugly mixed-use project approved. Again, conversion of 100% residential to mixed-use violates the Mello Act regardless of zoning.

The Venice BID cites graffiti removal as one of their missions. What about 811-815 Ocean Front Walk? Jeff Harris, longtime “property manager” for the Gary & Vera Sutter is a board member of the Venice Beach Property Owners Association that operates the Venice BID on a $1.8M per year contract with the City of Los Angeles. Go figure!

Mark Sokol, CEO of VBPOA, owns the Hotel Erwin….. the new 6th Floor (check out the permits for that property and the parking) has wallpaper in each room with the hand-prints of all the Venice artists that have been driven out of Venice by Sokol and his like. The hallways have large panel-photographs of graffiti And facing the elevator, there’s a framed photograph of unhoused people approaching the viewer out of a misty morning fog on the boardwalk. These are the people destroying Venice and the boardwalk. It is not the unhoused. Please don’t be distracted by the political theater, lawsuits, and the “Venice Current”.

Let’s get permanent residents back into all of the residential properties on the boardwalk and residents or businesses into the vacant Snapchat properties and together we will restore our community. Lambert et al have removed longterm residents and then claim they need private security for a private property owner’s business improvement district operated by the Venice Beach Property Owners Association.

In order to be charged a tax assessment under Prop 218, all private properties in a property owner’s BID must show that they receive a “special benefit” that is not a “general benefit” or a “benefit to the general public.” Over 28% of the property in the Venice Beach BID is public property. That includes the boardwalk itself and the eastern side of Ocean Front Walk up to the sand. Why? That is west of “private properties” on the Ocean Front Walk. Why should we taxpayers be paying our tax dollars to these unethical people to operate private security in our public space at our expense when the BID can only tax “properties” that show that they receive a “special benefit” that is not a “general benefit” or a “benefit to the general public.”

The Venice BID is up for renewal. The Venice community plans to organize against that!

Regarding Carl Lambert, Mr. Lambert was one of the three named executive officers of the Venice Beach Property Owners Association (VBPOA) when the Los Angeles City Council voted on November 8, 2016, to approve a $1.8M dollar per year contract wth VBPOA to operate the Venice BID. Earlier that year, on June 17, 2016, City Attorney Mike Feuer filed a lawsuit against Mr. Lambert and Venice Suites, LLC (BC62435) for operating an unpermiited hotel in a 32-unit Rent Stabilized apartment building at 417 Ocean Front Walk. Charges also included False Advertising and Public Nuisance. That case is on appeal – B300960. When Mr. Lambert bought that property, he removed 32 households, not individuals, at 417 Ocean Front Walk in a building that locals called the Biltmore Apartments.

Meanwhile, on November 10, 2016, just the day after the Venice BID was approved, tenants at 1217 Ocean Front Walk, a 36-unit Rent Stabilized apartment building with ground floor retail, woke up to a Tenant Habitability Plan (THP) notice from the Housing and Community Investment Department (HCID) taped on their doors. This notice was for construction work on 19 out of 6 units in their building between Jan. 2, 2017 and April 30, 2017. 1217 Ocean Front Walk has been under construction for more than 3yrs. Mr. Lambert, a broker, bought the building in July 2015 from longtime owner George Lenney. Mr. Lambert was property manager before the purchase and signed a residential tenant lease in 2014 for “Waldorf Apartments & Shops” initialing each page and signing the paperwork with his broker license information.

Inexplicably, the THP for 1217 Ocean Front Walk was for primary construction including electrical and plumbing in 19 0f 36 units but was issued with tenant relocation -N/A (not applicable) and “per diem” – N/A. HCID should never have approved that. Mr. Lambert should have been obliged to provide relocation during construction to his displaced tenants. Three years later there are no tenants and only two households are expected to return. 1217 Ocean Front Walk is in the dual permit zone of the coastal zone. A coastal development permit (CDP) is required for the level of construction and change of use that Mr. Lambert is making to the property. Mr. Lambert does not have a CDP and did not had a valid THP for most of this construction. LADBS has issued multiple permits for this construction that require clearances from the Department of City Planning and HCID for each permit. We have submitted several complaints on this property to LADBS, DCP, HCID, and the California Coastal Commission. Permits should have been issued. An LADBS Stop Work Order needs to be issued immediately for 1217 Ocean Front Walk.

