Assault of a Neighborhood

By Laura Shepard Townsend

I saw they took the roof off Elinore Crawford’s house today. Oh, it’s only a house, I tell myself, but I know how much love Elinore poured into that house for many years.

I am no practitioner of organized religion, but I do believe that houses possess spiritual essences of their owners. In any case, I do know that Elinore dearly loved her house…a love that permeated her hardwood floors and woodwork along with the furniture polish. Her cottage garden of roses and hollyhocks, romantic pinks and scarlets were exquisitely balanced with the tangy blues of salvias, delphiniums and sages blooming love. Elinore is now gone, moved to a home for the aged, and they are dismantling the three sweet cottages to make way for the future.

This is by no means the first assault on our neighborhood over the past 25 years. Our first invader was Costco which, I have been informed by two very proud store managers, is the largest grossing Costco in the whole Continental U.S. so I guess it’s true.

In their primary architectural renderings, their diesel-spewing semis would have entered Costco from Zanja Street in the back of the shopping center. Since Costco is located in Culver City, who really cared about the fumigating of the cute little neighborhood of families living in the back, in Venice, after all, it’s Los Angeles.

I guess no one came to measure our streets, built for Model T’s and so narrow, two cars can’t pass one another without shattering side mirrors. I think everyone who parks on the street has had damage done to the sides of their cars….never mind the number of cats that are killed.

Say what you will about Ruth Galanter, but she took the Costco assault seriously, assigned Mario, her first lieutenant, a humorous and generous white knight, to guide us through the labyrinth of LA, as well as Culver City politics. Due to thousands of hours of collecting petitions, organization and meetings with the officials of two municipalities, we were awarded $300K for traffic mitigation.

I assure you, it was not enough; our neighborhood, a narrow slice of houses, is now the official cut-thru for the savvy commuters of Playa Vista and Marina del Rey. However, our adamant protests ensured that the trucks now enter the Costco shopping center appropriately from Washington Blvd.

Our next invader, unfortunately still here, is Clearview, a drug and alcohol rehab to keep the rich addicts out of jail. Clearview is a bargain in the rehab world, a cut below Promises and Passages, the five-star celebrity rehabs in Malibu, but still pricey. These guys have so much dough, that whenever a new McMansion Craftsman bungalow in our neighborhood came on the market, they snatched it right up.

Once rehabs decide to entrap a neighborhood, their rate of profit is so immense, no one can outbid them if they want a house…or ten houses, or even twenty.  The shills Clearview hired to buy the houses (usually employees or freelance associates) while the house was in escrow, would enthusiastically profess their excitement about being finally allowed to move in and pick out the curtains to the neighbors next to them.

These scammers and shameless liars have no shame in their pursuit of riches. Greedily, they cluster the facilities in daisy chains to share services like therapy and transport to further decrease their overhead and maximize their already gargantuan profits. Each house facility by law is required to have its own kitchen, but the kitchen, in our neighborhood, is shared by all five of the houses, which is absolutely illegal. However, our complaints to the State of California about violations fell on deaf ears since the state supports rehab houses as solutions to keeping DUI’s out of our scandalously overcrowded prisons.

In any case, Clearview’s real estate negotiations were so hush-hush that I only got a whiff of the predators when there was no parking up and down our whole street in the middle of the day!! Four or five frantic valets hustled to park mirror-polished $30K SUV’s (no one at the time on my street had such cars). I grabbed a poster board to picket solo ala Norma Rae, shouting “No More Rehabs”, until the owner, wine glass in hand, came out to inform me that he was going to have me arrested for disturbing his ‘aren’t we all going to make big money’ party.

Unfortunately for him, I had paid attention during my Social Studies classes and knew my rights. The neighborhood rallied, Councilman Rosendahl came for a meeting in Elinore’s house, and with negotiations, the Clearview invasion was curtailed. We think, anyway. Cross your fingers, the economy is improving!

Rehabs love being in neighborhoods. Why? Because they want to tout the neighborhood feeling to the well-heeled parents of their customers, while they simultaneously savage that feeling. Rehab houses go dark, meaning there is no one really there. The drapes are drawn; no one is raising kids or walking dogs, or tending the garden. Just delivery trucks for goods; vans shuttle the denizens around.

Don’t get me wrong—I believe in rehabilitation, but Clare conducts their business in the business section of Santa Monica, not its neighborhoods, and I might add, without charging a fortune. For our neighborhood, I will always credit Councilman Rosendahl for curtailing the grabbing of more houses. He walked the block with us to see the location of the houses, muttering in his endearing Rosendahl style, “too many, there’s just too darned many.” Unfortunately, Clearview still got 4 houses in a one block area of 42 houses, 12% of the area.

Cut to the next parasitic arrival with a proposal to build two (2) condominium buildings, two-stories high (over twenty-seven feet in height), containing 8,000 square feet of floor space (four 2,000-square-foot dwellings), with ten parking spaces, just eighteen feet and ten inches from the sidewalk at 2435, 2437, 2439, 2441 Walnut Ave.

These are Elinore’s two lots, the site where once a year we would meet in the shade of her large avocado tree for the Walnut Avenue Poetry Festival, enjoying the talents of our neighbors’ music, poetry and their best recipes brought as delectable pot-luck dishes each summer. We would catch up with one another’s lives and share photos. This destruction makes me very sad.

Now Mike Bonin is our new Councilman; I am unfamiliar with his position on development in keeping with the feeling of Venice. I understand the VNC Land Use Committee met with him recently to explore his views on this subject; apparently the gist is that the Councilman will not interfere with development unless there is something illegal in the design.

I hope I am wrong, I hope that Councilperson Bonin will work with all of Venice to preserve the spirit of Venice. We shall see. Fortunately for us, in this case, it seems we do have a code violation since the developer seeks a variance to convert apartment buildings to condos on lots that are only 45-feet wide, a violation of the Municipal code that requires a minimum width of 50 feet per lot. So we may have a chance.

However, this could be the first domino to fall, tempting other developers to continue the invasion and degradation. As a footnote, it has also been brought to my attention that east of Lincoln, though we are Venice, and share the zip code 90291, that we are not included in the VNC Land Use Committee’s overview. I do not know why this is, and will be pursuing this to further understand it.

Our neighborhoods in Venice are very special; they nurture our children, our lifestyles. It is precious indeed to be able to walk your kids and dogs around the block, greeting one another, assisting one another, and sharing home-grown delectables from one another’s garden.

Their fragility requires activism on everyone’s part. Darn it, I will always fight for such a way of life in my Venice.