An Interview with John Haag

December 1, 2013

(This is a re-print from the November 2002 issue)

By Suzy Williams

John Haag – whose long career of fighting for the rights of Venetians has earned him the title of People’s Doge of Venice.

He was the proprietor of the Venice West coffeehouse and led the fight for the right of poets to read their poetry at a time when it was illegal in Los Angeles without an entertainment license.

Haag was a founder, and a long-time leader, of the Venice Peace and Freedom Party and co-founder, along with Rick Davidson, of the Free Venice movement.

In addition, Haag “…served as founding president of the Venice Chapter of the ACLU, chairman of the Venice Forum, publicity chairman of the Venice/Santa Monica chapter of CORE, ‘action chairman’ of the Westside United Civil Rights Committee, rally chairman of the Congress of Unrepresented People (COUP), chairman of the International Days of Protest Committee, arrangements committee chairman of the Southern California Committee to End Police Malpractice…” (Venice West – The Beat Generation in Southern California, John Arthur Maynard, Rutgers University Press, 1991).

John Haag has been in the thick of every struggle to defend Venice for the past 40 years. He was instrumental in the successful opposition to a freeway through Venice, turning the canals into a yacht harbor, fighting police brutality in Oakwood and throughout Venice, upholding the rights of artists and poets to perform and sell their creations, and against commercial overdevelopment in Venice. He was interviewed by Beachhead Collectivist Suzy Williams in October.

Suzy Williams: Welcome Mr. John Haag! Say, how would you describe yourself?

John Haag: Boy, I don’t know whether I would try. I’ve been in retirement, in seclusion for so many years, but prior to that I would have described myself as a self-taught organizer. I started out not having the vaguest idea of where I was going. But, I found myself organizing a picket line down on the boardwalk protesting police harassment of the Venice West Coffeehouse.

SW: Right, I was just reading in Venice West, the book, and it said that you posted a sign on the door that said “NO MORE POETRY! The anti-intellectual yahoos at the LAPD want it to stop. Poets ARISE!”

JH: Well, I’m not very graceful…

SW: Au contraire! So that was your first organizing?

JH: Well, yes, except when I was working for CBS in New York City, I organized my work group to call for strike. I got a unanimous strike vote from that group of television news film technicians. The strike didn’t have to take place-

SW: You mean you got the raise before you had to…

JH: Yes, right.

SW: But that was heartening for you and encouraging.

JH: It was startling, because when I started out working, I was relatively anti-union.

SW: You were! Why?

JH: I think it was the background I came from. My father was a machinist, which is really a craft, I don’t know if that had anything to do with his bias, but he was virulently anti-union and I just picked it up.

SW: Was he a Republican?

JH: Oh, yes he was.

SW: Like James Brown is a Republican. Certain specialists are just conservative.

JH: Yes. So I had to join the union when I got this job, and I became friends with the shop steward.

SW: Do you think the roots of your political journey began with that friend?

JH: I don’t know about that, because it wasn’t out of an ideology, there was an unfairness on the part of the company. I think it happened just before I came to California. I spent a year in Italy and I spent quite a bit of time with a Communist official. It just so happened that he liked to take midnight walks. And I’m pretty much of a night person. So somehow, he lived in the same neighborhood where I was living with an Italian family. I think these midnight conversations with Marco gave me some theory, you know, economics and politics.

SW: I see; now, according to this book, Venice West, you became a Communist.

JH: That book is full of expletive deleted!

SW: So it’s not true!

JH: Not only was I never a Communist, but I had many battles with the Communists. I worked with them in the anti-war movement, because my attitude was to work with anybody who agrees with me! I don’t know why that guy printed that or where he got that. I worked as long as I could with them but then I broke, and I suffered the usual consequences, of being called a turncoat, and a Trotskyite. It was over the opposition to the war. For a time I was the Los Angeles Chairman of the W.E.B. Dubois Club, oh yes and The Evening Outlook did call that organization “Communist inspired”.

SW: Who was W.E.B. Dubois? I forgot.

JH: He was a founder of the NAACP, born in the 1860’s, from Great Barrington, Massachusetts, a scholar, Black historian, a great orator who called for change, and a Socialist most of his life and towards the end finally he became a Communist and moved to Africa.

SW: He was a leader and a gatherer of people.

JH: Yes, definitely.

SW: You were involved in civil rights, I see you were involved with C.O.R.E. What did that stand for?

JH: Congress of Racial Equality.

SW: Ah, but let’s get back to Venice West, the coffeehouse. (At 7 Dudley, where Sponto’s is now) When did you take ownership of it?

