History, Shmistory

September 1, 2014

By Laura Shepard Townsend

They say “if you don’t learn from history…then you’re just stupid!”
The changes currently assaulting the community of Venice, heralded as ‘progress’, call to mind 1926, a year of rabid dismantlement of everything Abbot Kinney, our enlightened doge-founder, wove into the fabric of Venice, a community he created to foster art, the humanities and the human spirit.
Let’s note some important similarities between 1926 and 2014. In 1926, newspaper headlines blared the record-setting numbers of building permits issued in Venice. It was marveled that each month broke the previous month’s record-breaking number of permits.
Now in 2014, unprecedented numbers of liquor licenses are applied for (108 counted and those are the ones we know about). Permits and variances have swamped and continue to swamp LUPC as well as the Coastal Commission. Yes sirree, folks, it is the wild, wild west here in Venice! At a recent Coastal Commission meeting, one owner abashedly admitted the one house under consideration for demolition had already been razed! Right under the nose of the Department of Building and Safety. WHOOPS!!! Didn’t that contractor hit the jackpot!! And what fine was levied for his serious digression? A bona fide permit by the Coastal Commission to continue the construction of yet another humongous box.
Getting back to 1926. There were so many permits granted in 1926 because that was the year after the City of Venice voted to annex to the City of Los Angeles. Venice had a lot of problems. Their city government was inept, bordering on corruption. Even though millions of dollars were needed to repair the failing infrastructure, in every election the Venice voters rejected the necessary bonds. The Kinney Company blessed annexation to L.A. as the most expedient way to get repairs done for the least amount of money; the esteemed newspaper, the Venice Vanguard, ran constant editorials touting annexation to the City of Los Angeles. When the vote was tallied, it won by a whopping 915 votes (3130 votes for annexation, 2215 against) – numbers purportedly padded by the importation of ‘temporary’ residents.
Okay, so let’s see what happened to Venice as a result of annexation in 1925, and the subsequent record-granting of permits in 1926. Since Venice had become the City of Los Angeles’ one and only beach city, it had to be rebuilt to be L.A.’s one and only beach city.
Los Angeles’ first act was to hasten the demise of the Red Cars by paving over Trolley Way. Simply, this ensured that the private automobile ruled, which meant roads had to be built for them to drive on. The Kinney Company added to the development hoopla by razing Villa City, Abbot Kinney’s prized cluster of 246 villas designed for the rich and poor, the traveler and resident. In its place, they would put a second business district. As a result of such rapid development, traffic ballooned – the solution: the glory of the Venice Canals had to be filled in, then paved over with asphalt. This was no small matter. Venice was absolutely defined by the constant delight and serenity of its canals, “where it seemed as if some magic hand had lined the banks with beds of flowers along the clear water”. Protesting Venetians were overruled by the courts. And it was done.
Because The Kinney Company seemed to be so insistent in killing off Venice, a statement had to be issued. Thornton Kinney, Abbot Kinney’s son, explained, “Venice was a dream city and without sentiment it could not be built. But financial calculations suffocate sentiment and the march of time and progress of the community demanded sentiment be stifled.” Obviously, Thornton had different dreams than his father. And obviously, the profit margins of the Kinney Company were insufficient.
But Venetians were going to pay even more penalties with its annexation to Los Angeles. Venice relied heavily on amusement for its revenue, but L.A.’s ‘Blue Laws’ would forbid not only gambling, but all-night dancing as well as dancing on Sundays. Tourists quickly abandoned Venice for Santa Monica, where there were no such restrictions on dancing and gambling. One-third of Venetian businesses ended up closing their doors.
1925 marked when Venice ceased to be its own community, but with distillation, this remains the core of all of the battles Venice is fighting against today. In terms of the variances and permit granting by Los Angeles to these boxy behemoths, (restaurants, bars, hotels and businesses), they hasten the destruction of what is left of community.
It is only because the structures and businesses being proposed are so out of line with this community, that they require permits and variances. Because the behemoths are so built out to the property lines, they ensure that the next box structure constructed must be even larger so the new building will absolutely not reside in the shadows of the one built before. And so the beat goes on…..Imagine living in a small cottage towered over by these huge boxes that block those precious commodities for which we all moved to (or stayed in) Venice – like sunlight and air flow. The Golden Rule has ceased to be operational in Venice. Money is the only trump in this game….
Our former City Councilperson, Ruth Gallanter, once had the wisdom and the audacity to put a moratorium on all construction. It might be time to do the same.
All the great cities of Europe maintain their architecture to encourage tourism. Venice is the second largest draw in California after Disneyland. However, with the razing of the quaint cottages and California bungalows that once graced our streets and canals, what will be the interest in our city to visitors? The box architecture currently being erected is not only anti-quaint, but one can see them anywhere and everywhere. One does not have to venture all the way to Venice, California for its unique perspective on the world.
The tourists can and will go to Santa Monica for restaurants; the waves are better in Malibu. If our City Councilperson is interested in retaining revenue for Los Angeles, then as Los Angeles’ one and only beach city, Venice’s signature, its spirit and community, must be safeguarded.
Canals and bear land

