Response to Annexation of Venice by Jeffrey Stanton: Cityhood Then, Cityhood Now, Cityhood Forever!

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By Jim Smith

Jeffrey Stanton’s piece on the annexation of Venice that ran in the last two issues of the Beachhead (January and February, 2009) was a great contribution for anyone who is interested in the history of our fair city. As I understand it, Stanton is saying that annexation to Los Angeles was a big mistake, but there is nothing we can do about it. I couldn’t agree more that it was a big mistake, but I disagree that there is nothing we can do about it.

Stanton says that an independent Venice would not be financially viable, is too contentious to accomplish anything, and anyway, is blocked from seceding by existing law.

1. Could a new city of Venice be financially viable. Yes. I believe Stanton has underestimated the revenue derived by cities from property tax. In its 2008-09 budget, the city of Los Angeles estimates it will derive 32 percent of its total revenue of $4.48 billion from property tax. The city of Santa Monica, with a much small budget of $14.5 million received 14 percent of its total revenue from property tax in 2005-06. Santa Monica has about twice the population of Venice. 

In addition, Stanton is wrong to say that Venice has no industry. It has a growing high-tech sector of digital media and film-related companies. It may not be blue-collar factories, but it is industry, none the less, and could be a growing tax base for Venice, instead of L.A. I believe Stanton’s view of tourism is too narrow. It’s more than cheap sunglasses, t-shirts and tattoos. 

Many more tourist dollars could be captured by the city operating parking lots, shuttle buses, jitneys; encouraging small hotels and bed and breakfast inns; and creating more sites of interest (how about rebuilding Abbot Kinney’s pier?). There are already 39 cities in Los Angeles County that have a small population than Venice. If they are financially viable, why not Venice.

2. Can’t we all just get along? Stanton says that if you go to a meeting of a hundred people, there will be 70 different opinions and nobody wants to compromise. True enough. And often, the city of L.A. will encourage this infighting as Arturo Piña, and others did in 2005 to bring down the then-progressive neighborhood council. Even without the machinations of Los Angeles bureaucrats, we Venetians do get in a tussle from time to time (as we are currently over permit parking). But this is what happens everywhere that a group of people are denied effective control over their own affairs. We are no more contentious than the Palestinians, the Northern Irish, the Iraqis, or countless other examples of powerless people. Give us the power to decide on what’s good for Venice and we will come together.

3. Stanton is correct that the current Local Area Formation Commission (LAFCO) law that requires that any seceding area win a vote in the entire city is a huge obstacle. This is what sunk the San Fernando Valley’s independence election in which the Valley voted to secede but the rest of L.A. voted no. 

There is, I believe, a simple solution for Venice to this dilemma. We need one of our state legislative representatives – either Assemblymember Ted Lieu or Senator Jenny Oropeza – to introduce a “buyer’s remorse” amendment to LAFCO that would allow any former city to reconsider its vote for annexation, without involving the rest of the city. I would urge a delegation of Venetians visit Lieu and Oropeza and ask for their support. If they refuse, well, both seats are subject to election in 2010.

The bigger question that should be considered is whether the city of Los Angeles is viable. Through the years, the film industry has sold lots of movie tickets for films portraying the rampant corruption in the city and the LAPD. 

It may be time to face facts that a city of more than four million people spread over 469 square miles is simply unable to democratically satisfy the needs of its residents. A city of Venice would have the advantage of having a city council, all of whose members live in our community. 

Our mayor and city council members won’t need a car and driver to get around the city. They can ride their personal bikes. We would have millions of dollars of revenue that can be spent to fix potholes, beautify the Circle, solve the parking problem, and cope with issues like homelessness in a positive and constructive manner. 

How about it, Venetians? Venice must be free!

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