JH: Well, it was 1962 to 1966. I have to say that the coffeehouse was an enormous education to me, I learned so much from so many, you know 20 different varieties of Socialist!

SW: Even more than at Harvard!

JH: At Harvard I did get an education I wouldn’t normally have had. I majored in English, and took several languages, and courses in Art: sculpture, drawing…

SW: And Poetry? Because you are such a sublime poet.

JH: No! I never took a literature course, because I didn’t want to be told how to write.

SW: You rebel!

JH: One of my instructors made this assertion that you could never write a political sonnet in the English language. Two of the poems I sent to The Beachhead recently were political sonnets.

SW: So tell me, were you hassled a lot at Venice West?

JH: The LAPD tried a couple times to employ an ordinance having to do with entertainment, but the judge ruled that what was happening there was not entertainment in terms of the ordinance. Nobody was getting paid! The kind of harassment that happened was not usually violent, but certain people were asked day after day for their I.D; trying to wear you down. Sometimes the cops took you to the county line and told you “ Don’t come back ”. Of course, this wasn’t a legal procedure. I learned the law very quickly.

SW: It’s so funny, we romanticize the sixties, especially in Venice, thinking of it as a freer time, but in fact life was harder to live then.

JH: I haven’t been hassled about my long hair in twenty years!

SW: So what all went on in Venice West, besides poetry?

JH: I think that the coffeehouse was one of the only places on earth where you were encouraged to talk about anything, and talk turned political in 1964, especially. I’m pretty sure someone brought in a leaflet about a protest of the Vietnam War, so there we were at the Veteran’s Cemetery on Sawtelle, about thirty of us. I don’t think there was any hostility, I don’t think anybody knew what we were talking about, no one knew about the war. I was living—I should say working at the coffeehouse where people were talking politics right and left – pardon the expression – and eventually there was a lot of talk that we ought to have a radical political party. I had a little stint where I ran for Assembly and I got a taste of the Democratic Party and not the worst part of it, either. I mean, the Santa Monica club was fairly liberal, you would think, until you get to talking to them! I mean the idea that you had a candidate that ran a coffeehouse! Scandal!

So then there came a time to get real about starting a party. I checked into the election code and found a way that seemed possible by registering sixty-seven thousand people, that would qualify you for the ballot – as opposed to the impossible petition that required six HUNDRED seventy thousand signatures! Then, what should we call the party? There were meetings of radicals of north and south California, and after much noisy discussion, we came up with the name, “Peace and Freedom Party.”And so, with a dozen colleagues, we started registering people on June 23, 1967.

SW: John, can you tell me – how did the Beachhead begin?

JH: There you have one of my favorite stories. The first election that the Peace and Freedom Party was involved in was 1968. We had these three candidates running in Venice. And I had the fixation that we were not going to have this campaign disappear in November. We knew we were not going to get our candidates elected. So what were we doing with all this time and effort? There wasn’t enough time to discuss it before the election, but when it was over, the campaign committee got together and started discussing it: “How about a community radio?” “How about this or that?” The decision was finally made to have a community newspaper. We went from campaign committee to Beachhead collective. And we had the first issue out in December of 1968.

SW: Was it well received right off the bat?

JH: Yes.

SW: Isn’t that funny? It is today, too. Some things are just so consistent, ya know?

JH: And month by month people looked for it. Over a period of time, we got a whole lot of people distributing it on their own block or maybe two or three blocks. And they did it happily. At its peak we had 5,000 papers delivered door to door. The other thing was the structure of the Beachhead. I don’t need to tell you, there’s no editor, there’s no publisher, there’s no boss. It’s truly a collective, each person having equal voice and vote and nobody getting paid for anything. And that went on for twenty-plus years. And I think that’s some kind of a miracle.

SW: I know, it is astounding.

JH: I will say this: I feel I’m mostly responsible for that structure. Because by then, I had really thought about how to set things up and how to keep them going.

SW: Say, what does “Beachhead” mean, anyway?

JH: It’s a military term describing the initial phase of an invasion. But of course, I had in mind that we were all beach heads. I mean, this paper is a poem and you get all sorts of ambiguity.

SW: Tell us about some of the characters who used to write for the Beachhead.

JH: There were people who got on the Beachhead who became writers. Jane Gordon comes to mind. She was part of the original collective and bit by bit she started writing about things and later she helped organize the feminist caucus in the Peace & Freedom Party. But I think the dynamic was that people joined the Beachhead and developed this talent, not that they necessarily had the talent and came to the Beachhead! Some did, like Arnie Springer, who’s no amateur. He was a professor at Long Beach, but he was a mainstay of the Beachhead for years. Now, I didn’t stay with the Beachhead very long.

