by Jon Wolff
The following is from a recent conversation with a concerned Venice resident about the Snapchat problem. The resident requested to be identified only as Concerned Venetian.
JW: You live close by the Thornton Lofts area. Is that right?
JW: And you’ve seen a lot of things that go on in and around the Thornton Lofts. You see and talk to a lot of the employees of Snapchat and also a lot of the residents.
CV: Correct. But I also was directly affected about 2 1/2 years ago when I got notice that I would no longer be able to park in the garage area underneath the offices… well, actually, the residential spaces there. But now, currently, they’re offices.
JW: At the Thornton Lofts?
CV: Correct. I believe myself and forty-one other residents were renting parking spaces in the garage area below that space.
JW: And what did they tell you in the notice?
CV: I actually was told by my landlord that I was losing my parking spot and that it was a dead end, that the new owners were not open to discussion about it and that I was basically S.O.L., Shit Out of Luck. And then, a week after, I was parking in my garage and a woman and several other businessmen approached me and asked me to confirm my full name and my address. And I was startled because I was like, “Who are you? How do know my name and my address?” She said that she was the new manager for the new owners and that’s all she needed to know. That’s when I knew something was changing. I remember walking down the Boardwalk late at night seeing a light from their icon in front of this house.
JW: The Blue House.
CV: Yeah. The Blue House here on the Boardwalk at Sunset Avenue. I remember thinking to myself, “What a ridiculous sign and what could it possibly be branding for?” And it wasn’t until a year later that I even knew what Snapchat was.
JW: It was about that time that they were taking over the building that used to house American Apparel?
CV: No. I think they didn’t get American Apparel till much later. American Apparel was there for a year-and-a-half or so after.
JW: And now, that’s where they sell the Spectacles thing.
CV: Correct. Yeah.
JW: How did the neighborhood change after that? What else did they do?
CV: I, like many people here in Venice, would go have a burger at Hinano’s and come home late in the evening. I don’t smoke in my apartment. There’s no smoking allowed on the premises and it’s explicitly stated in my lease that I can’t smoke 50 feet of the building. So I used to go in the easement between the two lofts there and have a cigarette there like my other neighbors. There were a couple of nights that I was instructed by security guards that I needed to vacate the premises and that I was on private property.
JW: Was that their property?
CV: No. It’s actually the easement from Thornton Ave. all the way to the beach, so it’s public property. I just laughed and said, “Okay. Go ahead. Call the police.”
JW: They were overstepping the bounds of their authority then.
CV: They were harassing me, telling me that I had to vacate and that I was trespassing. They told me I was trespassing on a public easement.
JW: Did they do anything intimidating? Did they present any kind of physical threat by looming over you or anything like that?
CV: Yes. They were standing within my personal space awkwardly, at night, in the middle of the night in a public space, when there’s no one else around. But I didn’t really take it as a threat; I just thought of it as a poor attempt at exerting some kind of authority.
JW: What’s happened since then? They know you by name, right?
CV: That’s correct. And since then, we have seen a great influx of traffic on Speedway. There have been times when we can’t even back out of our driveways. I’ve seen, multiple times, them and their delivery trucks blocking the fire hydrant. I’ve noticed that they’ve taken down the ‘No Parking’ sign that was in the alleyway because, for days upon days upon months, I would go out there and direct attention to how this company and all the affiliate vendors who are coming to deliver things for them were directly disobeying the law and creating a traffic nightmare. If an emergency vehicle were needed on Thornton or Sunset or any of the adjacent alleyways where most residential buildings are, there’d be no way for any first aid response to be able to get through there because they’re not only just parking on the right side of the alleyway, they’re parking on the left side as well. You barely have traffic going through. You end up with a 14 car pile.
JW: What other kinds of experiences have you had with the security and/or the employees?
CV: I’ve had security follow me to my home. I’ve had security follow me through the alleyway in front of my home. I’ve had security stand in my driveway and take post while I’m waiting for an Uber. I once had an employee of Snapchat looming behind the trashcan on our property and I asked him to go somewhere else. I’ve talked to a ton of the employees in the buildings at Thornton Lofts. I’ll ask the employees, “What is it that brought you to Snapchat to work for them and where do you live?” The employees tell me that they came to work for Snapchat to better their life for them and their families who live in India and in Asia. They live in Koreatown and Los Feliz and Simi Valley. They’re worried that their H1B visas are going to be taken away and that they can continue to work. They don’t really care that they’re working in a two-bedroom condo.
JW: They’re kind of sweatshop laborers.