This document, Alleged_Properties_in_Violation_in_Venice_BID_Opposition_final_PHOTOS 96dpi, was submitted to the City Attorney and the City Clerk prior to the start of the City contract with VBPOA to operate the Venice BID. The Mello Act is a state housing law in the coastal zone of California that prohibits the conversion of 100% residential properties to other uses that are non-coastal dependent, regardless of zoning. This state law supersedes LAMC and local zoning. It has not been implemented in the coastal zone area of Venice. This document points out the illegal Mello violations of many BID properties in Venice. Meanwhile, we are in a housing crisis and an unhoused crisis.

So, the problem in Venice is not the unhoused. The problem is that developers took over Venice residential properties and got the City to give them permits they should have never gotten because of Mello, Interim Administrative Procedures (IAP) for Complying with the Mello Act, the California Coastal Act, Ch. 2 Section 30116 (embedded in certified LUP), and Chapter 3, Venice Sign Off’s, etc. The City used Code Enforcement to force people who couldn’t afford repairs to sell their homes in Venice. Black and Brown-owned liquor stores and markets in Venice were closed by the City. The City used Gang Injunctions to divide families and force people to move. Venice is only a three-square-mile area. There were two gangs injunctions in Venice until 2020 when the courts found that gang injunctions were unconstitutional. Meanwhile, “business people” operate illegal commercial businesses in plain sight without the required permits, Certificates of Occupancy or Parking (we can provide many examples). Brokers sell Venice properties for more $ per square foot than any other area of Los Angeles. There were more short-term rentals in Venice than any other part of Los Angeles. And, the “developer/ business people” have brought more liquor permits per census tract into Venice now than in any area of Los Angeles. How is all of that possible in a three-square mile area with two gang injunctions? It appears that (1) either the City put visitors at risk by allowing the concentration of STRs and liquor licenses a three-square-mile area with two active gang injunctions, or (2) the gang injunctions were used by the City as a tool of gentrification and to displace the historical Black & Indigenous community in Venice.

   Court Issues Historic Ruling Against Gang Injunctions in L.A ...
www.aclusocal.org › en › press-releases
Mar 15, 2018 · LOS ANGELES — A federal court today made a landmark ruling that halts the City of Los Angeles’s enforcement of gang injunctions, an arbitrary police      practice that has subjected thousands of Los Angeles residents — mostly men of color — to probation-like conditions for years without hearings and solely based on the     city’s assertion that they were gang members.

     Los Angeles must change use of gang injunctions under court …

www.msn.com › en-us › news

Dec 26, 2020 · Los Angeles police and prosecutors must end a long running practice of blanketing entire areas of the city with gang injunctions under the terms of a     court settlement reached last month.

So the question now is why do the “developer/ business people” keep all of the boardwalk properties empty and allow the area to degenerate, and then blame the unhoused? As described, most of these properties were empty before Covid because of illegal conversion to hotels or illegal conversion of mixed-use residential properties such as Thornton Lofts at 619 and 701 Ocean Front Walk into 100% offices that have sat empty since Snapchat’s departure.

The same people who created the displacement of permanent community residents have a $1.8M annual budget for their own private security team (Allied Universal) on our public property. Is the problem in Venice really about the desperate people existing on the sidewalks? Or is this decline caused by a select group of property owners, and now triggering “their outrage” to enable perhaps yet another land grab by brokers, developers, and business people to get even more power and more control of our community while they create the circumstances of decline for all but themselves?

Remember Mark Sokol’s tenants?

Please consider these issues.

Please all recipients confirm receipt of this email. I hope that you will email Mark Sokol and tell him to rescind the 30-day eviction notice he served to his commercial tenants. I hope that you will seriously consider the issues outlined here before voting for a renewal of the Venice Beach BID. I hope that you will all support housing justice and the California Coastal Commission’s 2019 Environmental Justice Policy by writing to the Department of City Planning and let them know that the Mello Act prohibits the demolition or conversion of 100% residential properties in the coastal zone to other uses. No conversion!


Margaret Molloy