Greta Cobar

In Brief:

  • Google Venice
  • New Book on Japanese-Americans in Venice
  • The Coffee House Revolution
  • DeDe Audet Turns 90
  • Cafe Collage


Google Venice

The announcement last month that Google Corporation had leased the Binocular building at 314 Main Street and two adjacent buildings totaling 100,000 square feet was generally greeted with delight.

However, many Venetians are now wondering what will be the impact on our town when a corporation with $29 billion in revenues moves in next door.

Should such a giant profit-making enterprise locate a branch in the coastal zone, which was created to preserve the natural environment and provide a haven for those escaping the city?

Some people are calling this corporate office a “campus,” but it is nothing like the traditional definition as used for an educational facility. The public cannot stroll the sidewalks and admire the gardens as we can at UCLA or Cal State. The use of the term campus is designed to make big corporations appear to be “warm and fuzzy,” which they are not.

The offices in Santa Monica that Google will vacate for unknown reasons were about half the size of the Venice location. It employed about 300 workers. Presumably another 300 would be hired to fill the Venice buildings.

Will Google hire from the local community? What will we do if they do not? Will Google practice affirmative action (google it) for people of color, women, the unemployed and the homeless? If not, why not.

Or will Google bring more people into the area where they will add to the unaffordability of housing in Venice and contribute to the glut of auto traffic? Venice has some experience with big corporations including Whole Foods (with revenues of only $9 billion) which brought much more traffic to the Rose and Lincoln area. RVs which once parked in the commercial area on Rose disappeared when Whole Foods began its move into the former Big Lots and Sav-on Drug Store. Armed security guards roam the parking lot creating fear in some and security in others. The grocery chain received little criticism from community organizations, some of which were, and still are, given cash and food on a regular basis.

Perhaps Venice organizations should refuse a handout this time while asking to meet with Google representatives to discuss how our new corporate neighbor is going to improve the natural and social environment of Venice.

There’s no word yet on when Google will make its move to Venice.


New Book on Japanese-Americans in Venice

A new book on Japanese-Americans in Venice has been published by the Venice Japanese Community Center. It is a large book with hundreds of photos and maps chronicling “the 100+ year history of the Japanese American Community of Venice, California.” The book was written by Perry Miyake Jr. with Tiffany Yoshikawa Sato and Alexa Giffen, and is published by the Venice Japanese Community Center. Copies can be obtained from the Community Center. Call first: 310-822-8885.


The Coffee House Revolution

When I visited Tunisia a year and a half ago I was impressed with the huge business done by outdoor coffee houses. There were not just hundreds, but thousands, of Tunisians sitting at tables on the broad sidewalks with a coffee cup in front of them. I would pass them in the morning on my way to see the sights and when I returned in the afternoon, they were still there. I mean the same people.

“Doesn’t anyone in this country work,” I wondered. I soon found out the answer was no. There were few jobs. Many people in Tunis, the capital and main city, hang out on Avenue Habib Bourguiba, which is the main street.

Ask anyone what they thought of Bourguiba, the first president of the Republic, and they will tell you that he was a wonderful leader. They will point out that he brought equality for women, public education including college, family planning, a modern, state-run healthcare system, and an emphasis on literacy to Tunisia.

Then when we asked them what they thought about his successor, Ben Ali, they would change the subject. Ben Ali fooled no one with his coup in 1987 when he had Bourguiba declared mentally incompetent. The police state began with Ben Ali’s sly rise to the presidency, and only ended with the coffee house revolution last month. Ben Ali was so paranoid that he decreed a year in jail for anyone – Tunisian or foreigner – taking a photo of his presidential palace.

Tunisia has been part of the civilized world since the founding of Carthage in 814 BCE. It may not have been well known in the U.S., but it’s now taking center stage. Pundits are now attributing the revolution to everything from WikiLeaks to Twitter or Facebook.

But in Tunisia, according to Wikipedia, only 17 percent of the population even have internet access. In most third-world countries internet access is very slow and tentative. Those who can afford broadband and the latest gadgets tend to be the local elites, whose long-term interests may not be the same as the masses of poor and unemployed who are taking to the streets in Egypt, Yemen and other countries.

When Egypt cut off access to the internet throughout the country, the protests didn’t stop. Coordination proceeded with landline telephones, motor scooters and public transportation. There is still no substitute for face-to-face contact if you want to challenge the status-quo. It remains wishful thinking to believe that the internet is available to the seven billion people on planet Earth. Even here, perhaps a third to a half of our community doesn’t have a computer at home or a broadband connection.

In Venice, we are blessed with quite a few coffee houses. Problem is that many customers don’t think they have the power to affect anything, certainly not high rents, food prices, foreclosures and lack of jobs. We have many unresolved problems in Venice, and America, as the economy slowly settles to the level of a small North African country. Perhaps our liberation, like Tunisia’s, will not come with Pot or LSD, but with caffeine.

–Jim Smith


DeDe Audet Turns 90

Venice activist DeDe Audet was celebrated at the Venice Neighborhood Council, Jan. 18, with a cake. Audet accomplished her goal of blowing out the candles, which numbered somewhat less than 90.

Audet is the former president and president emeritus of that body. Long ago she was also an active member of the Venice Town Council and was a leader of several successful efforts to stop a freeway from coming through town.

Her activism has extended to the city of Los Angeles, where she was named a “True Angel” by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Unlike most Venice activists, Audet is a registered Republican, although many in Venice would define her as a “feisty Republican.” Also unlike some of her colleagues, Audet works with, and is friends with, Venice activists on the political left. She has been an irregular contributor to the Beachhead over the years. Her most recent article, which criticized pro-growth attitudes in Los Angeles, was in December.

Audet is currently working on some of the most complicated issues, including the L.A. city budget, water resources and the Dept. of Water and Power. She says she is studying “Complexity Theory.” Can you say the same?


Cafe Collage

Things change, and they do so without warning. The tables outside Café Collage used to be a Venice hangout spot, where the likes of Dr. John prophesized, inspired, taught and otherwise had countless hours of conversation regarding the state of current affairs and the way one could take over the world in order to fulfill its true potential for happiness and true love.

Counter-culture does not express the views of the majority, much like Socrates and Plato did not back in their days, but its importance cannot be disputed. By removing the tables and chairs from the front of Café Collage, the owner, Steven Han, eliminated one of the spots where people could gather, socialize and mobilize. When asked why he decided to remove them after all these years, his answer was: “To get rid of the homeless. It makes the place look bad.” Not only are the so-called “homeless” not allowed to sit, they are also denied service by Han. He stated without hesitation: “I do it because I can.”

We can’t say that we live under a dictatorship similar to the one in Tunisia, but their revolution was partly conceptualized and mobilized in and around coffee shops. Not surprisingly, then, Han stated that the LAPD pressured him to get rid of the tables outside. Our democracy is far from perfect, and without resistance even the limited freedom and the few rights that we do have are in peril.

The Jones Settlement (2006) states that a person is allowed to lie on the sidewalk between the hours of 9pm and 6am. However, Café Collage hired a security guard during those same hours to make sure that the sidewalk is used as a passageway only. Asked about the legality of the issue, Han stated that it is private property.

The Beachhead and all other free publications got evicted out of Café Collage as well. Although the Beachhead had enjoyed the shelter of the café for many years, its rack now has to sit on the corner, braving the elements, rain or shine. Sadly, it still has more privileges than some Venice residents.

Whatever you do, remember that you cannot eliminate certain people and you could never stop the progressive, off-mainstream movement of Venice. Also, there’s a reason why The Coffee Bean went out of business: it was not a local hangout.

– Greta Cobar