An Open Letter to the Community

April 1, 2012

By Deborah LaShever

Fellow Venetians,

I am a resident of Venice and a shop owner on Abbot Kinney. I am writing to you from my heart about our homeless crisis in Venice. It has come to my attention that a local man has been sending letters full of blatant lies and hate regarding the people in our community that sleep on our streets out of necessity.

In them he threatens Los Angeles Councilmember Bill Rosendahl that if he does not clean things up in a week he will take matters into his own hands. That was late February.

Many of us are very concerned about these letters from this man who has reached out to many local people and organizations to spread his hateful spirit and personal agenda. They have leaked out and have now gone viral. That is how I, myself, happened to read them.

This hate has been spread throughout our beloved community and beyond. I am appalled at the tone of these letters and the support he is garnering from others inside and outside of Venice who are contacting Rosendahl in support of him and others like him.

Fellow Venetians, do not listen to hatemongers! We are better than that!

Instead of being part of a real solution to these problems, involving humans who desperately need our compassion and assistance, people like the man I refer to above are intent on harassing these citizens, who have human and civil rights exactly like we all do. I ask you from my heart, please stay out of this issue if you have nothing constructive to contribute. Do not support and contribute hate. This prejudice, greed and callousness is what is wrong with the world. Do not, yourself, perpetuate it! If this man, and all of us, will use our time assisting rather than being intent on discarding other human beings, we will find the joy of doing something for another rather than being people that live life self-seeking. And Venice and the world will be a richer place. And we will feel really good about ourselves and our lives.

I, like you, have a deep financial and personal investment in the welfare of Venice and I love Her as much as you do. I firmly believe that we need to create a good, solid solution that works for everyone. If it doesn’t work for everyone it does not work.

Just to let you know, others of us in Venice are currently working on a viable solution, to propose to Rosendahl in the next weeks, that is a compassionate and encompassing one. Let us do our work. Please stop involving yourselves if you are not intending to contribute to real solutions. Pushing these people around does nothing, as the history of the issue in Venice proves. If you want to help, wonderful! There’s a lot to do! If you have great ideas, fantastic!  We’d love to meet and talk with you, let’s incorporate them!

But instead of trying to help or going through proper channels, the man I am speaking of evidently took things into his own hands. Per Rosendahl’s office, on March 7, an “anonymous” call came in to the Department of Sanitation which began the raid, that occurred with police presence, on the street encampment off 3rd Ave. and Rose Avenue. This man’s own letters basically implicate him in being the one to start the raid on the 3rd Ave. encampment and the devastation of about 50 people who lost everything they had, which wasn’t much.

Lifesaving medication, which they have no money to replace, glasses and contact lenses, family photos that are irreplaceable, drivers licenses and social security cards, rain proof tarps, water, pet supplies, their artwork, their musical instruments, blankets and sleeping bags, books, journals, jackets–everything–was just taken away from them and thrown in garbage trucks to be hauled to the dump. I was out there myself, that very cold night after the raid, handing out blankets that were provided by the Legal Clinic on Rose for the victims. It was like a war zone. People were literally in shock.

Can you imagine if you came home and everything was gone? Everything you owned in the world was gone? And, you had no money to replace anything? What if it wasn’t a natural disaster that did this nor a war, but rather another person in your community? Do any of you really want to support that? Really?

For his own mean spirited and perceived personal gain, this man devastated 50 people’s lives and cost the city bad press and sorely needed money. He took police and city employees’ time for his own personal agenda. This is true criminal behavior. Sleeping on the sidewalk out of necessity is not. The LAPD and the Sanitation Department have better things to do for the whole community than to cater to the whims of one or two hard hearted people.  What did they gain, after all? Nothing. The un-housed are back on 3rd Ave because they have nowhere else to go. What did they lose? Everything. Literally everything. Every shred. And that is no exaggeration.

