Venice Victorious – How We Won The Third OPD War

Venice, a jewel of the Pacific
Venice, a dream so sublime
Venice, where freedom is in our hearts
Venice, where the light will not be extinguished
Venice, where time goes by but the magic remains
Venice, where a city like none other is being born

By Jim Smith

Our recent victory against Overnight Pay Parking Districts (OPDs) is well-known by most Venetians.  In spite of great odds against us, an army of  truth-sayers from Venice made their way to Long Beach, June 13, where they again spoke truth to power as they did in 2009 and 2010, but this time with even more eloquence.

It was a victory supported by the majority of Venice residents and a lesson to those who would attempt to restrict the freedom of our community.

We were arrayed against our old nemesis, the city of Los Angeles, represented by a bumbling Norman Kulla (none of the better known OPD advocates, including Councilmember Bill Rosendahl and City Attorney Carmen Tutanich showed up),  the empty suits of the Coastal Commission staff who bought into the OPD advocates bogus arguments, and Mark Ryavec’s Venice Stakeholder Association, represented by John Henning, who is the rightwing Pacific Legal Foundation’s favorite lawyer.

This month we are celebrating the 108th anniversary of the founding of Venice.  During that time, we have also celebrated some astounding victories, and some devastating defeats. The very founding of Venice was a victory for the creative spirit of humanity. Venice arrived full grown, as out of the brow of Zeus, and was a marvel to behold. There was nothing like it in 1905. We have the genius and perseverance of one man, Abbot Kinney, to thank for our home. And even today, after years of being treated like a punching bag by Los Angeles, Venice is still a marvel to behold. And so are Venetians. So says the Coastal Commission.

Venice has been on the ropes many times.  Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty wanted to bulldoze the whole town.  In the late Sixties, the city’s “Master Plan” would have turned Venice into a high-rise abomination.  The Canal Project would have made the remaining canals another Marina yacht harbor. A freeway would have run down Electric Avenue, bisecting Venice into white and Black halves. All these schemes were stopped by an aroused

Later, a seven-story “castle” would have risen where Ralphs, Rite-Aide and Ross now stand. Lincoln Place would have been destroyed and replaced by 1,000 condo hi-rises. Permit parking schemes have been swatted down since the 1990s. And still they come.

You have to admire the tenacity of Venetians. We exist in a permanent state of war to preserve our homes and our culture. Our obituary has been written many times. Beat poet Tony Scibella bemoaned the end of Venice in 1959 (The Kid in America) when tourists descended upon Venice to gawk at and take photos of the “beatniks.”

Venice activists Arnold Springer and Moe Stavnezer stared into the camera in Moritz Bormann’s 1978 documentary, Feeding the Sparrows by Feeding the Horses and declared Venice wouldn’t exist in ten more years.

Yes, Venice has changed from (pick a date). But it continues to attract refugees who need a haven where they can take a time out from the capitalist world.  Many lost souls come for a few months and end up spending the rest of the lives here. Sooner or later, they become involved in saving their adopted home when it is under attack by developers, city planners and the self-righteous. This is how in 2013, we are still able to defend the promise of Venice as envisioned, and fought for, by Abbot Kinney, John Haag, Rick Davidson, Marvena Kennedy, Carol Berman and so many more, now departed.

NOPD – The enduring resilience of the Venice Vibe 

Our victory in Long Beach on June 13, against OPDs ranks with our other righteous triumphs, described above. It was a textbook example of community organizing.

Even though many of us believed – correctly, as it turned out – that some residents were growing dubious about OPDs and would reconsider their support, we didn’t take anything for granted.

Our campaign was decentralized. No one person or group made decisions for everyone. Each group – Venice Action, Venice Peace and Freedom, Occupy Venice, the Beachhead, Venice Community Housing, Spirit of Venice, Venice Surf and Skateboard Assn. – essentially ran their own complementary campaigns against the OPDs, as did other groups and individuals.

The Free Venice Beachhead should win a newspaper award for its three-month long series of articles and public service announcements explaining why OPDs are contrary to the spirit of Venice (Of course, the Beachhead also rallied the community against pay parking in 2009 and 2010).

Venice Peace and Freedom distributed 12,000 postcards throughout the community and created the “NOPD” stop sign artwork that was adopted by the campaign as a whole.  Venice Action Alliance raised money for a lawyer and held a rally that brought everyone together.

Occupy Venice mobilized social media while Surfers and Skateboarders reached out to their youngish community for support.  While the Venice Neighborhood Council stayed neutral, they did run a poll on their website that showed the overwhelming opposition to OPDs in Venice (400 No OPDs votes to 294 Yes votes).

How we won – the strategy and tactics of the NOPD campaign:

• A clever slogan, NOPD, a contraction of No OPDs, had been used by some in 2010. This time around, Peace & Freedom ran with it on all their flyers and postcards. By the end of the campaign, everyone had adopted it.

• A decentralized campaign meant that every organization and group could do whatever they did best, and reach the age, ethnic, income and gender group they knew best.

• Our side took the offense. We presented numerous arguments why OPDs were a bad idea. Pro-OPD groups, like the Venice Stakeholder Assn., ended up responding to our points. The city of L.A., was less than aggressive as it was caught in the midst of a changeover with the strongest advocates of OPDs,  Trutanich and Rosendahl, becoming lame ducks. At the hearing, only a low-level staffer came to speak on behalf of the city.

• We had strength in numbers. Lots of people attended the rally, distributed literature, wrote emails, tweets and Facebook. Our numbers really helped us at the Coastal Commission hearing where we outnumbered the pro-OPD advocates by 90 or 100 to five or ten.

• The city made a serious blunder in closing the beach at night in spite of strongly worded letters from Commission officials telling them not to do it. We jumped on the beach closure as an example that city officials held the Commission in contempt. We further argued that there was no way to measure how many people would be deprived access to the beach by OPDs, since they were already deprived access by the illegal closure.

• We seized the moral high ground. While our opponents tried to turn OPDs into simply a parking issue (and under their breath, into an anti-homeless issue), many of us focused on the right of everyone to have access to the beach. This was not a tactical ploy on our part but rather a matter of principle. We explained to other Venetians and Commissioners, alike, that Venice had always been the People’s Beach where everyone, no matter who they were, could feel at home. Our beach was a cool (in more ways than one) haven for Angelenos, in particular, who live in a much hotter summer climate. It is one of the few places a poor family can take their kids, and not spend a cent if they can’t afford it.

What were the lessons we learned, and the lessons we should learn:

We learned that good people abound in Venice and have not disappeared into the sands of history. We learned that programatic unity (No OPDs) does not require organizational unity. We learned that the Coastal Commission is still our friend. We learned that the city of Los Angeles is not our friend. It will do whatever it can to grind us down into its image of quiet, obedient Matrix-like consumers. We should learn that they will come at us again and again because there are billions of dollars to be made in Venice by the developers who pull the strings of city officials.  We should learn that it never works out well when a people – a nation or a city – is ruled from the
outside by people who have a different set of values.  We should learn that no matter how long it takes, or how many defeats we suffer along the way, we have to begin the struggle to restore the city of Venice.

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