Tent City


Kim’s Market and 320 Sunset Updates

August 1, 2014

By Roxanne Brown

Here’s an update on two very similar Venice projects: proposed restaurants at 320 Sunset and Kim’s Market.
Kim’s Market’s new owners Alicia Searle and partner, architect Steve Vitalich, and LUPC Chair Robin Rudisill held an Owner Outreach Meeting at the Oakwood Community Center on July 14, 2014.

They requested use of the community center, because Kim’s Market could not hold the crowd of 50 plus. Yet, the proposal for Kim’s is to have a restaurant, selling on-site and off-site liquor, serving 60+ patrons. This does not include people lining up for take-out, people waiting to be seated, and employees.

The Venice residents who came to this meeting, concluded and clearly stated that they do not think this proposed change of use to a restaurant serves the community. Only one person spoke in support of the restaurant.

Kim’s Market is located at the juncture of Venice, Ocean and Mildred (across from the Venice Library and Farmers’ Market, along with a coastal access route), making this an already congested area with narrow streets and little parking. Kim’s will have some tables seating patrons on the sidewalk (at this busy intersection).

Residents at the meeting stated that there have been several bike accidents at this location. An elderly woman told the group that a truck hit her as she attempted to cross Ocean Avenue to get to Kim’s.

Kim’s owners say they will provide seven parking spaces, though they have none on-site, and want to have valet service, which would further cause back-ups and congestion. Where will their delivery trucks go?

Kim’s Market’s plan sounds similar to 320 Sunset’s plan. It seems that Gjelina’s Owner, Fran Camaj, is backtracking and trying to piece meal a plan together. He applied for and was permitted a bakery. Now Camaj wants to go backwards and change 320 Sunset from its original use (prior to his bakery, it was an office of 6 artists) to a restaurant serving 85 patrons, 30 employees, 30 getting take out, plus people eating on milk crates in the parking lot and people waiting in line to be seated. What happened to the bakery?

Like Kim’s, 320 Sunset is on a narrow street at the juncture of Sunset, 3rd Street, and the alley between Vernon and Sunset (with Gold’s Gym and Google nearby, along with a coastal access route).

320 Sunset’s parking lot will be receiving deliveries and have patrons eating on milk crates with a daytime attendant and a few cars parked there. Cars and people eating on crates – doesn’t sound healthy, safe, neighborhood-friendly or legal.

Camaj has applied for an on and off-site liquor license for 320 Sunset. Why does a bakery need a liquor license? Can a liquor license be issued to a bakery?

There is evidence that Camaj’s Gjelina’s restaurant on Abbott Kinney has not been a good neighbor (see the July Beachhead along with other media coverage, code violations, seating over capacity, noise complaints, improprieties with parking). Why would the city allow this restaurant at 320 Sunset, knowing the owner’s track record and that he will most likely bring this same set of problems to another neighborhood?