SW: You didn’t?

JH: No, and it wasn’t that I didn’t like the Beachhead, I love the Beachhead, but I had to go on to other things. I had the State Peace and Freedom Party to worry about, I had elections to worry about, I had getting on the ballot in other states to worry about. I had to do tours.

SW: But didn’t you send back articles? Didn’t you write that great article on John Muir? Oh, that might have been Rick Davidson.

JH: Oh, most likely.

SW: Was he like your brother?

JH: (Chuckles) Rick was as close to being a brother as anybody. We had a long history, we started out together in the coffeehouse, doing subversive things. We didn’t always agree, but then brothers don’t. We were always on the same side, but we had different ideas of strategies and tactics.

SW: You were a non-violent guy from the get-go, no?

JH: One of the things I am most proud and grateful for is that all the demonstrations I was responsible for, there was not a single arrest or injury. I don’t know how many I’m talking about…I’m talking 1966 to 1970. On the beach, at the Federal Building, on the boardwalk, on Main St. (when the U.S. invaded Cambodia). They all related to my commitment to non-violence. It involved a dedication to avoiding arrest. And communicating with police. Many of whom I worked with were dead-set against dealing directly with the police, but I didn’t look at it that way. The way to avoid trouble was to tell them what we were going to do and stick to it.

SW: You treated the cops like human beings.

JH: To the extent that I could bear it, yes. I remember we had a demonstration at the Rand Corp. in Santa Monica, and I saw a Police Lieutenant striding towards me. I felt worried. But it turned out that he was just reminding me to take some flyers I had forgotten with me!

SW: So how do you feel about Venice Cityhood?

JH: No question that I’m in favor of that. On principal, if nothing else. Venice was basically blackmailed into joining Los Angeles.

SW: Blackmailed! What do you mean?

JH: Well, they said they would cut our water off.

SW: That’s mean!

JH: But you see, they gobbled up most of the county that way. No wonder the valley wants to secede!

SW: Well, John this has been a great start, a wonderful insight into you, and a pleasure talking with a man that so many of my friends speak of with hushed, respectful tones.

JH: Thank you.

———————————–

Venice as Mecca

or Jerusalem

By John Haag

I sit here on the sand,

a holy place on sacred land,

remembering the tribes and clans

that gathered here, took counsel

and dispersed; foreseeing all

the ones that will arrive,

drink our blessed water and survive,

only to disperse in turn

to spread the word

amongst a disbelieving world.

Take heart, my heart,

for here is never lost

anything forever (but the soul

at times sent wandering

along some other plane).

It too returns home safely

found like a cache of nuts

the squirrel lays by against

a cold day in hell, forgets,

then comes upon in time

of need.

Rejoice!

The promised land is here;

The time is near at hand.

John Haag


Zipline Leaves Juan Smelling BS

October 1, 2013

By Greta Cobar

Following their promise to leave only footprints, Flightlinez removed the two towers supporting the zipline and are in the process of restoring the grass that was uprooted when the towers were installed. Unfortunately, the process of restoring the grass involved a stinky fertilizer that stunk up parts of Ocean Front Walk for days.

Business at the Sidewalk Cafe was negatively affected by the foul smell according to Mason, who works there.

In spite of the stench, Venetians have been delighted to see the ocean-view-obstructing zipline gone.

“It’s finally quiet again,” said Vivianne Robinson, whose Name on Rice stand on OFW is right in front of the location where the zipline operated.

The best news is that they did not make their anticipated profit, and therefore will probably not return. Their loss should stand as a testament and warning to other similar attractions that might consider coming to Venice.

“Our goal was to have 350 riders per day, but we did not touch that,” said Brina Marcus, marketing director for Flightlinez/Greenheart, in a conversation with the Beachhead.

The so-called attraction was sold to Venice residents under the pretext that it would provide money to the city of Los Angeles to clean and maintain the bathrooms in Venice. Three months later, the bathrooms are not any cleaner. This should stand as a testament to us Venetians to not be fooled again, and to remember that it is the city of L.A.’s job to clean our bathrooms. Such cleanup should never be contingent on an ocean-view-obstructing attraction operated by a company in Canada.

“Financially it doesn’t make sense for us to come back as temporary because setting up and tearing down is time-consuming and costly,” Marcus told the Beachhead. “To become a permanent project, however, would take anywhere between 18 months to 3 years, and it would involve permits and processes with the California Coastal Commission,” Marcus said.

