The Venice Place project, which would cover almost an entire block with a 78-room & 4-apartment hotel, two restaurants, a liquor store, and a spa, is headed back to the West Area Planning Commission again, if only for a rubber stamp.
During eight years of fighting over several versions of this project, support has come largely from the business community and friends, while the opposition has been much broader and deeper in surrounding neighborhoods and particularly in Oakwood, the historically Black and Latino community that’s been decimated by gentrification over recent years. The City Clerk has received 1151 letters opposing the project as well as 655 signatures on petitions (+1072 names on a 2016 Change.org petition).
The commission originally heard the project last July with only three commissioners present. Pres. Mike Newhouse dispensed with concerns raised by V.P. Lisa Walz Morocco and pushed it through, 3-0. Since the decision was not appealable, the project seemed unstoppable
Then Councilmember Mike Bonin stepped in, expressing a number of the issues raised by community groups fighting the project, including Citizens Preserving Venice, Keep Neighborhoods First, POWER, and Unite Here, Local 11. In his words:
“…this is an unprecedented project in North Venice that may pose significant impacts on the community. This project raises substantial concerns related to traffic and pedestrian safety, historic-cultural preservation, affordable housing, neighborhood compatibility in a coastal zone, and potential precedent for the Venice Specific Plan…” (his bold)
Invoking City Charter Section 245, Bonin asked City Council to remove the case from the Commission’s jurisdiction and send it to the Council’s Planning and Land Use Committee (PLUM). His motion was seconded by the new (Post-Huizar) PLUM Chair, Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who described the hotel as:
“…a very sensitive project in one of the most impacted neighborhoods in the United States, frankly, the Venice Beach community, the historic Oakwood neighborhood, certainly Abbot Kinney, anybody who’s been on that thoroughfare in the last ten of fifteen years recognizes the aggressive nature of the change there.”
Off it went to PLUM, which duly held a call-in hearing and sent the thing back to Council with no recommendation, perhaps in deference to the local Councilmember, or perhaps because the Council was out of time under Charter Section 245.
And there, things got interesting again. What Bonin presented the Council was a handful of conditions that didn’t change the project nor substantially address any of the issues in his motion. Instead, they put the developer in charge of monitoring and reporting on his own compliance with a number of already-approved conditions covering parking, loading, alcohol sales, trash pickup, noise, public events and so on, and added the possibility of future Zoning Administrator (ZA) hearings to enforce these.
He also required the developer to file an application two or three years after opening the hotel to show that the conditions were effective and he’d lived up to them. A ZA hearing would then be empowered to alter them if necessary.
Bonin also wanted the developer to:
- Pay $75K into a pedestrian safety fund for “Safe Routes to School” (reality check: a 4-way traffic signal costs over $400K)
- Foster jobs for locals on the construction and in the hotel, in partnership with the Council Office
- Contribute $750K to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund under the Council Office’s control (reality check: would pay for less than two apartments in Venice)
- talk to the Oakwood neighborhood about putting “appropriate art or aesthetic features” on the side of the hotel facing Electric Ave.
But there was nothing at all addressing “historic-cultural preservation…neighborhood compatibility in a coastal zone, and potential precedent for the Venice Specific Plan.”
In any case, Bonin’s demands got sidetracked, due to a legal problem he apparently hadn’t anticipated. The City Council was hearing this case on its “Last Day to Act,” under that Charter Section 245. But the Deputy City Attorney assigned to the Council opined that Bonin’s motion introduced substantial new issues that would require additional public notice under the Brown Act. They’d have to reschedule the hearing for another day. However, due to the Last Day situation, they couldn’t do that, so they punted it back to the West Area Planning Commission for a sort of Planning Commission Groundhog Day.
(4:30PM on Oct. 21st at the Henry Medina WLA Parking Enforcement Facility, 2nd Floor, Roll Call Room, 11214 W. Exposition Blvd.)
Citizens Preserving Venice