There are so many similarities in these two projects, which will negatively impact Venice. Here are 8 major community concerns:

1 Abutting residents’ homes (12-13 feet in 320’s case – less than that at Kim’s) with adverse impact on the community’s quality of life.

2 Zoning: 320 Sunset is zoned M1-1 (light manufacturing). M1-1 is where our endangered species – Venice artists – work. There is a shortage of M1-1 zoning for our artists. Kim’s is zoned commercial. A commercial appraiser at the outreach meeting was adamant that Kim’s location is completely inappropriate for a restaurant.

3 Restaurants (providing little to no parking) increase pedestrian and vehicular traffic, further reducing parking and increasing traffic in these already congested areas – 3 streets converging, narrow streets.

4 Hinder coastal access.

5 Liquor licenses (on-site and off-site sales) increase patronage. Liquor tends to increase patrons’ speaking volume and bad behavior, and impairs driving/walking/biking abilities. 320 and Kim’s have outdoor patios, where this loud volume will echo throughout the residential neighborhoods.

6 Late night hours: 320 Sunset hours: 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. – with prep and clean up before and after, and baking operations – that’s pretty much 24/7. Kim’s hours: 7 a.m. – 12 a.m. Outdoor patio: 7 a.m. – 10 p.m. Sunday –Thursday, and 7 a.m. – 11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, with prep and cleanup before and after.

7 Drought: Water usage – Restaurant: Versus bakery? Versus market?

8 Little to no Venice Community Support.

In both cases, it seems the same strategy was used – a type of clandestine bait and switch: neighbors were led to believe one thing – a market, a bakery – when it seems that all along restaurants with on-site and off-site liquor licenses were the actual goals.

Neighbors are OK with a market at Kim’s location and a bakery at 320 Sunset. A market and bakery serve the needs of the community. Neighbors oppose both proposals for restaurants (with on and off-site liquor licenses, and late night hours) at these preposterous locations.

It’s not only the developers who have the community up in arms, City Hall and the regulatory agencies are being complicit. The owners can’t do anything unless the city and its regulatory agencies allow it. In our view, they’re not fulfilling their obligations to the residents, not monitoring Venice, not doing their job.

Where’s the Coastal Commission? Where’s the Zoning Administrator? Where’s Building and Safety? Where’s Alcohol and Beverage Control (ABC)? Where’s Councilman Mike Bonin? Where’s Mayor Eric Garcetti?
It’s time to push the pause button! It’s time to do the right thing!

A neighborhood organization is the easiest and most effective way to have your voice heard. Each voice gets louder and bigger in the context of a group. If you wish to be heard regarding these two projects, join Concerned Neighbors of 320 Sunset (CNS); please email us at concernedneighborvenice@gmail.com.

Kim's Market

Above: Kim’s Market, at 600 to 604 Mildred Ave. A new restaurant at this location would probably involve installing windows on the wall with the beautiful, historical mural of Venice – the owners would have the right to destroy the mural if they wish.


Venice, Burning to be Restored

July 1, 2014

By Jim Smith

July is the month of revolutions. The American colonists did it on July 4. The French did it on Bastille Day, July 14. Many more nations celebrate their revolution, or liberation from an occupying power, in July. They include Algeria, Argentina, Belarus, Belgium, Mozambique, Peru, Venezuela and many more.

And so it is with Venice. We celebrate our founding as taking place on July 4, 1905, when Venice of America had its grand opening. For the next 20 years, inhabitants of Venice – Venetians – basked in independence as a free city of California. 

This is not the place for a recounting of the machinations that Los Angeles performed in order to annex Venice (they have been told in other Beachheads and in books). Ever since Venice lost its independence, Venetians have been struggling to regain it. 

This spring, while most eyes were focused on the Ukrainian crisis, the city of Venice, Italy, held a referendum for total independence from Italy. It passed with more than 89 percent in favor. The voting was organized by the people of Veneto (the Venice region) giving the powers in Italy an excuse for not recognizing the results. But at the very least, the issue of the rebirth of the Serene Republic of Venice, after more than 200 years, is back on the table. 