“I can’t divulge anything we learned,” Marcus told the Beachhead. She was not able to tell us the average number of riders per day, nor the amount of money the city of L.A. received from Flightlinez. According to the contract, the city was supposed to receive 15 percent of gross profit. By the low number of riders that residents have witnessed throughout the summer, there might not have been a profit.

Meanwhile the Venice bathrooms continue to offer third-world conditions and to stand as a violation of basic human rights. Busy summer weekends witnessed hour-long lines, lack of toilet paper and no locks on doors. Of course we get annoyed when people pee in our neighborhoods, but where are they really supposed to go when nature calls and there is nowhere to go?

In Santa Monica they have new, state-of-the-art, well lit, clean bathrooms with plenty of paper and other basic necessities that we, over the border, see as fancy.

Cityhood is the difference between Santa Monica and Venice. They get to spend their money on what they choose, while all of the revenue generated in Venice goes downtown L.A. and we are left crying and begging like an ignored step-child.

The city of Los Angeles annexed Venice in 1925, following the discovery of offshore oil. The citizens of Venice at that time voted in favor of annexation, but the vote was rigged by just-arrived implants, who were moved to Venice right before the vote. In addition, Venice citizens were misinformed and threatened that without annexation, they would have no more drinking water.

Add this to the barricades the city of L.A. put against Venice cityhood: the entire city of L.A. would have to vote on and approve a current de-annexation. However, only the citizens of Venice voted to approve the annexation in 1925.

If Venetians were allowed to decide and vote upon, we would have our own magnificent city of Venice with the grandeur of yore. There would be no need for an ocean-view-obscuring zipline in the vain hopes of having clean bathrooms. One way to achieve that would be to change the requirement that the entire city of L.A. needs to approve de-annexation, and allow Venetians to once and for all decide for themselves.

Juan Smelling BS


The Prospects for Venice Cityhood

July 1, 2012

By Jim Smith

Like the surf that keeps rolling up on Venice’s shore, the idea of restoring our cityhood just won’t go away.

In 2012, I am continually approached by Venetians who ask “What’s going on with cityhood?” or “What do we have to do to get free of L.A.?”

It’s not a new issue. In 1925, there were immediate claims of foul when the supporters of annexation by Los Angeles finally won an election. Previous votes to annex to Los Angeles or Santa Monica had both failed. In 1940, there was a bill in the California State Senate to restore Venice cityhood. During the 1960s and ‘70s, it became a movement, called Free Venice.

This paper, the Free Venice Beachhead, has always been a part of the demand for restoration. In the 1990s, a new committee was formed that actively campaigned for cityhood. Through the “00s,” community forums took place under the auspices of the University of Venice and well-reasoned articles appeared in the Beachhead. In the end, we didn’t get any closer to getting our city back.

What’s different today? 

A couple of things. More and more Venetians are becoming disgruntled with the city of Los Angeles. Previously, the megalopolis was able to quietly siphon off much more money from Venice than it returned. Lately, its financial problems have made L.A. look for any way to make a buck in Venice. This includes raising the price of parking and the tickets that everyone eventually gets on “street cleaning” day, whether there is any actual street cleaning or not, schemes such as the “Big Wheel” and the “Zip Line,” which include revocable “promises” of sharing revenue with Venice.

Waiting in the wings are more metered parking, more amusement rides, more fees for city services such as repairing broken sidewalks, allowing advertisements everywhere including Ocean Front Walk, renewed inspections by code enforcers and a wholesale reassessment of Venice’s taxable property values.

The Los Angeles City Council, June 5, declared a fiscal emergency. This enables the Mayor to make massive layoffs (just what we need, more people out of work) and cuts in services. There is a projected deficit of $199 million for fiscal year 2013-14 and $315 million for the following year. Unless it squeezes the life out of Venice and other “holdings,” it is on the path to bankruptcy.

At the same time, Venice is becoming wealthier. Property values are on the rise again, which could make a great tax base for the city of Venice. As an independent city, Venice would be larger than half of the 88 current cities in Los Angeles County.

Some critics have said that Venice would not be viable without a shopping center to tax. Anyone who has been past the intersection of Rose and Lincoln lately knows that Venice now has a shopping center, even if it is one hugely profitable Whole Foods Market. It is only a matter of time before a new proposal to redevelop Lincoln Center, at California and Lincoln, is floated again. As Lincoln Place becomes repopulated, it makes sense to provide stores that cater to the locals, and are a source of revenue for Venice.

