By Jim Smith
Hello, and Welcome to Venice!
If you’re visiting the City of Venice this summer, there are some things you should know. Venice is easily accessible by mass transit and bike lanes and paths. You should have no problem getting nearly to the beach before you have to put your feet on solid ground. Venice is also one of the most economical excursions in Southern California. If you bring a picnic lunch and have a transit pass or bike, you may get away without spending a cent. But if you want to buy someone a gift, Venice artisans abound on Ocean Front Walk and Windward Avenue, all the way to the Lagoon.
You’ll have your choice of a party atmosphere beach or a place of peace and quiet, save only the waves crashing against the sea wall. When you arrive, just look for the Tram (Streetcar) on Pacific Avenue. It will take you from the end of the Venice Peninsula to the Santa Monica border. Actually, you can ride it all the way to the transit centers in downtown Santa Monica.
Extending the Tram into Santa Monica was the subject of a huge debate in Venice a couple of years ago. Many people did not want an easy link with this regional transit center since it would, they said, bring many more visitors into Venice. But in the end, what carried the day was the idea of having an easy link for Venetians to the old subway that runs downtown, the Expo line and the Magnetic Levitation (MagLev) bullet train to San Francisco.
Many Venetians won’t have a chance to kick back until after our city-wide Summer Solstice (June 20, 2062 at 6:11 p.m.) celebrations are over. In recent years, the Solstice celebration has become even bigger than July 4th (founding of Venice day). There is something going on during the Solstice on nearly every block. While the Solstice falls early in the evening this year, the parties will likely go all night!
If you haven’t been to Venice in a while, you might be surprised by the changes. In recent years, the City of Venice has been engaged in beautifying and restoring our crumbling town. The first order of business was building a sea wall to protect against the ever-higher waves due to global climate change. Flooding had been occurring with increasing frequency, with powerful waves pushing water for blocks into the center of town. That’s a thing of the past now. Our famous sandy beaches have been preserved. Only problem is there is now a looming wall between the beach and the ocean. It doesn’t bother the surfers, but if you just want to swim, check the low tide schedule before you come.
At last, Venice has become a center of the arts and culture, just as Abbot Kinney had in mind 150 years ago. That doesn’t mean that you can’t indulge in “cheap thrills.” There are plenty of Pot Houses in Venice. There’s a giant game arcade on Windward Avenue, a skate park on the beach, amusement rides on the pier, and other delights to enjoy with a consenting adult.
The City has helped the arts along with generous stipends for serious painters, sculptors, poets, musicians, thespians and others. In addition, the new Center of Performing Arts has just been completed at the location of the old bus yard on Main Street. The Greek Theater is state-of-the-art with 5,000 seats, and numerous rooms for small events, classes and exhibits. The University of Venice also holds many of its free classes at the new Center.
It is also the location of some of the best entertainment in Venice, the meetings of the Venetian Assembly. This body, open to all residents of Venice, can override the City Council, since it represents the will of the people. It takes a big issue to pack this hall. Smaller meetings are held at the City Hall/Post Office on the Lagoon. The first meeting to be held at the Center was about building a desalination plant to produce fresh, clean water for all of Venice. It’s an expensive project, the cost of which many residents did not want passed on in their water bills. A compromise was reached where half the cost will be spread out over 20 years in water rates, which will still be only a fraction of those charged by the Dept. of Water and Power. The other half will come out of the general fund. At least, we can soon say goodbye to water rationing. Others were concerned with an unsightly plant marring the view of the coastline. The good news is that it will be hidden under the Abbot Kinney Pier.
Another change you might notice is that some streets have disappeared. Ever since the private automobile went the way of the horse and carriage, we’ve been left with all that concrete and blacktop. This problem, of course, is worldwide, but in Venice we’ve taken the lead in some innovative solutions. The canals and the Lagoon (former traffic circle) are back. Digging out the old canals in Central Venice was so easy with new digging equipment that other neighborhoods are now talking about having canals in their front yards.
Other streets have become community gardens, mini-forest preserves, sculpture gardens and pleasant – but separate – paths for walkers and bikers. We also want to keep some streets just as they were before Peak Oil hit, and the cars went away. Our children might want to visit an old-time street that carried thousands of gas-guzzling, polluting cars with anonymous people locked away inside.
Don’t worry, in Venice many people have been getting by just fine for 150 years without an automobile. The city was founded before cars took over our lives. The Beats and many of the Sixties Generation scorned these vehicles that kept people so isolated. The use of bicycles and walking has always been a part of Venice, and so it is today. In addition, we now have Trams on Pacific, Rose, Venice, Washington and Abbot Kinney Blvds.
While you will encounter lots of people on a summer’s day on the Boardwalk, it won’t be like those photos in the history vids when hordes of people jammed every available space and often had fights with each other!
Venice once had gangs, dangerous drugs, wild car drivers, crime, and was occupied by Los Angeles. Nothing seemed to be repaired; trash, advertising, and graffiti accumulated; and in their frustration people lashed out at each other. Due to economic conditions, many people had to live in their vehicles or even on the streets. These were obviously unacceptable conditions that no longer exist.
If one of these “homeless people,” as they were called, somehow appeared in 2062, they would instantly be befriended by a passing Venetian who would take him or her to a hotel or hostel where the person could stay, and eat, until they were able to secure income. What a horrible life some people had to endure before the Occupy revolution, which ended foreign wars and put the needs of the people first.
Today, with rapid transit throughout California, people have nearly limitless choices for recreation. One behalf of the Welcome to Venice Committee let me say how pleased we are that you have chosen to visit our fair city.