Should Venice, California do any less to regain its cityhood? Holding a referendum might be the first step to independence. A resounding vote in favor of Venice cityhood would show the legislators in Sacramento – who have the power to ease the process to cityhood – that there is broad-based support for an independent city. 

The failed vote in 2002 for San Fernando Valley cityhood is often brought up as somehow justifying a lack of activity in promoting Venice cityhood. Yet, what is not well known is that a majority of voters within what would have been the new city, cast votes in favor. It was only outlying areas of Los Angeles that voted no after a fear-mongering campaign by L.A.’s 1 percenters.

In order to head off the fear mongering, advocates of Venice cityhood should assure low-income tenants that rent-control will not go away, but will become stronger as absentee landlords lose power. New development schemes will be decided by people in Venice who have to live with them, not by city hall bureaucrats who never set foot in Venice. And unions, should be assured that their representation rights for city workers within Venice will be recognized. 

The city of Venice, along with Berkeley, can be the most progressive place to live in California, where people’s rights, regardless of their wealth or lack of it, are recognized and celebrated. 

Yet, there seems to be a peculiar lassitude among Venetians, even activists, in taking the needed steps to restore cityhood. Perhaps it’s the chem trails, or maybe the GMOs that are making people passive. In any case, if civil rights activists had been as passive, there would still be segregation in the South. And if the American colonists, who were among the world’s elite in the 1770s had not roused themselves to endure terrible hardship at Valley Forge and elsewhere, this would still be a British colony. And, yes, some of us would still be demanding independence.

For those who are still not convinced that they should put their shoulders to the wheel of Venice history, perhaps the words of Venice’s greatest poetess, Philomene Long, will convince:

Venice, city conceived in imagination for imagination
With body intact –the canals, the welcoming houses
The people came. It happened – the magic – unexplainable
Venice becoming the city imagined
A city like no other city on earth
Its community of Venetians giving her a soul
Bright. Transcendent. The soul of Venice
A gift, which cannot be bought nor stolen
This is the gift out right, freely given 
To those open to receive it; for those who listen
But Venice transcendent still needs a body
It can be, has been, wounded
It can die; live on only in history
So we here today, as with previous Venetians
Welcome all as neighbor, loving freely
At the same time preserve and protect our radiant city 
With magic and practicality 
And with the hope of a pale green egg
That resolve passed on from those that have gone before us
For them as for ourselves, and for those that will follow
Will stand here where we stand today 
And who will walk upon our footsteps into the next century
That the light of Venice not be extinguished 
Nor diminished, nor simply be maintained 
But that light burn, burn, burn into a boundless Luminosity! 

***

 


California Coastal Commission’s Decision to Demolish 8 Homes Demoralizes Venice

July 1, 2014

By Krista Schwimmer

The superstitious believe that Friday the 13th is an unlucky day. One reason is because King Philip IV ordered Jacques de Molay and theFrench Templars to be simultaneously arrested on a Friday the 13th in1307. Many Templars were then tortured and executed, including their leader, Jacques de Molay. Although the King claimed it was for their idolatry, in reality, the king simply needed to fill his empty coffers with the Templar’s vast treasures.

On Friday, June 13th, the California Coastal Commission (CCC) ruled in favor of another form of gold: Venice real estate. With little debate, the Commissioners approved eight new demolitions of residential homes in Venice for so-called cutting edge, oversized architectural projects posing as family homes. They also gave the green light to the restaurant, “House of Pies”, setting a new, unfortunate precedent that significantly lowers required restaurant parking in the Venice coastal zone.

It was only a few years ago, when Venice was fighting OPDs, that the Coastal Commission heartily had her back. In fact, more recently in March, they made the decision to stop di minimus waivers in Venice, causing enough of a halt on development that architects, developers, and even Councilman Mike Bonin came pleading to them to reverse their decision. One such architect, David Hertz, argued that change can be beneficial, and asked the commissioners not to “let people who are afraid of change – which is a vocal minority – use bureaucracy as a process to slow things down.” Easy to say when he himself would not only benefit from the project he represented that day, but the many others he is involved in, including the Abbot Kinney Hotel.