For anyone seriously interested in regaining cityhood, it might be useful to look at how other cities of Venice’s size gain their revenue and what they spend it on. A nearby city of approximately Venice’s size is Culver City. More than 50 percent of Culver City’s revenue comes from three sources:  Sales Tax, Utility Taxes and Business Licenses. The budgets of other cities in L.A. County can be easily accessed with an internet search.

In Venice, we would likely gain much of our income from our largest industry, tourism. This would include sales tax, hotel taxes, parking revenue, taxi fees and other fees to derive at least some income on the tens of thousands who descend on Venice each day.

Uniting for a City of Venice

In recent years, Venice has been a war zone of neighbors battling each other over parking, poverty and development. Some Venetians believe that such divisions make it impossible for the community to come together in favor of city hood.

However, the Coalition to Save the Venice Post Office has brought together groups and people who usually don’t get along. It includes this newspaper, the Venice Neighborhood Council, the Venice Stakeholders Association, Venice Peace and Freedom, SPARC, Venice Arts Council, Venice Chamber of Commerce, various poets, writers, artists, and business people. Personal attacks and extraneous issues are frowned upon by most of the participants. As a result, Venice has been able to speak with one voice and to wage a credible fight to save one of our most historic buildings.

The fight to save the Post Office has also pointed out our weakness in not having a city government. In Hermosa Beach, when the local Post Office was targeted for closure, the city responded with electronic signs on busy streets urging residents to email their Congressmember. In a short time, Rep. Jane Harman received 5,000 emails from angry Hermosa Beach residents. She then demanded that the Postal Service not close the HB post office. Contrast that with the lack of response from our two Senators and Rep. Henry Waxman. Post offfices are being abandoned by the USPS in Santa Monica and La Jolla. But in both communities the city government is considering buying the post offices and turning them into city buildings, thereby keeping them as public spaces.

Can we come together for cityhood before the remaining historic buildings and houses and public services are decimated?

Some Venetians have told the Beachhead that they are wary of cityhood because the other side (homeless haters or sixties hippies, take your pick) would assume power.

So it comes down to whether you’d rather be ruled by the crooks in L.A. City Hall or “those people” down the block. It also comes down to a question of democracy. Can you have anything resembling democracy in a jurisdiction of more than four million people? Democracy is more than having a secret ballot election periodically. It is at heart, a question of how much control, power, influence the average person has in the social maelstrom swirling about around him or her. Most of us who have served on the neighborhood council know that it is not a body with real power. At best, it can advise city officials on local policy. At worse, it is a placebo offered to a withering community that needs a dose of real power.

Venice is a potential city of 40,000 people. It can be walked, biked or skated from one end to the other. Anyone elected to a Venice City Council would have to live in this small area. Does anyone know where the 14 men and one woman who are the Los Angeles City Council live? Does anyone know where the department head, who has great decision-making power, lives? Does anyone even know the names of the bankers, corporate heads and big developers who are the real rulers of Los Angeles?

In Venice, civic-minded people would know their elected officials. They would also see these people at the market, the hardware store, or out riding their bikes. The potential for real democracy in a city of 40,000 would be much greater than it would be in an entity of millions.

Venice have suffered, you will ultimately find an instigator from the L.A. city government. This was true of the abolition of the progressive Grass Roots Venice Neighborhood Council in 2006, the Overnight Parking Districts, the beach curfew, and the Big Wheel, among others. This does not mean that there weren’t locals who were more than happy to “front” the fight. However, if Venice was its own city, they wouldn’t be able to rely on these powerful backers. Accommodation, not confrontation, would become the political game in small town Venice.

How can we assemble a wide-ranging committee to plan the initial steps for regaining cityhood. As a temporary measure, I’d like to suggest a discussion begin on http://yhoo.it/MWLGBN. This is neutral ground, although I am the moderator. The only rule is that people use their real names. Regaining cityhood is serious business, not an idle discussion. Once we get together on VeniceCA, we can get volunteers to put up a website, Facebook page, Twitter, etc. So let’s get started!

Would people you don’t agree with be elected to office? Yes. Would people you do agree with be elected to office? Yes. This is how democracy works. In a town or a society where everyone thinks the same, you wouldn’t need democracy. But Venice hasn’t been that homogeneous since the Sixties (and probably wasn’t even then).

