By Krista Schwimmer
Across the country, a deadly force is destroying the character of neighborhoods forever. Jeremiah Moss, author of the blog, “Vanishing New York”, calls it “hyper-gentrification.” Grandchild to gentrification, Moss bemoans that this 3rd wave “is bigger, faster and meaner than its parent. It is also sicker, a sociopathic system with no compassion.” Behind this force stand not individuals – but corporations, banks, politicians, and even police. Although Moss is writing to save New York, what he says can be applied to Venice now. Battles have been lost in this quirky, coastal city. The month of March, however, marked decisive victories against hyper-gentrification: the first, an end to dinimimus waivers; the second, a community vote against Jason Teague’s “Nightmare on 1414 Main” development.
On March 18th, the community came out to hear just how the VNC would weigh in on Jason Teague’s oversized, ill-conceived project. The full motion by LUPC to deny was read, as well as the project summary. Jason Teague and Brian Silveira then had fifteen minutes to argue their case. Teague spent most of his time explaining the robotic, underground parking, as well as demonizing the neighborhood, calling it unsafe in the evenings. “We are trying to keep the art and remove the crime,” Teague exclaimed. Ironically, Captain Brian Johnson, Pacific Division, had earlier reported that violent crime was down in Venice this year. Teague showed no serious changes to the project design.
Next, Brian Silveira, planning consultant for the project, purportedly was going to educate the council on one of the most important aspects of the project: the use of SB1818. He began with the Mello Act, a law designed to fight gentrification in the area, saying that larger units must supply a minimum number of affordable units. He then claimed that their project was “valuable” because “in the future the only way to keep affordable units in the Venice coastal zone . . . is to develop projects of 10 units or more in this little tiny piece of undeveloped commercial area that we have.” He conveniently did not speak of the very real, neighboring residential area that would be completely altered by this project or the fact that, if the project was approved, they would be removing affordable units themselves!
Standing up against the project, Irv Katz and Rick Garvey, both longtime residents in the immediate vicinity of the project, gave a thorough, clear, succinct fifteen minute presentation. Katz began, arguing that the increased density brought by the project would increase the strain on resources. Showing photos of the diverse family homes in the area, he stated that “new development of the Venice Coastal Zone shall respect the scale and character of community development.” He ended his part by saying: “The proposal for 1414 Main Street is a whale. The homes that surround are gold fish. Please do not drop this whale in our goldfish bowl.”
Rick Garvey took over, saying that the neighborhood had many areas of concern: size, traffic, parking, excessive use of the alley, as well as the noise and drunken disorderly conduct that restaurants and “the so called performance space” would bring. Garvey spent much time going over just how ridiculous it would be to have the entrance to the parking through the alley. One of the adjacent streets, Horizon Avenue, is one way going west. This in itself would affect the flow of traffic in and out of the project. As to the idea that there will be no cars coming from 1414 down Toledo, Garvey said even the developer, currently staying there, uses it!
According to Jeremiah Moss, one of the strategies of hyper-gentrification is “to foster an environment of fear.” That night, on numerous occasions, supporters of 1414 Main attempted to do just that. One of the most egregious examples was so called urban planner, Brittany Debeikes. She said Venice was “infamous” for its gangs, local crimes, and drug abuse. Teagues’s project would invigorate the area. Towards the end of her presentation, she once more insulted the neighborhood saying, “This section of Main Street . . . can be riddled with crime and vandalism and hooligans loitering in our alleys and sidewalks at times.”
Unbeknownst to Debeikes, however, one of the slides she showed of the “dilapidated” neighborhood, was a photo of a resident’s home, waiting in line to make a public comment. When he reached the podium, Michael Wamback began by saying how he was going to talk about the unwanted precedent the project would set when, much to his surprise, upon seeing a photo of his building, he learned that for the last fifteen years he had been living in a ghetto! After the laughter died down, many more spoke against the project. Kathleen Lawson, another Horizon resident for 26 years, pointed out that since Teague had taken over the property, she and others were constantly picking up bongs, bottles, lighters, and trash all the time. She and another resident expressed concerns about how such a project would affect their children who played in the alley right now.
Throughout the evening, both sides held up bright pink signs with either “Deny 1414” or “Approve 1414”. Some of Teague’s supporters even painted the address on their faces, making it seem like they were attending a football game rather than a very serious community meeting. One such woman was Jules Muck, a local artist allowed to not only stay in Teague’s building right now, but to paint a garish mural over it, featuring a giant, green Chihuahua. Holding a black puppy, she said, “I’ve been in these buildings. They’re coming down whether you approve it or not because they’re falling down.” Just two days later, however, Teague hosted the Venice Art Crawl at this same building.
When the time came for the council to vote, however, the majority of the members saw right through Teague’s tactics. The first to comment was Tommy Walker, an African-American who grew up in Oakwood during its rougher days. After listening closely to both sides, he was terrified by “the usage of the word crime in the community.” He could not understand why an individual would move into a community and “be that afraid of the community that you’re moving into that you feel the need to change the dynamics of it.” He also declared that “this is not a ghetto!” Irv Katz, also unimpressed by Teague’s fear tactics, told him if he was so afraid of Venice, “to build his enclave elsewhere.” He also pointed out that just recently the Abbot Kinney hotel had passed only AFTER they had removed their fourth floor.
Even members who had previously voted for other developments were unimpressed by not only the project design, but by Teague’s inability to connect well with the community. Mark Salzburg summed it up when he said “The neighborhood, to me is a lot more valuable then the parking.” Bud Jacobs went a step further saying “To be honest with you, I found your presentation kinda sophomoric and offensive to the community.”
The VNC passed the LUPC motion to deny 1414 Main Street with a vote of 14-1. Having been soundly defeated now in two critical community meetings, the neighborhood has clearly spoken. The question is: will the City of Los Angeles hear? Earlier that night, Councilman Mike Bonin said that the applicants on 522 Venice Boulevard that the city had denied, were now planning to sue. His response: bring it on. He also expressed his concern that the way SB1818 “is being applied it is resulting in a net decrease in affordable housing.”
For some neighborhoods in Venice, hyper-gentrification has already stuck a decisive, if not fatal, blow. But, for the neighborhoods once part of the original Venice canals, the people, armed with real facts, real concerns, and real determination, have held back its powerful force another day. Yes, Jason Teague, you should be afraid – not of the gangs of Venice, but of the spirit of Venice itself.
Above: March 18 VNC meeting