VENICE- In the mid-1990s, current VNC Board member Jim Murez, along with a group of local citizens, formed a non-profit called the Ballona Lagoon Marine Preserve who, along with the California Coastal Commission and then CD-11 City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, successfully raised money for and pressured the county into restoring the Ballona Lagoon, one of California's last remaining tidal wetlands, connecting Venice's famed canals with Marina del Rey's main channel. This much-needed restoration also resulted in the building of a wooden observation deck over the lagoon, which over the next 30 years became a very popular destination for school field trips as well as local residents seeking environmental respite.
The area below the deck has also attracted encampments, which the LAFD found responsible for a recent, 5 acre fire that heavily damaged the deck and scorched an area known for hosting endangered, nesting species of local birds. The fire was made worse by the city's current policy of allowing RV's to permanently park along the boundary of the lagoon. One such camper dwelling, its battery dead from months of disuse, blocked access to a fire hydrant, hindering firefighting efforts and necessitating an aerial water drop. Since the fire, the city has fenced off the dangerously damaged deck while allowing the RVs and encampments to remain.
Murez, who is currently a candidate for VNC Board President, put forth a motion at the Board's April meeting that would send a letter to various city and county agencies and representatives "requesting a solution be created that eliminates access to the area below the aerial walkway and the lookout platform deck should be repaired and restored to a safe condition". The motion passed unanimously.
Two motions on the night's agenda called for a return to regular, weekly street cleanings in Venice. The first, authored by Mark Ryavec, also detailed the significant increase in crime in Venice and noted the recent news that Los Angeles will be receiving $1.35 billion in hitherto unexpected funds from the federal government. The motion therefore called upon the city to "fully restore the 2020-21 LAPD budget to its level as originally adopted, to continue that level of funding into subsequent years, return the Venice Beach Detail to its earlier strength, and return to every week street sweeping as soon as possible." Public commentary in opposition to the motion noted its "tone deafness" in light of the day's verdict in the Derek Chauvin case, and board member Brian Averill (a candidate for VNC President) stated that, while more local street cleaning and beach police patrols seem like a worthy and appropriate act of the VNC, weighing in on the entire City budget is not, and the motion would likely be ignored. The motion ultimately passed, with Alex Neiman (a candidate for VNC Vice President) voting against it.
A second motion calling for a return to weekly street sweeping also passed, as did a motion calling for the restoration of Venice's heavily cracked bus pads and additional regulation of local signs on temporary fencing surrounding construction sites. Both were authored by Murez.
Yet another Murez-presented motion, this one on behalf of the Parking and Transportation Committee (which he heads) was ultimately referred to LUPC, which will hear it at an upcoming meeting. The motion recommended denial of a permit request to a proposed cannabis store on Lincoln Blvd. due to inadequate parking -- the store had planned to park customers in the alley behind Lincoln, which LADOT pointed out to them would require a Coastal Development permit, which the applicant does not have.
The evening closed with dueling presentations regarding the proposed Reese Davidson Community, to be developed by Venice Community Housing. The presentation in favor of the project, given by VCHC Executive Director Becky Dennison, was very similar to the presentation given to LUPC in October, after which LUPC determined the project requires a full CEQA review, something VCHC still believes is neither required nor necessary, despite the project's size, scope and placement within a Tsunami/Sea Level Rise zone, adjacent to Venice's historic canals.
A rebuttal to Dennison's presentation was given by former VNC Board member Christian Wrede, on behalf of Fight Back Venice, who for several years have been fighting the project they call the "Monster on the Median". Wrede pointed out that in 2016, in an interview with a local resident, Councilman Bonin insisted the project would contain just 90 small, exclusively residential units -- a figure that has since ballooned to 140 units as well as a change in zoning from open space to commercial to allow for the inclusion of markets and gallery spaces. Wrede showed internal emails his group has obtained in which the project's architecture -- featuring 5 foot setbacks and popcorn textured stucco -- is described as "harsh" and "bunker like". The project's so-called "low income artist units" are a mere 480 square feet each, and it is unclear how the developers will limit them to "artists" when existing fair housing regulations forbid housing discrimination on the basis of one's job. Fight Back Venice estimates the project, including the cost of land and loss of parking revenue during the course of construction, will wind up costing taxpayers over $1 million per unit. The focus of their litigation is to require a full CEQA review, in accordance with LUPC's October decision. Wrede stated the group feels strongly that the courts will agree with them.
LUPC will devote an entire meeting to hearing the project on May 6th.
The next VNC General Board meeting will be held Tuesday, May 18th. The last day to request a ballot for the upcoming VNC election is June 1st. For information on how to vote, visit https://www.venicenc.org/page/viewPage/elections-2021.