So yes, we would have disagreements, hard fought elections, and a few disagreeable people. But we would likely have less disputes than we do at present. If you search carefully hrough the major controversies that we in Venice have suffered, you will ultimately find an instigator from the L.A. city government. This was true of the abolition of the progressive Grass Roots Venice Neighborhood Council in 2006, the Overnight Parking Districts, the beach curfew, and the Big Wheel, among others. This does not mean that there weren’t locals who were more than happy to “front” the fight. However, if Venice was its own city, they wouldn’t be able to rely on these powerful backers. Accommodation, not confrontation, would become the political game in small town Venice.

How can we assemble a wide-ranging committee to plan the initial steps for regaining cityhood? As a temporary measure, I’d like to suggest a discussion begin on http://groups.yahoo.com/group/veniceCA. This is neutral ground, although I am the moderator. The only rule is that people use their real names. Regaining cityhood is serious business, not an idle discussion. Once we get together on VeniceCA, we can get volunteers to put up a website, Facebook page, Twitter, etc. So let’s get started!


Summer in Venice, in 2062

June 1, 2012

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.   


100 Years Ago: 1911 Was A Banner Year in Venice – City of Venice and Venice Union High School Both Created

July 1, 2011

By Jim Smith

Venice may have been founded in 1905, but it didn’t become the City of Venice until May 29, 1911.

On that day, the good citizens of Venice voted to change its name from Ocean Park City to Venice.

Abbot Kinney, the founder of Venice, had originally been one of the city fathers of Ocean Park, an independent community in the early days of the 20th century. He broke with his partners in 1903, and developed the south end of OP into what became known as Venice. But it was still officially Ocean Park, until a petition was circulated which culminated in the overwhelming vote to call it Venice.

In 1911, Venice was a booming community. New businesses and houses were going up everywhere. The Venice Daily Vanguard reported one summer day when 35,000 people came to the beach. Imagine!

There were restaurants, hotels, theaters, free outdoor concerts, the amusement pier and bars that, contrary to neighboring cities, stayed open on Sunday.

The paper reported the astounding sale of a large home on Rialto Avenue for $6,000. Most houses went for much less.

Interested in renting? Here’s a six-room cottage, fully furnished, including a piano, for $25 a month.

Both houses are probably selling today for 100 to 200 times as much, even though they are 100 years older.

Venice needed a high school to save its teenagers a long commute to school. In short order, the Venice Union High School – a merger of the Ocean Park and Playa del Rey school districts (soon to be Venice and Playa del Rey), was created. It took over the old Bath House on the Lagoon where our Post Office is currently located.

By August, Venetians were voting on a petition from the Walgrove Avenue area and from Playa del Rey to be annexed by the new city.  It passed overwhelmingly, and swelled the size of Venice from its small beginnings as Venice of America which clung to the beach. After 1911, our city went all the way to Imperial Highway.

 

Does Venice Have A Future?

Venice has a great history. Our small community has become known worldwide for creativity, invention and alternative living.

What will it be like in 2111?

If the danger of losing our uniqueness in the sea of Angelino mediocrity wasn’t enough, we are at risk from global climate change as is the rest of the world, perhaps even more so.

Pacific storms combined with rising sea levels could rip up our beaches and flood Venice as it subsides and oceans rise.

Without cityhood, it is difficult to envision a sea wall being built in time to hold back the water.

We may have to contend with too much salt water, and not enough fresh water. Can we depend on the DWP for a steady supply of water if drought dries up the Southwest and Sierra Nevadas? Again, without cityhood can we expect a desalination plant to be built in Venice that would convert sea water to fresh water?

Rising waters may force us to return to the old days of using canals instead of streets. New housing construction may begin with long poles driven deep into the soil to keep our homes afloat.

The original Venice in the Adriatic understood that its well-being depended upon its marriage with the sea.

Likewise, as global climate change proceeds and food supplies become less abundant, we may find that our survival depends on Venice fisher folk harvesting fish, seaweed and algae.

Even if the world elites change course and take dramatic action to avert climate disaster, we’re still stuck cheek and jowl next to a larger city with a different goal – maximizing profits. And there are billions in profits to be made by converting Venice into an upscale and sterile resort for the wealthy. It’s only the tenacity of several generations of Venetians that has prevented it from happening already.

If Venice has a future it will include the poor, the middle class and the rich. There will be lots of Blacks, Latinos and whites of many backgrounds.

It will continue to be a place that honors its artists, its poets, its odd balls and dissidents. To keep Venice, with all its warts and scars, we all have to become dissidents to the dominant culture that otherwise will suck us into a shallow, zombie-like, consumerist lifestyle.