As each of the individual projects were heard, Jack Ainsworth, Senior Deputy Director, Los Angeles County, South Coast District, gave the impression that the Coastal Commission’s hands were tied, particularly around the protection of affordable housing in the coastal zone. In 1981, Ainsworth stated, the legislature removed the provisions for preservation of low cost and affordable housing in the coastal zone. As a result, the
CCC had “no regulatory authority over affordable housing” and could only encourage it. He did say that other coastal areas were having a similar problem with the loss of affordable housing because of gentrification.

During his lengthy explanation of how the City’s own coastal program works, however, Ainsworth did claim that the CCC could assess “whether or not the project is compatible with the area.” This one comment alone should have been enough to stop the projects being proposed that day. Testimony from real neighbors living near the different projects proved it. One heart wrenching moment came when Debra and David Blocker, 25 year residents of the Venice Canals, spoke against the three story mansion that was being proposed 30 feet from them. “I don’t understand how anyone could say this is the character of the city,” she said. “They are creating white box neighborhoods.” His voice shaking, David added that some neighbors had already moved out because of the mansionization of the canals. Over the last five to ten years, he continued, the canals were losing their ducks, geese, and other bird residents. Wasn’t the CCC created in part to protect them?

Project after project, Venetians cried to the commissioners to protect them against the City of Los Angeles. The CCC did nothing, despite the fact that several Venetians showed that the city was breaking building codes, as well as using loopholes to push through big development. During the hearing on the restaurant, “House of Pies,” Mr. Aronson, involved in planning for the last 20 years, spoke strongly against the restaurant. Why? “What I’ve seen in the last few years is that the city is chipping away at our local coastal program. They’re increasing density and reducing parking at the same time. This is one of several examples. The city changed their policy. The policy conflicts with your policy.” In this instance, Aronson was referring to the fact that any restaurant in Venice should provide MORE parking than elsewhere in the city. When calculating the number based on Service Floor area, the applicant did not include the “path of travel”, something contrary to what the CCC has done themselves in the past. In any other area of LA, this same restaurant would be required to provide 37 parking spaces rather than the proposed 20. In spite of his and other people’s pleas, the CCC unanimously approved this restaurant, setting a new precedent in Venice that LOWERS required parking.

Even when presented with a blatant disregard for legal process, the CCC did nothing. Agenda item 10(d), requesting the demolition of a single family home at 2413 Wilson Avenue, had ALREADY been demolished without the proper coastal permit. After Ainsworth publicly admitted that this was a violation, the commissioners nevertheless unanimously approved the application.

Towards the end of the day, one lone commissioner, Martha McClure, began to speak up for Venice. She even asked if all of her “yes” votes could be changed to “no”. Even if this had been possible, one vote would not have been enough.

As Lydia Ponce said in her testimony before the Commission: “Ladies and Gentlemen, you’re being bamboozled.” The City of Los Angles needs to “know the law, apply the law,” Ponce continued.

What will happen to Venice now? Like the Knight Templars, some residents such as the 5th generation, young family who testified at the June meeting, have already fled. Unlike the Templars, such families are forced to leave their treasure behind.

Venetians, don’t let government bodies erode the character of Venice. Don’t let money force change. The “architectural renaissance” promoted by developers here in Venice is an architectural sham. Let’s get together and create the next vision of Venice, one that embraces all of its relations – from human to insect. Let’s get together and free Venice from the self-made kings and queens who lust after her remaining treasures.
Save_Venice! copy


A Parade Was Planned

July 1, 2014

By John Johnson

This is a re-print from the July 1969 Beachhead

What could have uplifted the spirit of a besieged community more than a Fourth of July Independence celebration? A day to show our independence and to reaffirm in our own way our desires and duties to free ourselves from our besiegers.

