Silicon Tsunami Wipes Out Free Venice

By Jamie Virostko

About a year ago, I was walking a dog, crossing Abbot Kinney up San Juan, when a tattooed guy in worn jeans, stopped me on Electric Ave. His long hair in a salt and pepper braid, he was returning from buying breakfast. As the big Samoyed sniffed longingly at a steaming paper bag, my mid-fortiesh friend lamented all the changes in Venice, “Man, used to be, we’d make fun of the yuppies with their long boards who think they’re f—ing cool…Now we just take it.”

He had my sympathy, until he suggested I come to his place for a massage. When he opened his arms in anticipation of a “brotherly” neighborhood hug, I moved on. I had learned, the hard way, that those “free love” embraces with senior skater and surfer dudes, often lasted too long and sometimes involved an ass grab. Around here, you’re better off hugging the homeless. Too bad there’s not many left…

The Techies have a vision, and they are actualizing it. Major increases in property values since Google’s arrival! And, they are recruiting from outside Venice Beach! Now Microsoft has office space, along with a crapload of hungry startups. Wealth is sweeping through like a tsunami, washing everything affluent and white and clean.

The “Coolest Street in America” title, bestowed on Abbot Kinney, freaked me out. Great, now we’ll get Hipsters from all over the world, journeying like pilgrims to the Apex of Hip. If that wasn’t bad enough, Rose is blossoming into Abbot’s well dressed and über trendy kid sister. And, if you haven’t noticed, they’ve been awfully zealous of late, enforcing that two hour parking for all vehicles along Rose Avenue curbs.

Whenever I see a quaint, beach cottage sold on the off-Lincoln Walk Streets, it is almost always bought for the land. One story, character-rich dwellings razed and replaced with modern mini-castles, as soon as someone can obtain the permit! That means fewer starter homes and less Middle and Working Class Families. Young White Professionals bleed into the Oakwood area, displacing the already diminished diversity. Then come new developments – like those big lofts near 4th and Rose.

Being a dog walker, I stroll Venice – up and down, front and back – everyday. Before Rose grew hip, I have watched what’s left of our Black and Hispanic Communities, aging and priced out, as buildings are sold and renovated or rebuilt. Many of the Mamas and Papas of the local Counter Culture have crossed into their twilight years, with free expression settling behind seven foot tall privacy fences. Our Young Artists struggle to afford housing in this once Bohemian enclave, as wild gardens and homemade art in front yards are replaced by standardized landscaping.

Those beautiful and tragic camps along the Boardwalk – groups of kids and their dogs, soft guitar, pot, old bums, addicts and ex-cons settling into slumber, blankets and broken beach umbrellas – banished at night. The people do not cease to exist. But, where do they go, now that they cannot gather – either on Ocean Front, Rose or any other place where they were previously tolerated? How do we get them into homes when nothing is reasonably priced?

The City would like to relegate Free Venice to the murals and the Boardwalk vendors, with a few notable characters thrown in for spice. It’s allowed where tourists roam and money can be made. Is that really satisfactory? They give you a fancy, A-list celebrity, sign lighting and save the Biberman work…But what about an entire way of life tossed aside?

Diversity and Homeless are the battles that, if lost, will wipe real Free Venice off the map. Unfortunately, those are huge, hard challenges. But, sanitized homogeny will be the death of creativity, not to mention the negative blow to our Community Soul. Where are Occupy and that famous Free Venice Activism? This is relevant, tangible and happening now!

Did the Tech Panel not tell us, at the Silicon Beach Town Hall last spring, that a primary reason they came to Venice was the available talent already here? Is anyone going to hold them accountable to generate jobs for the existing community? For keeping our community in tact, through involvement with this new wealth, instead of swept aside by it? Google’s rep at that Town Hall said they wanted to be careful not to alter the things that make Venice special. Are they keeping their word?

In everyone’s lifetime, one must process change. Free Venice has often found strength in hunkering down and digging in against it, even revering its own uniqueness. But, celebration of the individual can make it difficult to really come together. Hundreds of solitary voices, when gathered, can end up a cacophony of splinter agendas, personal history, and the desperate desire for each one to be heard.

How can uninhibited free expression forge an unwavering wall of camaraderie that, wholeheartedly, puts community first? And yes, Silicon Beach now has to be included in that community, along with major bucks to the Venice Family Clinic and St. Joseph’s; and, increased tax revenues to California and the City of LA.

How do we get creativity back into the streets, so we can be inspired by one another?

With respect for life, there are no boundaries. We are free to go and be who we are, wherever we want to go and be. But, if we don’t come together soon, it could be game over a lot faster than you think.