Venice Cityhood Drive Kicked Off

August 1, 2010

By Greta Cobar

Around thirty beautiful Venetians got together on Sunday, July 25, to take back the old City Hall, currently Beyond Baroque, and Venice Cityhood as well. What would it be like if we could make our own laws, regulations and decisions right here in Venice, instead of having some distant strangers make them for us in distant and extremely different downtown L.A.? What would it be like if we got to keep the money generated by Venice, as the top tourist destination in Southern California, instead of sending it downtown to be spent somewhere else? What if we had the power to stop the nearly automatic approval of new development that downtown is throwing at us?

Everybody in the room seemed to agree that it would be awesome. And the consensus also seemed to be that if the residents of Venice were to vote on it, it would happen. However, the Local Area Formation Commission (LAFCO) is in charge of determining the rules and procedures that cities have to go through to either join or break away from the city of L.A. According to LAFCO, more than half of voters in the whole city of L.A. would have to support Venice’s de-annexation.

Another, more likely option, of gaining cityhood would be to amend the law that created LAFCO by adding a “Buyer’s Remorse” clause that would allow former cities to withdraw based on a majority of the votes in that city alone.

The San Fernando Valley recently tried to break away from the city of L.A., but was unsuccessful because L.A. voters did not approve it. However, the Valley was never a separate city, like Venice was from 1905 to 1925.

On the other hand, the city of West Hollywood recently gained its cityhood and prospered tremendously as a result, but their fight was also different because, although part of the L.A. County, they were not part of the actual city of L.A.

There is no past example of a city that was annexed and then de-annexed, so once again Venice will have to make history. To amend the law that created LAFCO, we would have to lobby members of the State Assembly or State Senate to introduce a bill. Lisa Green, who is running for State Assembly and who was present at the meeting, said that she would most definitely introduce such a bill.

We have a long and rich history of victories here in Venice, such as the overturn of the biggest eviction in the history of the city of L.A. at Lincoln Place and the defeat of permit parking with of the Coastal Commission on two occasions. Through the years we also prevented the gated community project at the MTA lot, blocked the building of a freeway through Venice three times, prevented massive shopping centers from being built at Lincoln Center and where Costco is now, and made sure that our beautiful canals do not become another yacht harbor. As Tomito Kakos said, “don’t approach Venice cityhood with doubt, but as a process, the most important part of which is your participation.”

There are 88 cities in the L.A. county, 42 of which have less than 40,000 residents. Venice itself has 40,000 residents, right about average for the county. The city of L.A. itself, the largest in the county, also has the most problems. Obama bailed out the banks under the assumption that they are too big to fail, but Jim Smith pointed out that they are actually too big to work, much like the city of L.A.. New York, although a big city, is divided into Burroughs and provides more local control than L.A. does.

The meeting was dominated by people expressing anger, disappointment and frustration towards the city of L.A. and its annexation of Venice. Logistics such as police, schools and water were discussed, but the feeling was that we would be able to easily manage all those and in addition make improvements and provide services. Lisa Aycock recognized the fact that even in Venice there are different viewpoints on issues, but stressed the fact that we all need to work together instead of bickering.

In the 1950’s L.A. mayor Sam Yorty advocated that “Venice should be all torn down and start over.” Most of the canals and the lagoon were covered with cement, the pier at Windward was torn down, and 40 percent of the buildings on the Boardwalk were destroyed, including the most beautiful building in town, St. Mark’s Hotel. The money generated by the oil wells in what is today the Marina peninsula was used to build the pier in San Pedro, while the brand new fire truck that Venice bought just before annexation was taken and replaced with an old one.

Venetians have had it with the abuse, neglect and authoritarian leadership provided by the city of L.A. Kakos inspired us all at the end of the meeting by declaring that “this is the beginning of our journey towards Venice cityhood.” The time has come for us to rise to the occasion and take back our cityhood, livelihood and ability to decide for ourselves. If you would like to get involved, please email cityofvenice@freevenice.org or call 310-396-2525.


Is Real Independence for Venice Possible?

July 1, 2010

By Jim Smith

Venice
A dream so sublime
A fate so unfair

What more can be said about Venice after 105 years? Venice has nearly everything: a beautiful beach, a great climate, walk streets galore, a multi-racial and multi-cultural population, a thriving arts and poetry scene, a habit of creating trends that sweep the country and the world.

Yes, Venice has everything except independence. Does it really matter that we can’t make decisions for ourselves, and that our highest form of democracy to is be able to advise others when they make decisions for us. Well, yes, it does matter. In a supposedly democratic country, we are ruled by politicians and bureaucrats in a building many miles to the east of us.

