When Will Mike Meet with Venice?

By Mark Lipman
On Monday, April 27, Councilman Mike Bonin held a special public meeting in Mar Vista at the Marina Del Rey Middle School to speak with the community on extending for 2 years (the legal State limit) the Interim Control Ordinance (ICO), passed by the City Council, affecting 15 neighborhoods in Los Angeles, including the Kentwood district of Westchester, Mar Vista and Venice east of Lincoln, in order to give the city the needed time to close the loopholes in the Base Mansionization Ordinance (BMO), that developers are using to flood neighborhoods across the city with unsightly and unwanted mega-mansions for the super-rich.
 To date, the ICO has been presented as a “contentious” and “controversial” issue – one that is splitting the community – as something that is pitting property owners and non-property owners against each other. On the surface this is what the moneyed interests want us to believe.
 In fact, the first encounter I had at this meeting was with a man named Keith, who was upset that the ICO would prevent him from making a modest addition to his home to support his growing family. Then we talked. 
 Together, we discovered that no one (except the real estate developers) wants these all-consuming mansions in our neighborhoods, and that it is unfair that real home-owners and long standing members of our community should be punished in order to put the big money developers in check … but this is what’s happening to divide our community and create the needed wedge so that business-as-usual can keep going unfettered.
 One woman asked, “Why, if we’ve had the BMO in place for ten years now, do we have this problem with mansions taking over the entire city?” This is a very important question that gets to the heart of the matter.
 The fact is that the reason we are in such a desperate state with massive over-development is because at every level, from committees, to departments, to the City Attorney, to the City Council, to the Mayor’s office, our city is bending over backwards to make every and all accommodations for the real estate developers, interpreting the laws to suit the big money, while turning a blind eye to any violation – such as demolitions without permits, or incomplete applications, while throwing our communities under the bus … just like what’s happening at 416-424 Grand Ave. here in Venice, where six long-standing families were pushed out of their affordable housing units to make way for yet another mansion.
 Another question raised at the meeting that echoes what we in the Venice Coastal Zone (which is being excluded from the ICO) have been saying is: “Why is it that only a handful of neighborhoods are being protected when this out-of-control mansionization is destroying all of our communities? Why is this not being done city-wide?”
 Councilman Bonin’s response was that these were the communities that have been speaking out the most and calling for the ICO. I guess we here in Venice (west of Lincoln) haven’t been raising our voices loud enough for the City Council to hear us?
 But perhaps that’s unfair … the stated reasons why the Venice Coastal Zone is not included in the ICO is because the BMO doesn’t extend west of Lincoln (but we did have a BMO here in the 80’s and there is nothing stopping the City Council from adding the Venice Coastal Zone into the BMO – all that really takes is for a motion to be put forth from our Councilman to make it happen).
 Still, to be fair, we are told that here, west of Lincoln, “we need another set of tools” and that we already have protections in place, like the Coastal Act, the Mello Act, the Venice Specific Plan. Unfortunately, none of those laws that are on the books are being properly enforced. Perhaps the “tool” that is needed is an ICO for the Venice Coastal Zone, so that the city can get its act together to enforce the laws that are already there to protect us.
 And still, there is another “tool” that can be used to protect us from the plague of demolitions that is cursing our Venice Coastal Community … it’s called a Historic Preservation Overlay Zone (HPOZ).  Right now, the plurality of homes and buildings that are slated for demolition are the historic buildings that Abbot Kinney built over a hundred years ago. What about preserving our culture and our history? 
 Additionally, with an HPOZ, there are preservation funds available to help fix up and make needed repairs to these older homes, which could be made available to our struggling home-owners.
 On top of it, these older homes and buildings are where a great number of our low-income tenants live, who right now are the targets of Ellis Act evictions where real estate developers look to cash in by building up these mansions that no one in our community wants. Perhaps, if we had an HPOZ in place that would prevent the demolitions, then the developers would have to think twice about gutting our neighborhoods.
 Again, all it would take is for our Councilman to put the motion forward. So why isn’t he? I believe that’s a legitimate question that deserves a response.
 I believe that our Venice Coastal Zone Community deserves a serious community meeting with our Councilman, where he sits down and listens, not only to our concerns, but also to our solutions, one in which he makes concrete commitments as to what he is going to do to help our community.
 Playing the fence only helps the big money developers. What we need, and expect from our elected officials, is action.