Why don’t people find out how they can help with this issue rather than spending their time making it worse? I hear so much lately about people being up in arms about bullying. Well, what the hell do you think actions like the 3rd Ave raid are? Not just bullying one-on-one, but bullying one part of our community by other parts of our community. That is really horrifying if you stand back and look at it.  There are other solutions. Resorting to this crap is just lazy and callous. Where is your humanity? For God’s sake! So you have money and a cool house in Venice, so what? You have no heart, so really, you have no class.

I believe Gandhi said, “A nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members,” and Churchill said, “You measure the degree of civilization of a society by how it treats its weakest members.”

Listen, there are definitely problems surrounding this issue. Of course! No one would deny that! But we do not have to resort to barbarism! I completely stand for the fact that if anybody can find creative, humane solutions, Venice can. We are an incredible assortment of people with amazing talents and resources. We can absolutely do this. Yes, we are just that cool.

Apartheid is officially over in the entire country of South Africa. How hard could it be to stop social/economic apartheid in our small community?  It may help to remember that no matter how great things are going right now, you are just one small catastrophe away from you yourselves having to sleep out there on that cold, hard cement, shivering, hopeless. That’s how most of the people you see out there got there, one small catstrophe. And if it were you, think for a moment about how you would want to be treated? Worse than animals?

Good People of Venice, we must each take responsibility for how the most destitute among us is being treated. No longer can we stand by and let these injustices occur!  You would step in if you saw someone beating a dog wouldn’t you? (I know you would!) Then, eons worse, how can you let your community’s un-housed be abused time after time after time? Do not endorse this by doing nothing. Take a stand with me that we will no longer let this happen in our own community. We are better than this! We want a humane and compassionate solution that works for everyone in Venice. Call or email Bill Rosendahl today. It will take five minutes. Thank you! And I truly hope someone helps you when you are in need someday. Because, as you know, there are times in everyone’s life when they are needy in some way. Councilman Bill Rosendahl: 310-568-8772 or cd11.lacity.org.

Deborah LaShever is the owner of the Bohemian Exchange on Abbot Kinney Blvd.  


Future of Venice Skills Center in Doubt

April 1, 2012

By Charles Thomas

The Venice Skills Center continues to “hang in there,” thanks to community activism during the ongoing saga of the school district budget crisis. If you have followed this issue, then you are aware the Los Angeles Unified School District claims to be short of the funding needed to operate the network of adult education centers, the Venice Skills Center being one such location.

On March 13, the school board and superintendent convened in the much-anticipated vote, among other things, to decide the fate of adult education. The result, in full analysis, could be termed a mixed victory, of sorts. The bad part is that the board voted to “zero out” funding for adult ed; that is, that in a worst case scenario, pending further review, adult ed would be eliminated. The board, by majority vote, approved a budget plan in a worse case review of the numbers, leaving no provisions for adult ed, as they claim pressures for slashing the budget. Again, this would mean the end of adult ed and our beloved Skills Center. The good part is that a potential $180 million has, interestingly, been located by the superintendent in his reassessment of the budget, and these funds could keep adult ed afloat. The reassessment left the board and superintendent with a tentative plan keeping adult ed operating, but in a more limited capacity. Only ten of the district’s adult ed centers would continue, the Venice Skills Center being one of those.

The board also voted, in an effort to close further budget gaps, to place a parcel tax on the ballot for the elections this November. Such a levy on property owners, if approved, could raise another $255 million annually. In both these major votes (as to the budget itself and the parcel tax) the one dissenting vote came from board member Marguerite LaMotte. In LaMotte’s dissenting comments, she questioned the absolute need for drastic cuts and instead stated, “Let’s stop the wasteful spending.” LaMotte’s suggestion is a smoking gun. It is possibly a wake-up call as to what the situation really is at the LAUSD. Let’s examine wasteful spending going on whether it be a result of politics, or perhaps neglect, oversight and poor planning.