The Free Venice Organizing Committee (FVOC) decided to have a Fourth of July parade to kick off our drive to free Venice, relating the independence of the colony of Venice from the Empire of Los Angeles to the independence of the American Colonies from the British Empire. The parade would have traveled north on West Washington, across Rose to the Ocean Front Walk, and then south to Windward where our Declaration of Independence would be read.

The police recognized the threat of a community parade with children, flags, and balloons from the very first. Before they would grant Free Venice an application form for a permit, they wanted a downtown conference with many attendants and secretaries at which they requested all the vital information about Free Venice along with maps and multi-colored descriptions of the gala event.

The application was submitted on a Friday (the next Monday being too late) and was promptly refused acceptance in a manner typical of bureaucratic harassment – inaccuracies, they claimed. After a further attempt at submissions on Saturday when no one was there, the application was finally accepted disguised as a registered letter.

On June 18 the Police Commissioners’ hearing on the parade permit was held. Six Free Venice members along with a lawyer went down to participate in the spectacle. Our parade stood out on the lengthy program – it was the only item recommended for denial.

FVOC spokesperson Jane Gordon stepped up first to speak on behalf of the parade. After being subjected to several questions about the FVOC, she objected, maintaining that such questions were irrelevant and suggested that they start discussing the parade. She was told to be seated.

Rick Davidson then took the stand and told the commissioners that FVOC was a group formed to solve community problems and that the parade was to celebrate Independence Day, a traditional national holiday. Rick gave a thorough description of the parade, carefully explaining how the parade had been planned to give minimum interference to emergency traffic. The head commissioner, with his copy of BEACHHEAD in hand, asked Rick if it was true that a celebration would be held along the route even if the permit were not granted. Rick replied that that was true.

Then the barrage of imported complaints began. Various police, firemen, and ambulance drivers read their lines about how the parade would interfere with emergency traffic (the planned police parade) and how it was on April 20. The emphasized point was that there was a reported feed-in to be held on the beach which wold attract about 30,000 people and that the aded traffic from a parade (of at most 700 people and a few cars) would grossly interfere with emergency vehicle access. It was also stated that we couldn’t have vehicles on the Ocean Front Walk since it was not constructed to support vehicles.

The only complaint from the community who was present was William Bestor of the Venice Tram Company, who said that the Fourth was one of only 16 days in the year on which the Tram Company showed a profit and the parade would cut deeply into the profits for the day.

After stating blatantly that it was not the goodness or badness of the organization at issue (even though nothing had been mentioned on that subject) the head commissioner called the vote. No one voted for the parade.

It was suggested that we go back and re-apply but we decided against that obviously futile process. Instead, we began putting out leaflets advertising a sidewalk parade which would obey all traffic regulations and which the police had already assured us was completely legal with no permits required.

Meanwhile, we wanted to deal with the problem of the Tram Company and the reported feed-in. It seemed that the complaint from the Tram Company was due solely to a lack of understanding. Consequently, three Free Venice members met and talked with the Tram manager and secured not only his understanding but also one of his finest trams to lead the parade down Ocean Front.

The feed-in was being put on by Green Power, headed by Cleo Knight. After weeks of unsuccessful attempts to talk with him, we were finally able to persuade him to come to a meeting. We discussed the Fourth, pointing out to him that he was coming into a community (unlike Griffith Park) where there already existed an undeclared war with the police. We told him that we thought that his plans for bringing tens of thousands of unsuspecting persons to an anticipated slaughter without any preparations for first aid, lawyers, or bail money was irresponsible. Furthermore, we informed him that by not complying with the wishes of the community, he was making our problem more difficult. But he chose to proceed with his plans anyway.

Capping the parade preparations was a press conference at which a total of 14 news agencies, including four TV stations, were represented. It was explained that the parade organizers wished to avoid a confrontation with the police at any cost. Favorable coverage of the parade brought Venice’s secession efforts to the notice of millions of Los Angeles residents, many of whom have similar hopes of freedom for their won communities.

At a Wednesday night meeting, July 2, last minute plans were drawn up. Already numerous reports and rumors of a giant police build-up had been brought to our attention, including several remarks from police officers which were very threatening to both the parade and the community. At the meeting’s end, however, we still planned on following through with our celebration that Friday.


