Where Have All the Neighbors Gone?

By Krista Schwimmer

On an evening when many residents were out celebrating St. Patrick’s day at local bars, perhaps even “drowning the shamrock” at the end of the night, a small, but vocal group of concerned residents attended the monthly Venice Neighborhood Council (VNC) Board meeting held at Westminster Elementary School.
Chairing the meeting that night was Marc Saltzberg, Vice President of the Board, rather than President Mike Newhouse a.k.a. the Dictator of Time. Without the Dictator of Time, community voices were heard sometimes even going over the normal strict one minute time without any scoldings.
The agenda included important matters such as a ReCodeLA Presentation; a Land Use and Planning Committee (LUPC) Short Term Rental Presentation; and a motion concerning an Interim Control Ordinance (ICO) for the Venice Coastal Zone.
The first of the presentations was ReCodeLA, given by Sharon Cummins, Zoning Advisory Committee Co-Chair. According to the ReCodeLA’s website, LA is in desperate need of a “comprehensive revision” of their zoning code which dates back to 1946, and has grown from a “simple, 84-page pamphlet to an unwieldy 600 plus page book.”
This update of the zoning code is basing itself around form based code. In form based code, Cummins said, there is a big emphasis “on the relationship of the building to its environment rather than sorting specific uses for specific building types.” According to Cummins, “form based code is basically a means of regulating development to achieve a specific urban form.” Now in its second year of a five year work plan, ReCodeLA has a cast of thousands, including fifteen consultants who recently recoded Denver.
From the start, Cummins reassured the community that “specific plans will stay specific plans.” Although what Cummins shared was somewhat complex, she stated that it was “critically important to be introduced to it” as it would define how neighborhoods looked.
Like the majority of current development through Los Angeles, Venice, and other neighboring cities, ReCodeLA does nothing to address the vulnerable, the displaced, and possibly even the working class. For instance, conflicts have already arisen on how to protect “jobs generating lands”. Land grabs have included flipping industrial areas into residential homes, as in the case of Santa Fe Lofts.
When asked by Board members about such issues as “less expensive housing” and the thousands of homeless downtown, Cummins had no answers. Although sympathetic, she said that ReCodeLa was not the answer to these questions. Low income, very low income, and even work force housing would need to be subsidized. ReCodeLA has no inclusionary zoning ordinance. “What ReCode is doing is addressing the Code alphabet soup, the pattern of zones, moving it to a form based zone and creating a website. We are not rezoning the City,” Sharon stated.
As for the thousands of homeless downtown? Cummins told the story of how one city planner commented that they “have given away every negotiating tool except for parking” and have not gotten a lot of low income housing or housing for the homeless – just three projects in total. Although Cummins called a potential displacement of the homeless “cruel”, her lack of answers was not comforting.
Cummins concluded by saying that Central City and Central City North will be the first to be recoded.
Following on the heels of the ReCodeLa presentation was a brief, powerful presentation on the relationship of Airbnb to the housing crisis in both Venice and Los Angeles.
Judy Goldman, Chair of LUPC’s Short Term Rental Work Group, began by stating that “No matter how you might feel about short term rentals, the issue affects us as a community and I believe warrants more education and vigorous debate.” Goldman then introduced a video, created from the research of her work group and a recent, 49 page report released by the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE). She also credited James Adams with helping put it together.
 Entitled “Short Term Rentals and the Venice Housing Crisis”, the video was no more than five minutes; yet, between the staggering statistics and the remade Seeger song, “Where Have All the Neigbors Gone?”, it had the punch of a mixed martial art’s fighter. Did you know, for instance, that in Venice as many as 12.5 percent of all housing units have become Airbnb units, all without public approval? Or that there are 360 Airbnb units per square mile in Venice?
The majority of these so-called shares are run by commercial management companies. Companies like Globe Home and Condos (GHC) that has 92 listings; Venice Suites, with 32 entire rental homes; and Air Venice with 60 entire homes!
Shockingly, these “De facto hotels” are even spawned in rent controlled apartments.
Not only is development demolishing low income, and affordable housing, it is also taking away a chunk of what remains: “The 7,316 units taken off the rental market by Airbnb is equivalent to seven years of affordable housing construction in Los Angeles.”
Goldman concluded by encouraging community members to let Councilmember Mike Bonin know how they feel.
The third agenda item that night related to development issues and was a motion to draft an Interim Control Ordinance (ICO) for the Venice Coastal Zone (VCZ). The motion requests that LUPC immediate draft an ICO “in order to assure that development prior to and during the current ongoing coastal planning effort to prepare the Venice Local Coastal Program (LC) does not prejudice, impede or negate the goals and policies of the ultimate certified LCP. ”
The motion easily passed. Just eight days later, on March 25, the Los Angeles City Council passed its own ICO, a victory for some neighborhoods, but ironically not for the Venice Coastal Zone. Introduced on May 16, 2014 by Councilmember Koretz, the ordinance helps slow the mansionization happening around the city by prohibiting “the issuance of building permits for the construction of one-family dwellings on RA, RE, RS, and R1 zoned lots in designated neighborhoods where the proposed construction does not meet certain neighborhood specific criteria.”
Fifteen neighborhoods were chosen due to the rate of construction in them that is greater than that city wide. Although Mar Vista/East Venice is one of the neighborhoods, despite the proliferation of development West of Lincoln Boulevard, the VCZ is glaringly missing.
With the countless meetings through the past few years regarding the hyper-gentrification of Venice, and the huge outcry by the residents, it is truly perplexing why Councilmember Bonin does not support the community efforts to impede the wrong kind of development. On his website, under “Venice Beach Solutions” Bonin states that “Venice has two big problems – homelessness and crime.” Nowhere does he even mention the obscene rate of development. Nowhere does he truly connect the housing shortage with tenants being evicted due to these developments. Nowhere does he acknowledge that the over-saturation of alcohol licenses, connected to the development happening, contributes to the crime he wants to stop. Instead, he continues, “It is cruel to equate the two issues and to criminalize homelessness, but it is foolish to think the two issues do not at times intersect.”
One of the legends connected to Saint Patrick is that he chased the snakes out of Ireland. Taken at face value, this deed makes Saint Patrick a hero. Ireland, however, did not have snakes; the banishment of the snakes refers to Saint Patrick’s successful conquest of the Druid people and their pagan ways as snakes were associated once with wisdom, healing, and divination.
Venice is not a Celtic land, but the analogy is fitting. What the City of Los Angeles calls snakes, many long time residents of Venice call sacred. And, if the VNC is truly the Neighborhood Council that everyone looks to, then let’s see them take real action in response to the over-saturation of Airbnb short-term rentals and the hyper-gentrification of the coastal zone. Or, we’ll all soon be singing, “Where Have All the Neighbors Gone?”
Feel like giving Councilmember Mike Bonin a piece of your mind? email him at
Want to watch the “Short Term Rentals and the Housing Crisis in Venice” video? Go to:
Suffer from “Ophidiophobia”? Move to Hawaii, Ireland, Iceland, New Zealand or Antarctica.There are no snakes there – at least, the reptilian kind.