For example, as a student at the Venice Skills Center, I believe there is questionable expenditure with school police staffing. I note there are usually two uniformed school police officers on duty at the Center. The Skill Center campus is about one acre in size and the school grounds can be virtually seen and monitored almost entirely from a couple of vantage points. I’ll be the first to recognize the importance of school safety, but I have wondered if it was really necessary to have two police. One officer is a full-fledged “peace officer” (who carries a gun) and the other what is often referred to as a safety, or patrol, officer. This school term, one of the officers has been away (called up for his military reserve service, I am told) and things have been just fine in the “law and order” department. It has been orderly having one officer on duty, from what I have seen. I believe just a “police presence” is mainly what is needed, and that goes a long way.

The LAUSD budget pays for the operation of the school police. Salary information on the school police web site indicates that the starting salary is in the $49 to $59,000 range for an officer. If only one officer is really needed, then it could be wasteful spending having two. The point is, please look for examples such as this anywhere in LAUSD’s operations so we can bring them to the attention of board members; things they don’t see, or conveniently don’t want to see.

There are worthwhile ideas and suggestions to hear; ideas from students, teachers and others. You can come up with some. (Don’t leave it all to the school board.) You’re probably smarter than you think.

It is time for meaningful citizen input now as the school budget must be finalized by June 30, and that’s probably closer than you think. As to mounting meaningful forums for hearing ideas from the constituency, possibly we might have a friend in LaMotte, the board member with the courage to say, “Stop the wasteful spending.”

We thought we had a friend in board member Steve Zimmer. On February 9, Zimmer, who represents our district, came to the Skills Center to speak to students, teachers and others on the issue of budget cuts. A big part of this meeting was the “question and answer” segment. One of the most obvious questions on people’s minds was how Zimmer would vote as to the big budget question on continuing adult education. Would he go along with the proposal to gut adult ed, or resist? Zimmer’s rhetoric sounded real good. He sounded in support of his constituency’s issue at hand.  With all said, however, Zimmer never directly responded to the specific issue of how he would vote. As one Skills Center instructor commented, “He managed to wiggle out of that one.” This can give pause and concern when dealing with politicians. It’s too bad Zimmer didn’t join with LaMotte in dissenting from a budget plan that would do away with our school. I am sorry Zimmer couldn’t find it in his heart to stand behind what he proposed to us on February 9.

The Los Angeles Times, in its March 14 article on this issue, quotes parent activist Lydia Grant as saying, “The district has never been good at keeping its promises.” Grant’s comment underscores what was set forth above. Zimmer again came to the Skills Center on March 28 for a more informal talk with a handful of teachers and a few students. Zimmer reiterated his belief that adult ed will survive for now and to expect the next “board moment” on their May 8 meeting when more significant information will probably emerge regarding what is going to happen. Zimmer himself believes the budget deficit to have been overestimated by about $40 to $55 million, explaining “we have a conservative CFO” (at the school district) and that is partly why the numbers skewed in a bleak direction. Zimmer says the availability of additional funds will depend on the success of labor negotiations with the teacher’s union. Between the union and district, there is arbitration in progress regarding furlough days, and the outcome could bring in another $60 million.

The final analysis seems to be a big “we don’t know” and “wait and see” depending on whose numbers are to be believed. Again, community activism is paramount to stay on course seeing the Skill Center’s survival through, with the least damage. In large part, it’s up to the people.

Please visit http://lastudents.org and http://saveadulted.org for suggestions to contact your elected representatives. These sites also list events and especially the rallies where we have demonstrated our numbers and show of support.

A rally, one was held on March 13 at the LAUSD Headquarters. The rally was yet another exciting event, slightly different from the first one in February in that we were an even feistier collective. The fashion statement of solidarity was a show of red T-shirts and ribbons worn headband style. There was food and a “disco-capable” sound system set up on a platform, with dancing in the street. These activities might induce you to attend a rally on behalf of this issue, as they are enjoyable perks, and besides contributing your presence to a worthy cause, there is also some fun to be had. Again, please see one of the aforementioned websites and . . . . . join us!