& Cancelled

July 1, 2014

By Jane Gordon

This is a re-print from the July 1969 Beachhead

Thursday started after an all-night rap session among the parade organizers. We had been getting steadily more reports and rumors about what the police had in store for beachgoers on the following day. Nothing we could “prove,” or we’d have taken it to court long before. Just second-had stories about numbers, preparations and intentions. One cop’s kid was heard crooning, “my dad’s gonna break a lot of heads on Friday, nyah nyah …” Material for barricades began appearing on street corners. Reports of huge trailor-size mobile stations for the pavillion. The lady at the Recreation Center advised us not to plan on using the grassy are on that day. When asked why, she was “not at liberty to say.” There were several reports that the police were hoping to start an incident with the people in the parade and then use that as an excuse to bust everyone on the beach. Police were telling people they were expecting dangerous “revolutionaries,” who wanted to “take over Los Angeles.” And on and on.

The all-night session produced the decision to postpone the parade, to hold a silent vigil at Venice City Hall, and to put out a statement clarifying where the blame lay – with the police. We regretted having to concede the beach to the cops on a day which should have been for the people, but we felt positive that canceling the parade and warning people to stay away from the beach was the only way to avert a gigantic police club-in. We felt it absolutely essential to point out to people that we have a lot of work to do before we can control the actions of the police in our own community, and that physical confrontations could only harm our ability to proceed with that work.

We got the statement run off (FREE VENICE WARNS OF VIOLENCE JULY FOURTH) and started calling the press early Thursday morning. We kept it up all day, delivering copies and reading it over the phone. We ran off leaflets with a more graphic version of the same message and began getting them around on the Ocean Front, in the canals, at the library, all over. Police were later seen tearing them down.

People started calling to find our if the parade was really canceled as they had heard on the radio – we explained that it was postponed until we felt we could celebrate independence without intimidation and illegal police activities. We also encouraged Venice residents to participate in our silent vigil at the Venice City Hall to mourn the fact that our community would be occupied territory on Independence Day.

Thursday evening at the last meeting of the parade committee, we went over our plans and worked out details. Some participants decided to warn of the police trap by making signs which they planned to display during the morning at all major streets leading into Venice. The meeting adjourned and the sign painters went to work.

Anticipation was high, but we were not dejected. We had done all we could to ruin police plans for a bloodbath. We hoped it would work.


Venice Circle

June 1, 2014

By Jim Smith

Public space is taking a beating in Venice lately. First, our beautiful beach is off limits to Venetians, and everyone else, from midnight to 6 a.m. Then our nutty L.A. City Attorney, Carmen “Nuch” Trutanich, decided our busiest street, Ocean Front Walk, was actually a park and promptly took it away from the public during the same nighttime hours. Now our Venice Circle is off-limits to the public 24-hours a day, every day.

The concept of public space goes hand-in-hand with local democracy. Public spaces allow people to gather and exercise free speech. In years gone by, Venetians like Swami X and Bill Mitchell would climb up on a park bench and begin haranguing the crowd that quickly gathered. It didn’t matter if they said lewd or slanderous things about well-known people. That’s what free speech is all about. You can’t go into the Binocular Building, stand up on a bench and loudly launch an verbal attack on Google. But you can do that in a public space.

For anyone who doesn’t know, the third takeaway of public access, the Circle, is located where five streets come together, including Main, Windward and Grand. It is sometimes called the traffic circle, although real estate agents prefer the “Windward Circle.” Although “Main Street Circle” would define it just as well, “Windward” sounds classier.

In recent years, the Circle has been the site of free speech activities. Our 100-year anniversary of the founding of Venice and Independence Day parade on July 4, 2005, ended at the circle where speeches and music entertained Venetians. See the August 2005 Beachhead for photos and articles about the celebration. A couple of years later, the Venice Peace and Freedom Party initiated a peace vigil at the Circle opposing the ongoing Iraq occupation, the war in Afghanistan, and the threat of war with Iran. The vigils continued every week for 54 weeks.

