By Mary Getlein
A community meeting was held on June 18th, at the Boys and Girl’s Club in Venice. It was hosted by “Venice Life” to discuss the “livability” of Venice. The spokes-people included Mike Bonin, Peggy Thusing, Steve
Waller, Marc Saltzberg, and Sarah Blanch. The subjects ranged from “A Vision for Venice,” Crime, Homelessness, Livability and Substance Abuse and how these things impact Venice.
Mike Bonin started the meeting with a speech about where Venice was at, right now, and where he would like it to go. He said Ocean Front Walk was not “community friendly” and not artistic any more. His goal is to create a “Board of Venice” and address the problems of homelessness. He wants to create a data base of affordable housing. He said he wants to take away controls from the state and have a local “coastal plan” to protect the coast.
His plan for traffic and parking was to limit the amount of space in the road for cars, and increase the size of the sidewalks and bicycle lanes. This idea is not feasible, anyone can go out any day in Venice and be overwhelmed by the amount of traffic. Just ask commuters trying to use Ocean Park Blvd. — they put in huge bike lanes and now traffic is backed up much worse than it was before. It’s good to urge people to walk and use bicycles, but it is not “do-able” for most people.
After announcing that the meeting would be a conversation between all of the spokespeople and the audience, Mike Bonin left. So no one got a chance to ask him any questions. His last words to the audience were: “Define yourself by what you believe in,” “people love Venice,” and then he left.
The next person to speak was Peggy Thursing, who is a senior cop in LAPD. She has spent 28 years in LAPD, 20 years in Venice. She said most crime in Venice is property crime, with people breaking into cars and houses. She urged people to lock their windows and homes when they left their homes.
She mentioned the Jones Act which says you can sleep on the sidewalk between 9 pm and 6 am, if no housing is provided. She linked the fact of homelessness and crime together. They have a new technique of arresting people, called predictive policing where they take data which predicts crimes and put extra police in that area. She said that the Pacific Division covered an area of 26 square miles with 8 cars.
The next spokesperson to speak was Steve Waller, pastor of the Venice Foursquare Church. He told touching stories of trying to get people off the streets, but they have to be sober and willing. They focus on young people and elderly people. He asked the audience to have compassion and extend mercy to the homeless. He said they can only manage one case at a time, so it’s very slow going.
Marc Salzberg, the Vice President of the Neighborhood Council, got up next. He had a list of things that make Venice “un-livable”. Tourists were high on the list. 16 million tourists go through Venice every year, which impacts traffic, and produces mountains of trash. Alcohol outlets which affect Venice in a negative way, drunk drivers making the streets and people unsafe. Short-term vacation rentals are turned into “party houses”, which impact the neighbors with noises and loud partying.
He also mentioned concerns about the amount of development going on in Venice. Developers would get waivers for building their houses, in exchange for including affordable housing in their buildings, which never happened, or were such a small amount that it didn’t really help.
The LA city budget has been cut 6 years in a row. When someone from the audience mentioned that we need more bathrooms on the beach, and port-a-potties for the homeless, he just referred to the budget crisis and said until the budget crisis is resolved, there will not be any new bathrooms in Venice. The bathrooms in Venice are rundown and ugly and are hardly ever cleaned. They are really disgusting to use, and for the amount of taxes LA gets from Venice, it seems the least they could do is give us new toilets.
Sarah Blanch, the last speaker, got up to talk about substance abuse in Venice. She said LA county has a high level of alcohol, which leads to traffic deaths, violent crime, and drunk driving. There are 108 liquor licenses in Venice, which is a higher number than other parts of LA. She is in favor of putting limits in place and have liquor store owners “card” the buyers of liquor, many of whom are underage and at risk.
The question and answer portion of the meeting was next. They asked questions about how to get more cops in Venice — write to the chief of police. Restrooms. They want more lighting on the boardwalk. They wanted to know how to get an ordinance against over sized vehicles.
Marc Saltzberg said people need to advocate and organize. “We need people to participate in local government. The more you need, the more you participate.”
It seemed like a whitewash and not real. It ended early — it wasn’t a conversation, it was like a press release. It was supposed to go until 8:30, but they cut off the questions and the so-called conversation at 8:05. There was a big turnout, and the people did not get the information they needed.