Letters

April 1, 2012
  • Ocean Charter School –  Terence Pearce
  • Venice History Banned From The Boardwalk – Jeffrey Stanton

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Ocean Charter School

Dear Beachhead,

I am absolutely shocked and appalled at the recent decision of the LAUSD board to deny Ocean Charter School the right to build their new school on the large unused area of Walgrove School campus;  a new school which was to happily unite the upper grades at Ocean Charter North (Walgrove campus) with grades K through 3rd presently situated at the south campus on Culver Blvd.

This bewildering vote was taken after the LAUSD staff, who had themselves zealously vetted potential schools  wishing to build there, unanimously delivered their recommendation to the board that permission be granted to Ocean Charter, over the rival proposal of the Green Dot charter organization;  a David and Goliath scenario with David apparently winning hands down until the whole thing was scotched by the board.

In other words, unbelievably, the LAUSD board voted against the recommendation of their own investigating staff.  If this doesn’t smack of political shenanigans of the worst order then I don’t know what does.

After years of Herculean effort by Ocean Charter staff, children and parents, and who knows how many taxpayer dollars paid to the LAUSD staff to conduct the vetting process, the whole scheme has been voted down with absolutely no opportunity for appeal by Ocean Charter or even time given for questions at the time of the vote.

At the very least the members should have to explain publicly some powerful rationale, other than the usual platitudes about local residents and congestion, for this shocking about-turn and failure to grant the land to anyone at all.  One has only to see how much regard is given to the considerations of residents or congestion when a corporate scheme is involved to see how fatuous these platitudes really are.

The taxpayers employ the LAUSD board & the members of that board should have to answer to the taxpayers involved in this particular instance for the apparently complete illogicality of their decision;  at least those members who voted ‘yes’ could perhaps explain to us how it was that their good sense came to be overwhelmed by the majority.  It is, on the face of it, one more example of the LAUSD’s bureaucracy-gone-mad, too-big-to-fail tradition of profligate waste and titanic inefficiency.

Apart from all the political chicanery involved from Steve Zimmer (whose ‘yes’ vote is believed by many to be strategic only) and the rest of the board,  throughout all the uncertainties and deliberations of various local government and LAUSD bodies to ascertain the future of this school, one giant factor never seems to come into the discussion either in the press or in the halls of power at all, to whit the central one, the welfare of the Ocean Charter children at the center of what has now, for them, become a crisis.

These exceptional children have been for several years, and are presently, housed in inadequate temporary cabin-type buildings on the Walgrove Campus which structures will be, by law, razed to the ground during this summer break.  This leaves the Ocean Charter children with the awful uncertainty of not knowing where they will be next year and the desperate feeling that perhaps they won’t have a school at all,  an insecurity that must inevitably impact their happiness and progress.

So after all this effort by so many well-meaning people, incredibly, the unused area of mostly unsightly tarmac at Walgrove School will be again left to degenerate further with no benefit for the community whatsoever.  It is widely believed that the LAUSD board has a bias against charter schools generally, but this latest development would be viewed as farcical if it wasn’t made so unutterably tragic by the suspicion that the LAUSD is playing political games with the hearts and minds of our defenseless children.

The Ocean Charter school is a wonderful institution which, through many travails and the overcoming of prodigious obstacles to establish itself, has tried, and succeeded, to amply satisfy the educational standards set by the law while teaching the children in a way that doesn’t just turn them into mindless test fodder, who will mechanically regurgitate data, but seeks to preserve the students’ thirst for knowledge while enhancing and preserving their individuality as a benefit to the community at large.

One question begs an answer.  How is it that the absolutely fundamental right and power of parents and educators to nurture and foster the kind of education that their children receive and deserve is taken out of the hands of the children’s community and given into the hands of a small institutionally-entrenched and distant political elite more concerned with their political future than the well-being of the children themselves?  I challenge the LAUSD to prove me wrong, and do the right thing by these children;  give them a decent place to learn and, by your example perhaps, give them a lesson in impartiality.