Later, in 2011, the Circle was the site of the first Occupy Venice encampment. It has also been a place over the year for peaceful retreats, perhaps a day dream or two while lying on the green grass, or simply watching the people and the cars go by.

We can’t talk about the Circle without thinking about that adjoining public space that we recently lost, the Venice Post Office. Here, at the center of Venice, we could wander in and run into one or more of our neighbors, and marvel at the beauty of the 1939 building and its beautiful mural, called the Story of Venice. For more than a year, the building has been an eyesore as it has turned from a public space into a private ego trip. Hollywood mogul Joel Silver bought the building and found it not up to his standards of excess. Now the inside has been ripped out, the mural torn off the wall and only shown to those he wants to impress at the L.A. Museum of Art.

Did Silver ask for signs to go up at the Circle prohibiting pedestrians from entering? Perhaps, when he takes possession of his plush office, he won’t want to see any real Venetians malingering in the Circle. In any case, after more than 80 years, the City of Los Angeles has decided that visiting the Circle constitutes a hazard to us, similar to walking on a freeway. Oh yes, the same ordinance that bans pedestrians from walking on a freeway – L.A.M.C. 80.42.1 – now bans us from this lonely piece of our public land.

It wasn’t always like this. When Venice was a free and independent city (there I go again), the Circle was a lagoon that was the hub of the canal system in central Venice. When, after a farcical election for annexation, Los Angeles filled in all the canals and the lagoon.

As a sop to angered residents, the new Circle was named the Abbot Kinney Plaza, which is still its true name as far as I know. But don’t look for a statue to the founder of Venice, or a bandstand as in many Latin American plazas. Thanks to the Venice Historical Society, there is a replica of a gondola in the Circle, even if we can’t inspect it closely.

Thanks to another colossal ego and artist Robert Graham, we have to share our Circle with a statue to a dismembered Black woman. The statue was a gift from one of Graham’s patrons but the city paid $90,000 for the base on which it stands. To date, L.A. has only contributed $5,000 to the fund for a memorial to Japanese-Venetians who were put in a concentration camp during World War II. Such are the priorities of our oppressors. From the 1970s to the 90s, a people installed statue, called “Freedom,” which people actually liked, graced the Circle. It was stolen away one night by the L.A. street department without a word.

There have been lots of ideas over the past decades to beautify our Circle. One suggestion was to have a Farmers’ Market at the Circle every week. Another was to create a statue garden where we could wander through a flower garden, sit on benches and look at representations of the heroes and artists of Venice, including Kinney, Irving Tabor, Arthur Reese, Flora Chavez, John Haag, Vera Davis, Rick Davidson, Marvena Kennedy, Philomene Long, Carol Fondiller and others. Yes, we have quite a history in Venice!

If the downtown bureaucrats really cared about the safety of pedestrians going to our Circle, couldn’t they have considered other options. No, because in L.A. cars always come first, and people second, if at all. And no, if a 1 percenter like Silver wanted people out, who are we to think our opinions would even be considered?

In a better world, cars could be banned from the Circle. Most of the dangerous traffic is from cut-through commuters going from north of Venice to south of Venice. Surely, they could find a way to travel that didn’t involve roaring down residential streets in Venice. If they can’t be moved, how about a aerial bridge over the traffic. Let’s hold a contest for the most beautiful design. Oops, I forgot, Venice is all about taking money downtown, not bringing it back.

Will Venetians give up and go quietly into that good night? Or will they rage, rage against the dying of the light? When hat-in-hand appeals to the powers-that-be don’t work, then stronger tactics are required. If any public space is to survive, if any cottages and courtyards are to survive the Big Ugly Box onslaught, if Venice is to regain its soul, and independence, we must put our bodies where our words are.

If 50 of my closest friends invited me to a peaceful candlelight vigil in our Circle, how could I refuse? How could you refuse? As the police and TV vans roll up, could we not sing that old union free speech song, “We Shall Not Be Moved”? And the next night…

Venice Circle


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