Recently, Venetians have conducted long struggles that have resulted in victories. Just last month, we convinced the Coastal Commission to deny a pay parking scheme devised for us in that high-rise city hall in downtown Los Angeles. Years of effort by many Venetians preserved the biggest chunk of our reasonable rental property – Lincoln Place. Last year at this time we defeated pay parking (it’s starting to be a regular event). Before that, we stopped the giant shopping center where Ralphs, Rite-Aid and Ross now reside. We’ve prevented numerous attempts to run a freeway through the center of Venice, we saved the canals, more or less. At least they didn’t become a yacht harbor. Those high-rises along Ocean Front Walk, like Santa Monica Shores, never got built.

These, and many more, are all great victories for Venice. Problem is, we were on the defensive every time. Strategists including Sun Tzu, Clausewitz and Napoleon, will tell you that you can’t really win a lasting victory unless you go on the offensive. We’ve won many battles, but the war cannot be won if we are always responding to someone else’s initiative.

This is why everyone who wants a Venice that is unique, and democratic, should now turn their attention to working for and restoring our status as a city.

So they faked an election, back in ’25
And there our independence died
Rise Venice Rise

When Venice lost its cityhood in 1925, it was a real tragedy. Most of the canals were filled in, many businesses went bust, oil revenue that could have made Venice rich disappeared downtown never to be seen again, and ultimately Abbot Kinney’s fantastic pier at the Windward Breakwater was torn down. The only lasting improvement L.A. made in Venice for many years was a police station and jail.

The election in ’25 was itself dubious. It was the third annexation vote in as many years. Threats were made to cut off Venice’s water supply, shady characters moved into Venice to agitate for annexation and to vote. There should be no doubt that a vote to restore cityhood would be equally difficult.

But restoring cityhood will be easier than reforming Los Angeles. It is a city of four million people. It is bigger than half the states in the United States. It has a bloated bureaucracy and a police force larger than the armies of more than 50 countries. It has so many vested interests that it cannot balance its own budget. Most of its city council is bought and paid for by developers and assorted billionaires. With or without Venice’s 40,000 residents, L.A. is too large and unwieldy to function effectively.

Would Venice do any better? Yes, because it does not need such an overwhelming bureaucracy.

Of the 88 cities in Los Angeles County, Venice is larger than nearly half of them. These small cities are doing just fine financially. Some are very rich, others have less revenue than Venice will have. Just how much revenue would Venice have? I asked L.A. City Controller Wendy Gruel that question a couple of months ago when she appeared at a Neighborhood Council meeting. She said she didn’t know how much revenue comes from Venice, or how much is spent here.

We can safely assume that Venice revenue to the city of L.A. is in the millions of dollars. At least it is far more than the $50,000 a year that L.A. gives back to the Neighborhood Council. With it, we would be able to beautify Venice, adequately fund social service agencies that do good things for Venice, and make our streets more pedestrian and bicycle friendly. Shuttles could take us to shop and transport visitors, urban gardens could provide much of our food.

Will having our own city stop the bickering among Venetians? Not entirely. But if it comes from frustration at not having any power to fix our problems, then there will be less of it and Venetians will work together more than in the past. We will still differ on many issues, but we will be able to resolve them among ourselves, instead of relying on others to decide what’s best for us.

Isn’t it nearly impossible to get out of L.A.? It is not easy. There are two ways to do it. We can go to the state agency, Local Agency Formation Commissions (LAFCO), <http://www.calafco.org/docs/CKH/2009_CKH_Guide.pdf> and circulate a petition according to their rules. One of their rules is that all of L.A. would have to vote in favor of Venice cityhood!

Or, we can change the rules. It’s logical that a former city that voted for annexation should be able to opt out. That is, there should be a “buyer’s remorse” clause that allows a former city to vote again on restoring its cityhood, without L.A. also voting. L.A. residents didn’t vote to annex Venice. Why should they vote on the reverse?

We can petition our state legislative representatives to author a buyers’ remorse bill. They would be under intense pressure from Los Angeles lobbyists not to introduce such a bill, or vote for it, so we had better have lots of signatures of Venetians in favor of the bill to modify LAFCO.

There is no reason to wait for someone to do this. To paraphrase Rabbi Hillel, “If not us, who? If not now, when?

All this and more will be discussed at our old city hall, now Beyond Baroque, 681 Venice Blvd. on Sunday, July 25 from 3 – 5pm. Be there if you care about the future of Venice.

One morning we will come out of our homes
with picks and shovels and dig out our canals
We’ll come with hammers and saws
and build homes for all of our Venetian family.


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