Terence Pearce

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Venice History Banned From The Boardwalk

Dear Beachhead,

I have been selling my postcards and history books for 33 years along the Venice Boardwalk. Now, I’ve been shut down by the new Venice Beach vending ordinance.

LAPD Sergeant Rodriquez took a closer look at my stand and discovered that I was selling my Venice photographs on my postcard rack. His interpretation of the new ordinance is that photographs can’t be printed and that they must carry a message much like a button or bumper sticker. Obviously my postcards are printed in mass to get the price down so that I can sell them at 25 cents, but they only promote Venice to potential tourists who might show them to friends or even mail them to people. My postcard sales average about $5 per day, sometimes more, sometimes less. I do it to have a job since I’m 67 years old with too many unproductive days to fill.

As to my books, I can only display one copy of my Venice history book. All other books that I had on my table to attract the occasional customer, aren’t allowed. Even with my table full of books I only sold one book about every three weeks and it usually wasn’t my history book. Of course I went to the meetings drafting the ordinance and pointed out to the District Attorney that both New Orleans and New York attempted to close down street book vending, and both lost in Federal Circuit Court. She said, “that was 1st and 2nd Circuit Court – 9th may rule against you.” If they would, it would have to go to the Supreme Court for it is definitely a first amendment violation and would close book selling down all over the country. We could always find out with great expense how the 9th Circuit Court would rule.

While you might say just display your history book, it isn’t that simple since Sergeant Rodriquez says I can’t share a spot with the button guy or I will be ticketed and if I persist will be permanently banned from the boardwalk. I have been sharing a space with Jeffrey Kissinger for nearly four years. The police can’t cite a section of the ordinance since that states that there can only be one vendor per space. My advantage to share is that I can arrive at noon and work till dusk without having to fight for a space at 9 AM, and if I need to run an errand or go to the bathroom, someone is there to watch my table.

Norman Kula on Councilman Rosendahl’s legal staff is trying to get clarification from the District Attorney’s office, but nothing has happened in the last few weeks. When the Councilman often visited Venice, he always stopped and praised my efforts to promote Venice and its history through my books and postcards.

Jeffrey Stanton


Post Office Sale Terms Omit Historical Protection; Rally Scheduled for Tax Day, April 17

April 1, 2012

By Greta Cobar

The Venice post office is currently for sale for $7.5 million, and the closing day for bid submissions is April 23. The draft covenant regarding historical preservation would allow the future owner to destroy the mural and the building with no penalty.

Venetians have repeatedly demanded that the 1939 Works Project Administration building and the Edward Biberman mural in the lobby be under historical preservation protection in the event of a sale. According to the drafted covenant, however, a future owner would only have to follow the National Park Service (NPS) Guidelines, which are not sufficient to protect the historic resource.

The draft covenant states that the future owner must make a written request to the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) before doing any construction, alteration or rehabilitation to the building. But if permission is not granted within 30 days, the owner can go ahead and perform the work simply by following the recommended approaches of the NPS. Thus, it doesn’t matter whether the SHPO grants permission or not.

Furthermore, there is no provision for the SHPO or anyone else to monitor whether the NPS Standards and Guidelines are being followed. Therefore, if the mural inside the building (or the building itself) is destroyed, there is no legal remedy or penalty to the owner. Also, there is no provision that allows any future public access to view the mural.

John Henning, attorney representing the Venice Stakeholders Association (VSA), filed an official request for Section 106 consideration, which mandates a historic preservation review process. According to Henning’s letter, sale of the post office under the current draft covenant “would result in an ‘adverse effect’ for purposes of Section 106.”

The sale and closure of the Venice post office is considered to be a relocation, with services moving across the street to what is currently called the Annex. All closures are under a moratorium until May 15, while the Venice post office is for sale because it is labeled “relocation.”

A month ago the Venice community came together and raised the funds to finance an attorney, Elaine Mittleman, in Washington DC, to appeal the sale of the post office. The lawsuit was filed, demanding that the PRC (Postal Regulatory Commission) does have the power to decide whether the sale of a post office be classified as a closure instead of a relocation.

