By Jim Smith
There has not been a detailed report to the community in years on the status of the Venice Surplus Property Fund, meant “just for Venice,” despite repeated requests to L.A. city officials, including to the last two city councilmembers.
Indeed, there may never have been a report to Venice about this multi-million dollar fund since it was created by Councilmember Pat Russell in 1978.
The Beachhead obtained records of disbursements for the last four years by filing a public records request with the city controller. By law, public entities are required to comply with such requests from the media and others.
The Fund gets all net revenue from the sale of city property in Venice. However, it splits Venice down the middle. The sale of property in east of Lincoln neighborhoods of Venice goes half to the city general fund and half to another unreported fund held by the councilmember. Only sales from property west of Lincoln go to the Venice Surplus Property Fund.
As of June 30, 2008, the Venice Fund held $4,274,691.62. That was down from $5,367,918.21 in the Fund four years earlier. Whether disbursements were wisely made is up to the people of Venice to decide.
Until 2004, the Fund was designated for capital improvements in Venice, and required a city ordinance to disperse any money.
Appointed Councilmember Cindy Miscikowski told the Grass Roots Venice Neighborhood Council, in 2004, that she wanted to make certain changes in the fund, including allowing money to be spent for “general” expenses as well as capital expenses.
The neighborhood council, which at that time had a majority of members from the Progressive caucus, approved Miscikowski’s proposal to allow disbursements to be made by council resolution rather than ordinance “as long as the Neighborhood Council has passed a motion in support of the disbursement.” (GRVNC Minutes, Feb. 19, 2004)
But it balked at approving the change from using the Fund for “general” expenses instead of only for capital expenses.
However, Miscikowski ignored the recommendations of the GRVNC and got the L.A. City Council to approve her whole agenda.
And since 2004, neither Miscikowski, nor her successor, Bill Rosendahl, has asked for support from the neighborhood council, or even informed it of his or her intention to spend the Funds.
Below are the major disbursements from the Fund, according to documents provided by the controller’s office to the Beachhead. As you can see, there is very little money spent on affordable housing in Venice, despite the recognized need for it.
While there is no evidence of fraud by any of the four councilmembers who have had control of the Fund, there seem to be no guidelines at all for the expenditure of money from the Venice Fund. At present, all that is needed is a motion at the city council, signed by the Mayor, for the money to be spent. No notification is required in any form to the people of Venice.
In addition, Venetians could question whether all expenditures are appropriately made out of the Venice Surplus Property Fund, or since they benefit all of Los Angeles, should they be made from the city’s General Fund or some other fund. It may be easier to spend money if it doesn’t come from the L.A. General Fund, and besides, no one in Venice is likely to find out, anyway.
In the final analysis, the Venice Surplus Property Fund is just petty cash, and is far less than Venice needs for essential improvements. If Venice became its own city again, it would likely have an annual budget between $70 and $140 million (1 or 2 percent of L.A.’s budget). But that’s not likely to happen as long as the city of Los Angeles has the ability to spend our money with no oversight from the public.
Expenditures from the Venice Surplus Property Fund
$20,000 & $75,000 – Venice 2000 Safe Passages Program. $20,000 for Venice High School; and $75,000 for staff to serve the community of Venice and work on Venice issues. 9/14/07
$65,000 – Roof Repair of the former Venice Police Station. The request to the City to repair the SPARC roof has been pending for many years. The SPARC roof has experienced severe water damage especially in the digital lab which houses expensive computer hardware. 7/14/06
$25,000 – Nuisance Alley Gates/Penmar area of Venice – (NOTE: This is outside the area of Venice where the funds are collected.) 5/2/07
$50,000 – Replacement of temporary barriers on Venice Pier.
Includes $25,000 to cover the costs for the electrical box and related permanent repairs of the Venice Pier, and $25,000 to cover the costs for the pier railing and related permanent repairs of the Venice Pier. 8/18/06
$18,000 for Vera Davis Center floor repairs and termite tenting. 12/12/2006
$7,639 to RRM Design Group for Bike Path widening. RRM is the San Luis Obispo firm that oversaw the “refurbishing” of the Ocean Front Walk and the destruction of the Venice Pavilion ten years ago. 9/21/05
$37,648. to RRM Design Group for the Venice Skate Park. 2/10/06
$36,761 for a test installation of solar powered street lighting in Presidents Row. 7/01/05
$100,000 for a Community Parking Pilot Project that will provide parking options to assist pedestrian-oriented businesses seeking to locate in the Venice Beach area bounded by Abbot Kinney, Main and Venice Boulevard. 3/20/08
$496,633 from various accounts (may include the Venice Surplus Property Fund) for Electric Avenue parking. On November 28, 2000, City Council adopted a Motion (Council File 00-2318), establishing the Abbot Kinney Parking account with the Special Parking Revenue Fund and further, in May, 2002, authorized the transfer of funds from various accounts to the Abbot Kinney Parking account for the purpose of developing parking in the Abbot Kinney commercial district. The proposed project is to develop the two vacant parcels into paid surface parking lots and convert the two existing free into paid parking lots which would encourage turnover. Additionally, nighttime permit parking will also be offered to area residents and businesses. The two vacant parcels are located along the west side of 1300 block of Electric Avenue and along the east side of 1600 block of Irving Tabor Court, respectively. The two existing lots are located at 1411 Electric Avenue and 1511 Electric Avenue, respectively.
$295,000 and $12,000 Electric Avenue lots to pay to the Bureau of Engineering to cover the costs of providing a survey and legal description of both properties and to clear the properties of encroachments and to design and construct an alley and other needed improvements on the 1300 block of Electric Avenue. 6/27/07
$100,000 for maintenance of the Mark Di Suvero sculpture on the beach at the end of Windward Ave. 7/1/05
$95,000 for services associated with the installation of a Robert Graham sculpture in the Windward Traffic Circle median.
$25,000 to provide funding for any aspect of the programs of the Windward Business District Association, including design expenses already incurred and maintenance costs, associated with the installation of a sculpture and other elements of the Windward Circle in Venice, inasmuch as this organization was given a prior commitment of funding. 2/18/05
$8,000 to partially fund any aspect of the Chrysalis organization’s maintenance project for the Venice Boardwalk from May 2004 through September 2004. 8/3/04
$175,000 for Lincoln Blvd. Community Design Overlay District. Improving Lincoln Boulevard is critical because it is the major North-South highway though the Venice Community Plan area and is Venice’s largest and most significant commercial corridor. The Venice Community Plan also designates Lincoln Boulevard as a Mixed Use Boulevard. Community members have already been working through the local Neighborhood Council, the Venice Community Coalition, and other groups to improve Lincoln Boulevard’s visual appearance. 12/15/04
$99,672 for maintenance activities for the Venice Ocean Front Walk and the Venice Library Median. 8/13/04
$19,000 for Habitat for Humanity which is building affordable housing in Venice, at 501 Broadway. They are building two affordable town homes and have asked for assistance in completing the requirements of their approved tract map. 11/21/03
What You Can Do
Insist that L.A. city officials:
1. Provide a full report on the status of the Venice Surplus Property Fund.
2. Insist that guidelines for expenditures are developed.
3. Publicize the fund in local newspapers and blogs.
4. Give us at least the appearance of democracy by getting approval from local groups on future expenditures.
5. Work for cityhood!