Town Hall: No Meeting of Minds

By Greta Cobar

Bill Rosendahl called a town hall meeting to address the issues of RV dwellers on September 23 in the standing-room only auditorium of the Westminster Elementary School. He started out with the beautiful slogans of your usual politician, such as “I am here to listen to you” and “will come together to make decisions.” He then proceeded to express his own views of the situation, taking it upon himself to “end chronic homelessness in Venice in 5 years” with his Streets to Homes Program, the specifics of which he was unable to provide. He couldn’t answer questions such as when, how, where and for who this program will take place, but instead went on to threaten the RV dwellers that “jails exist for those of you who choose not to be part of my program.”

One of his most despicable acts of the evening, from a long list, was that as the moderator he allowed the RV opposition to talk anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes, while the people supporting the RV dwellers were cut off after as little as 30 seconds. Everyone was supposed to be able to talk for 1 minute, but Rosendahl played favorites and let people know whether he agreed with them or not.

Judging by his words and actions, he did not organize the town hall meeting in order to listen, understand and show empathy, as he claimed. Instead he walked in with his own preconceived ideas and left with those same ones, much like everyone else in the audience. All participants were eager to speak and shout while willing to listen only to themselves or those with the same views as theirs. The Venetians that we can usually count on to speak out were strangely not heard from on the microphone, either because of personal choice or because Rosendahl decided not to call their names.

The evening was dominated by intense, bitter fighting, with no compromise or solution whatsoever. The Streets to Homes Program proved to be a much-repeated name that lacked the program part, and proved to be a name without a plan. The question is, how many of the people that agree to be part of this program will be able to remain in Venice? Chances are they will be shuffled off to somewhere in the Valley.

The only measure set to take effect immediately is the instatement of an additional 21 police officers in the Pacific Division to harass the people living in RVs. The 85.02 ordnance, which prohibits people from living in vehicles, was mentioned several times, but the police higher-ups sitting on the make-shift stage confessed that they need to investigate how this law can be put into effect and applied, as it does not have a precedent of being enforced. Chances are the ACLU would be able to block its discriminatory enforcement against a certain group of people in Venice alone.

Another tactic to move the RV dwellers from one side of town to the other is the emergency clause that Rosendahl is currently pushing through the City Council, which would prohibit parking of oversize vehicles from 2-6am on all streets that have signs posted.

In the true spirit of Venice, the microphone became full of static the entire time a policeman was talking about this measure, and the static disappeared as soon as he was done talking.

This measure disregards the ruling of the Coastal Commission on two occasions.

One of the RV haters’ main arguments was the fact that the RV dwellers take advantage of lots of money provided to them in services. What services? Although we are the richest country in the world, we provide the least amount of services period, not just to the poor but to the middle class as well. A list of help phone numbers handed out at St. Joseph’s center listed nothing but disconnected lines. Why don’t these people mobilize against the war, which uses exponentially more resources for the sole purpose of killing people? What about the resources used to hire the additional 21 policemen, who will target people based solely on their socio-economic class? The meeting itself proceeded under the police intimidation of about 25 cops.

Another argument used by the anti-RV contingent was human waste in the street. Rosendahl himself stated the fact that in Europe they have public bathrooms all over the place open 24 hours. We could fund them here as well with less than the amount that one policeman is getting paid. But instead of finding solutions, the tactic proved to be criminalizing one of the most basic human needs. Anyone walking around Venice cannot dispute the fact that the city is full of dog shit, not human waste.

A recurring slogan was: “Go get a job!” They should have bothered to let us know what job. The official unemployment rate is 12%, but the real unemployment rate is closer to 20%, because of those that have not had employment for so long that they have stopped looking, and are not counted in the official statistics.

The fact is that the RV dwellers are not new to Venice; as a matter of fact they are an integral part of what Venice is and has always been. The people who want to transform Venice into another Manhattan Beach would be better off just moving there, and save the city hundreds of thousands of dollars to be used for their own little whims.

Instead of continuing with this useless, bitter bickering, we Venetians on both sides of the issue would make better use of our time realizing that Rosendahl is mobilizing us against each other to break the collective spirit of Venice. This makes it easier for developers and other downtown forces to come in and build what no one, on either side of the RV issue, would approve of. A divided community stands to be conquered.

Venice is not about hate. It is about love, free spirit, togetherness and coexistence.