This last lawsuit is our third appeal. The previous one asked that the PRC classify Venice as a closure instead of a relocation. The PRC responded that it does not hold the power to make that decision. The current lawsuit demands that the PRC does have that power.

In a best-case-scenario situation, the court will decide that the PRC does have the power to decide what is or is not to be considered a closure. The PRC would then decide that the Venice post office classifies as a closure. The USPS would then conduct its own investigation, at the end of which they would decide that the Venice post office is indeed a closure. Again, this is a best-case scenario.

Would the Venice post office be saved, then? No, it would just be taken off the relocation list and put on the closure list, which would take the building off the market at least until May 15. It is speculated that the moratorium will extend until after the November elections to avoid delaying absentee ballots.

When asked why the building is for sale while still in litigation, Michael J. Elston, attorney working for the USPS in Washington DC, stated that whether the PRC has the power to decide if it is a closure or a relocation is in no way related to the sale of the Venice post office. However, as already mentioned in the best-case scenario, it could.

Mark Ryavek, of VSA, asked Council District Representative Bill Rosendahl to bring a motion to compel City Attorney Carmen Trutanich to file suit in District Court. The lawsuit was to demand that the USPS obtain building permits for the renovation work currently being done at the Annex.

“The federal government is not subject to city planning and zoning code or city building and safety regulations,” said Norman Kulla, Rosendahl’s legal council. Therefore the USPS is exempt from building permits.

Although probably enacted to prevent the dismantling of the postal service, a service provided for in the constitution, these exemptions are now being used by the USPS to dismantle itself.

Unofficial reports are that the USPS is planning to sell the Santa Monica post office, a 1936 structure, and move customer service to a smaller annex nearby. We hope to consolidate our efforts with Santa Monica and pressure our politicians to step up and take a strong stand reflecting the wishes of the communities they serve. However, Santa Monica has the advantage of city-hood, which Venice does not. It has the benefit of large resources to preserve its historic building.

The Coalition to Save the Venice Post Office has met with representatives in both Feinstein’s and Boxer’s offices, and although the reps were first eager to immediately draft letters of support for our plight, they later backed out. Just another example of our politicians being subservient to the bureaucracy.

There are bills floating through Congress that would save all post offices and postal services throughout the country by easing the requirement that the USPS pre-fund its employees’ health benefits for the next 75 years in a ten-year period. However, the first bill to be debated in the Senate following Easter recess is S1789, not S1853, the one most favorable to preserving postal services and offices.

Congressperson Janice Hahn wrote a letter to Patrick Donahoe, Postmaster General, asking that the sale of our post office be placed under the May 15 moratorium that all closures are now protected by. However, because of redistricting, she is not too motivated to continue this effort, as we will not be in her district come next elections.

Henry Waxman, who is the most likely candidate representing us and our new district, is not our current representative, and therefore is unwilling to take a stand. As he put it, “I don’t represent Venice.”

However, facilities in Maine, New Jersey and other states are currently being defended in Congress by legislators driven to act by their constituencies. Write letters or emails to your representatives urging them to stop the sale of our post office.

Quite suspiciously, the real estate listing of the Venice post office recently deleted the building’s historical status. Maybe because it would be a deterrent to possible buyers. Creating deterrents for future buyers might be a good strategy right about now.

Are those expressing an interest in buying the building informed about the pending lawsuit and the possibility that they will have to sell it back at cost, minus buying and investing costs?

Do they know how small this town is and how unpopular and hated they will be? Do they really want to move in under these unfortunate circumstances?

We are having a rally Tuesday, April 17, tax day, to occupy the post office. Please join us from 3 to 5:30 pm with signs, slogans and lots of enthusiasm. Let’s let any interested future buyers know how we feel and that we are not ready to give up!