CV: Oftentimes, I video record some of these ‘team leaders’ and “team members’ who have to go out to the Boardwalk or go out to the beach to have internal meetings because those residential spaces are not configured to corporate office use. There are no breakout spaces for these employees. It’s ironic because Evan Spiegel himself is a complete paranoid nutcase when it comes to leaking of information. With the traction of Facebook copying all their different features on their platform, Evan Spiegel does not hold company meetings anymore. Out of fear of being recorded and leaking information, he often deals with H.R. questions and community questions via Google Docs. He’s not even interfacing with most of his employees. So I find it absurd that his team members and his leaders who are building his programming are having these conversations literally on my front doorstep. How much sensitive information are they carelessly discussing because they aren’t given the tools and the space that they need because of this company’s desire to eat up all the residential property in our neighborhood?
JW: Their habit of illegally turning residential spaces into office spaces is kind of squeezing them out in public where they’re compromising some of their secrecy then.
CV: Yeah. I mean, their interest for non-commercial spaces for their offices is compromising their leadership’s ability to discuss things internally on a team level and it forces them to do it out in public which is completely ironic.
JW: If I were them, I would move out to a proper business park in Santa Monica. Would that be a good idea?
CV: Santa Monica, Santa Clarita.
CV: Westchester. Westchester is the final frontier when it comes to land use right now, with that new stadium coming in. They also have a ‘No Smoking” policy. So, what it’s forcing their workers to do… because they can’t go up to their roof decks to smoke, they can’t step out to the balcony to smoke… is to go into the alley, under someone else’s residence, either in a parking spot or in a parking foyer, and smoke their cigarettes there and leave their butts there. It just goes to show you their actions are disrespectful. They don’t respect other people’s space. They think that this neighborhood is theirs for the taking. The fact that they have Gestapo-like security stalking my property does not make me feel safe. There have been multiple occasions, right here on the Boardwalk, in front of my house and in front of their offices, where there is an altercation taking place and I’ve seen the security guards run for the doors. They all run inside instead of calling the police or getting involved to just stay and witness or just clean up the mess in front of their place. The idea that they they’re creating safety… they love to spit out that the crime rate has gone down since they’ve arrived here. But if you talk to the Police Department they’ll quickly contest that.
JW: Yeah. One of the claims they make is that they’re somehow upgrading the community because of their security presence.
CV: I think that a big concern of the neighborhood is that it’s like a walled-in corporation. There are no inroads for residents to voice their concerns or for those concerns to just be acknowledged. I did a lot of research to try to find a phone number. I found out, through different case studies, about pedophiles arrested for the use of their app. You should read the documentation of the hoops that they make the police jump through to try to get evidence to incriminate these criminals. It’s a FAX transmission request; you can’t even talk to anyone. And I think that’s a good example of how they shut off from the outside world. It’s their inability to want to be a community partner.
JW: Their practice of papering up the windows of the buildings they acquire is illustrative of their philosophy.
CV: I’ve asked them about that and they said it’s because the sun is too much glare on their computers. Well then, why are you having an office on beachfront property?
JW: They could go some place where there’s no sun.
CV: Or they could just go where there’s less windows. Have a building that doesn’t have floor to ceiling windows where the sun sets every day.
JW: You said, even today, that you had an encounter with security personnel over on the other side of town, over on Abbot Kinney.
CV: Yeah. I was taking a photo of posted signs for their latest zoning approval request. They want to change yet another building that is zoned for residence to commercial use. And I took a picture and shared it with the community so they’d know that it’s happening and so that it can be confirmed that they are turning over residences into corporate housing and so that people have the actual inroad to get information. Because, what is not posted on that notice is the hearing date. They are banking on us not noticing and not raising our voices about it. I was walking back and I saw several of the security guards standing there. They said, “Oh hello.” They always make it known that they know me and that they know where I’m coming from and they know where I’m going.
JW: And they know where you live.
CV: They always make it apparent that they know where I live. The ones who work inside these buildings, whom I’ve never met, will call me by my name.
JW: That’s creepy.
CV: It’s a little creepy. I asked the security guard, “What exactly are you protecting?” He said, “Well, I’m protecting the people who work in these buildings.” I say, “Which buildings?” He pointed at that building, the building across the street, the building next to here, the building across the street from there. He pointed at five buildings. I asked him, “Do you think it’s okay for a single company to just come in and dominate?” He, this security guard, said, “Well, this is Abbot Kinney, the coolest street in America.” I always ask these guys, “Where do you live? How would you feel if one single corporation started plucking out house after house after house, disenfranchising families and long term residents?” His answer, unsurprisingly, was, “If it’s not affecting me directly, then I probably really wouldn’t care.” That’s the reason I continue to voice the truth for anyone and everyone who comes through Venice. “Do you know that this is a residential building and that Snapchat is operating illegally here?” I make sure everyone knows the truth because that company is hoping no one notices.