As Venice Falls, Who Will Hear Her Appeal?

By Krista Schwimmer
Demolition after demolition. Monstrosity after monstrosity. The hyper-gentrification of Venice continues its ugly march. Homes that are over-sized, out-of-character, and illegal are mushrooming on Brooks, in Oakwood, and other, quaint neighborhoods. The peace of Venice has been shattered by developers seemingly in bed with City officials. Residents rally at neighborhood meetings, behind doors, and in bars. Some residents even take matters into their own hands.
One such resident is Robin Rudisill, the current chair of the Land Use and Planning Committee (LUPC) of the Venice Neighborhood Council (VNC). Acting as an individual, and not on behalf of LUPC, Robin, along with Dr. Judith Goldman, Lydia Ponce, Laddie Williams and Kim Michalowski, have filed two of four appeals against 416 and 418-422 Grand Boulevard, owned by South African artist and filmmaker, Ralph Ziman. The previous tenants have filed the two other appeals. The intent and the justification for all four appeals are the same. The appellants are asking an appeal of the Zoning Administrator’s decision to approve a Coastal Development Permit that would authorize the construction of a new single-family dwelling at that location. West Los Angeles Planning Commission will hear these appeals on Wednesday, February 4th, after 4:30 pm, at the Henry Medina West L.A. Parking Enforcement Facility, 2nd Floor, Roll Call Room, 11214 West Exposition Boulevard, Los Angeles.
As chair of LUPC, Robin is often the first to see projects in Venice, as well as to hear the distressing stories of those affected by them. The story of 416 and 418-422 Grand Boulevard has a shady beginning. Both projects were presented as two, separate ones: 416 as a 1,425 square foot, 23 feet high project; and 418-422 as a 5,183 square feet, 35 foot high project. On examination of the renderings of each project, Robin noticed a pool and jacuzzi in the middle, with a partition that could easily be taken down after both were built. According to the justification in the Appeal, evidence shows that both the Zoning Administration (ZA) and Ziman’s representatives, listed as Melinda Gray of GrayMatter Architecture and Rosario Perry, deliberately misled the VNC and the public by handling them as separate cases. From the start, these two should have been processed as one single-family dwelling unit with a pool and a jacuzzi in the middle.
Another troubling aspect of this particular project relates to the Mello Act. The Coastal Commission approved the demolition of the original properties by di minimus waiver. They had not, however, made a Mello Act determination. After the demolition, Douglas Swoger, Director of Asset Management, Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Development (HCID) sent a letter to Greg Shoop in City Planning. He stated that “based on information provided by the owner, 416 and 418 Grand Blvd., LLC, a California limited liability company, the Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department (HCID) has determined that four (4) affordable units exist at 416-418 and 422-424 Grand Blvd., Venice CA 90291.” This designation was then taken away by Greg Shoop on September 17, 2013. He gave no documentation or explanation for such a critical decision.
Ziman, or his representative, also did not inform the low income residents living at the existing duplexes of their rights under the Mello Act. Instead, they offered the tenants a relocation fee based only on the Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO), tricking them into taking a settlement amount that did not reflect the value of their situation. On top of that, there is evidence that the owner or his representative tried to trick tenants into paying late or at the wrong place so that they would violate their lease and thus evict them with no RSO or Mello benefits. Ideally, Mello benefits would give evicted tenants replacement housing there or nearby. In this case, Shoop claimed it was not feasible to provide any kind of affordable units either on the site or elsewhere.
Although LUPC did approve both of these projects, individually, they did so with some conditions. 416 Grand Boulevard was initially approved subject to review and satisfaction of the Mello Act determination and Rent Stabilization. 418-422 Grand Boulevard was approved on condition of payment of $400,000 in Mello Act lieu fees for each of the four affordable units there. This is not the first time that conditions placed on a project have been thumbed at by the City. This is particularly baffling as Neighborhood Councils are in the City of Los Angles’ charter.
Sadly, in the current chronicles of Venice, this is not a unique tale. At the same time, the end of the story has not been written. In fact, Robin Rudisill thinks that by all accounts, the Grand Boulevard project is a clear case, and could be a game changer for the better.
Grand Boulevard was once Grand Canal; today, it is part of the Lost Canals District. Directly across from the proposed development, there are still small, whimsical cottages. If these larger developments, however, are not stopped, one by one, they will eventually change the character of the street, then the neighborhood, and then, all of Venice. Although change is inevitable and sometimes desirable, the change these homes are bringing serves a few, greedy developers at the expense of the lives of many. And that’s simply too high of a price to pay. Those of you who want to preserve Venice’s character, please attend the February 4 hearing.