Last but not least, let’s not forget that that post office crisis is a manufactured lie that has the ultimate goal of killing all government institutions in favor of increasing the profits of big, private companies. A survey conducted by the USPS itself regarding its Network Rationalization plan shows that the cuts, such as the closing of our post office, will save the USPS $2.6 billion, while causing it to LOSE $5.2 billion. All while the USPS higher-ups take home over half a million dollars each. Common sense is just so outdated.


Venice Homeless People File Claim Against L.A. City

April 1, 2012

People whose personal property was seized without notice and destroyed on March 7 on  3rd Avenue filed claims for damages against the city on March 28, said Attorney Carol Sobel.

The claims seek a minimum of $4,000 for each person whose property was taken.

In April 2011, a federal court issued an emergency order, which continues in effect, barring the city from seizing and destroying the property of homeless individuals on Skid Row.


Chain Envelops Independent Newspaper

April 1, 2012

No it’s not an April Fools Day joke. The 40-year-old independent newspaper, the Marina del Rey Argonaut, has been sold to a newspaper chain, Southland Publishing, Incorporated.

The Argonaut was founded by David Asper Johnson, who was its owner-publisher until his death in 2006. He willed the paper to Argonaut employee Carol Hector, who ran it until her death in 2010.

Hector willed the paper to her spouse and long-time partner Arlene Ruiz.

According to a Sept. 8, 2010 article in the Argonaut, “Johnson, who founded The Argonaut in November 1971, said he wanted to assure the public that The Argonaut would continue to be locally owned as an independent local newspaper, and new publisher Ruiz says it was Hector’s wish to continue Johnson’s legacy. Hector had left instructions concerning the future of the paper that would assure its continuing as a locally-owned and -operated independent community newspaper, Ruiz added.”

What happened?

Whatever it was, Southland Publishing, Inc. is now in control. The corporation seems to specialize in L.A. Weekly-type tabloids. Its most popular newspaper was L.A. CityBeat, which went out of business in 2006. It continues to publish Pasadena Weekly, San Diego CityBeat, and Inland Empire Weekly, among others.

Whether the Argonaut is facing a make-over or changes in its appearance or editorial policy is unknown at this time. However, it is noteworthy that Southland has appointed its vice president of operations rather than a journalist as its new Argonaut publisher.


Where’s the Transparency? – L.A. Confidential

April 1, 2012

By Jim Smith

When City Controller Candidate Cary Brazeman expressed shock that the city of Los Angeles was corrupt, I was reminded of the scene in the film, Casablanca, when Inspector Renault discovers gambling at Rick’s as he is handed his winnings. Brazeman was irritated about the city’s Ethics Commission changing the election rules in mid-campaign. In fact, “ethics” is about as foreign to city government as “planning” is to the Dept. of Planning.

When I asked Brazeman if he didn’t know L.A. was corrupt, he responded: “Well, I liked to think it couldn’t get any dirtier … but was proven wrong!” His reaction is not uncommon. Many of us in Venice have had those moments when we thought it couldn’t get any dirtier, only to be confronted with more corruption.

Corruption takes many forms in the city of the angels. It can be the old-fashion kind when money is transferred from a businessman to a city official. This is called a campaign contribution in Los Angeles, where most of the city council is beholden to developers. Corruption also can be rigged elections as in the Venice annexation election of 1925. Corruption caused the dismantling the Red Cars, the most extensive mass transit system in the country at the behest of the oil and auto companies. Corruption can also take the form of changing the rules in mid-stream, as Brazeman points out. Or, in suddenly deciding a city street is actually a park in order to brutalize homeless people. It’s no wonder that a popular film exposing city corruption in mid-century was called L.A. Confidential – the opposite of transparency.

I would argue that lack of transparency in government is an example of corruption. Transparency means openness, communications and accountability. Where is the transparency in Los Angeles? The city regime is about as transparent as the governments of Syria and North Korea.

