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!