Despite my 11th hour plea to The City Council last week to withhold its support of The Venice Median Project by voting to ABSTAIN, I was not in the least bit surprised when Council Members voted 12-0 in support of their colleague from District 11.
In fact, I am pretty sure that no one tracking what disgruntled locals have been calling ‘Mike’s Monster’ for the past six years was surprised by the vote either -- for despite a blatant lack of transparency in every phase of the approval process, an out-of-whack price tag, and the abrupt cancelation of a crucial PLUM Committee meeting so its developers could remain evasive, it’s our city (and state’s) breathtaking disregard for the environmental regulations like CEQA that protected our Coast for the past 45 years that lies at the heart of this epic political battle for the future of Venice Beach occurring everywhere except on the pages of The Los Angeles Times
It's a battle my neighbors have been planning to fight in a court of law for years, knowing there’d never be a political win given the not-so-secret agreement between all 15 Council members to defer to each other on matters pertaining to development in “their” districts, confident that their quid will be quo’d when it’s their turn in the box. Guess that’s how things get done in this city; how political power bases are maintained; and how favors to special donors are carved out. It’s not a great look, or a great way to conduct “The People’s Business”, but as long as its behind closed doors, and no one is wearing a wire, the beat goes on.
Still, the Jimmy Stewart in me held onto the hope that by first personalizing my written plea to the Council members and their staffs, via email, moments after it was published-- comparing the emotional value of the historic Venice Median to specific cultural and recreational hubs in their districts like The La Brea Tar Pits, The TV Academy, Lake Balboa, etc. – and then, following up by calling them out by name again LIVE on ZOOM, in what I anticipated would be a rocking forum for Public Comment, might lead to some public soul searching and maybe even a couple of abstentions.
Using the same playbook that dissipated any chance for a robust debate on The Median once The Chairman of PLUM heeded MB’s request to cancel its regular meeting without warning, the Council decided it was okay to reduce public comment to one, technically-challenged, 30-minute free-for-all that would cover all items on its full agenda that morning, causing the caliber of our public discourse to take a nose dive right into the crapper.
How bad was it? Well, by the time my neighbor Sean became the last of the 16, randomly selected, callers allowed to address The Council, things had deteriorated to where he felt obligated to scold our civil servants for not paying attention (“Where is the City Council? I see three or four people at the desk --and those sitting are looking at their phones.").
Truth is I don’t blame anyone for checking out of this depressingly farcical example of Kabuki Theater that passes for civic engagement these days. Between the offensive and profane insults directed at Councilman Buscaino (aka “Joey Buckets”?) for being an ex-cop by three snarky dudes who sounded like they could actually be the same person, to the mawkish, content-free, platitudes in support of the Project by three old timers, who collectively claimed to have lived in Venice for 150 years, it’s no wonder that the compelling and very knowledgeable take-downs of this environmental catastrophe in the making by Robin and Marjorie, two prominent Venetians who have been studying the issue for years, would mostly fall on deaf ears
However, the lingering distaste in my mouth from last week’s Council vote was put there by the divisive Councilman from CD11, a true master of snide condescension, who seemed to take great pleasure degrading the historic Venice Median by referring to it as “low hanging fruit” -- without bothering to mention that it is he and The Developers who have been plucking our city-owned fruit off the vine it as fast as humanly possible.
Truth is, while I may not like it, I get why Mike needs to push The Project along at warp speed given the near certitude of his Recall being substantiated in mid-January, which could conceivably begin to erode his influence at warp speed as well.
As for me, with the exceptions of Councilmembers Buscaino and Price, to whom I am grateful for staying on the sidelines and not casting a vote (in effect, abstaining), I reserve my wrath for the eleven feckless wonders on the Council who clung to the status quo and stood with Mike despite being reminded in my plea of the overriding reason to oppose The Venice Median Project “Now that the ravages of Climate Change are no longer theoretical, it is virtually impossible to justify how a project of this magnitude can go forward in The Coastal Zone without complying with CEQA.”
For the record, I did get one reply to my original email from one key staffer whom I happen to know on a personal level, thanks to my eldest daughter, the staffer’s younger sister, and her amazing/accomplished parents. She began her letter acknowledging that “while I am not familiar with the specific details around the proposed housing development in Venice” -- and then proceeded to educate me on the subject of affordable and supportive housing in the eleven very dense paragraphs that followed.
Conversely, my reply was short and simple: Thank you acknowledging that you were not "familiar with the specific details around the proposed housing development in Venice," While the Council didn't really have to consider 'the details' before they voted to approve The Median Project, the Court will not be so lucky, or cavalier, when it comes to Environmental Review and the preservation of beach access.”
As for Councilmembers Gilbert Cedillo of District #1; Bob Blumenfield of District #3, Paul Koretz from District 5 (who is running for City Comptroller); Monica Rodriguez from District #7 – and Mitch O'Farrell from District #13, all of whom will be up for re-election in November’22 (as will be the Council Seat from CD11), here are a couple of things to remember:
#1, “An LA Times Poll on voter attitudes toward homelessness published last week highlights the mounting frustration many voters feel – as well as their disapproval with the region’s political leadership, nearly all of them Democrats.” LAT 12/5
#2. According to the City of Los Angeles’s National Flood Insurance Program, “All developments in the floodplain, not just construction of buildings, need local permits in which the Lowest Finished Floor must be one foot higher per City ordinance #186952. No new developments will be allowed in certain flood hazard areas considered passages to the 100-year flood. Other areas may require “special design considerations.” City of Los Angeles Bureau of Engineering 11/21
#3. At the very end of my original plea, I reminded you that: “39,000, voters in CD 11 are not wrong.” To this end, your vote to approve The Venice Median will be remembered – not only by the people in my neighborhood, but by the people in your neighborhood, who now have a clear, objective picture on where you stand in matters pertaining to preserving the environment, and to applying some fiscal responsibility when it comes to financing permanent supportive housing.
#4. Oh. One last thing: as incumbents you will surely face some interesting candidates, in each of your districts, up for the challenge this Spring to run against an entrenched supporter of the status quo like yourself. And if you don’t know what I am talking about, meet Rise Together. https://risetogether.la/