Readers may wonder how the city of Los Angeles can be compared with these boogeymen of the evening news? Aren’t they corrupt dictatorships (the term is nearly redundant)? If you really think Los Angeles is a transparent democracy, you haven’t been paying attention. It has some of the trappings of democracy. You can attend city council meetings, where whatever you say will be ignored. You can attend neighborhood council meetings, which have all the power of a mock legislature in a middle school. The only difference is that a number of uniformed, armed men and women will probably not be lining the back wall at the middle school exercise.

Here are a few examples of the shocking lack of transparency as it affects Venice:

• Not once since he was elected has our Councilmember, Bill Rosendahl, issued an accounting of the Venice Surplus Property Fund. The Fund, which includes money from the sale of city owned property in Venice, is supposed to be used only in Venice. There has been no report on how much has been collected, how much has been spent, what projects it has been spent on, or any other particulars. Our previous councilmember, Cindy Miscikowski, who was imposed on Venice by the city council without an election, routinely consulted with the Grass Roots Venice Neighborhood Council on expenditures. In neither case, however, was a Venice community body trusted to make spending decisions.

•  The Big Wheel – that 200 foot tall Ferris Wheel – will be installed on the beach whether residents want it or not. Meetings between the Great City Attractions and the city, including the Councilmember’s office, the Recreation and Parks Dept. and the L.A. Visitors Bureau have been taking place without a word to those of us who will have to put up with more traffic, noise and pollution. If it had not been for the Beachhead breaking the story back in September, we probably wouldn’t have known about it until it was erected.

• The current City Attorney, Carmen “Nuch” Trutanich, a fine example of today’s political animal, has ruled that our busiest street, Ocean Front Walk, is, in fact, a park. Transparency? No. There has been no documentation given to surprised Venetians to back up this astonishing opinion. We await “Nuch’s” pronouncement on the existence of UFOs.

• Many streets in Venice now bear large signs that prohibit so-called oversized vehicles, including many that rarely saw an RV. Our Councilmember said that the signs would only be posted if two-thirds of the residents signed a petition in favor of having them. We’ll never know if such petitions exist since they are not open for inspection. Meanwhile, owners of RVs have traded them in for camper vans that are not “oversized.”

• Let’s follow the money that’s collected in Venice. Except we can’t. Do you know how much money the city extracts from Venice? Do you know how much money is spent here by the city? You won’t find answers to these questions from city officials. Even though, in the computer age it would be a relatively simple program that could give us the answer, if they wanted us to know. Of course, the last thing that will ever become is transparent.

This is not an indictment of Rosendahl or Trutanich or any of the other good people who are officials of Los Angeles. They are simply caught up in a corrupt institution. In fact, Los Angeles is just too big to be good. The opportunities for mischief are everywhere, and usually no one is watching. L.A. is also too big to succeed. The average resident or group of residents doesn’t have a chance of effecting change in this megalopolis. In the immortal words of County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, “The average person walking into City Hall is behind the eight ball before he ever gets to the first step.”

There are probably other cities that are ruled in a dictatorial fashion like L.A. But most are run by shared governance. Greater London is made up of scores of communities the size of Venice or Mar Vista that have local councils with real power. New York City, of course, is divided into five boroughs. It has a city council made up of 51 representatives, of which 18 are women. Los Angeles, on the other hand, has only 15 councilmembers, all men except one. New York City’s Council is also much more diverse but members do not receive the broad array of perks that are enjoyed by L.A. councilmembers. The interplay and bargaining between the Mayor, Borough Presidents and the large city council usually ensures that most groups and communities in NYC will have some representation, in contrast to the system of wealth and privilege that is practiced in Los Angeles.

It may sound like a broken record to say that the best solution for Venice would be to restore its cityhood. The much smaller size of Venice would force transparency in a way that we will never see in Los Angeles. In Venice, we would know where the city councilmembers live. We would see them in the grocery store, local restaurants or walking their dog. Meetings of vital importance to our community would no longer take place 20 miles away. Until Venetians start organizing to get out of the cesspool that is Los Angeles, we’ll just be some of the chumps they laugh about down at City Hall.


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