By Jim Smith
The Venice Chapter of the Peace and Freedom Party has been in the vanguard of the movement against the Master Plan and the Canal Assessment Plan. The following interview was conducted with Community Organizer John Haag at party headquarters in Venice. Haag, in addition to being a longtime Venice resident, was his Party’s candidate for Lt. Governor in the last election. His efforts have been largely responsible for building the Venice Chapter into a major force in the state party organization.
Jim Smith – Have community canal protests had any significant effect on plans to implement the Venice Canal Project?
John Haag – Yes and no. The protests have definitely delayed the project. We have delayed the Master Plan for a year by our efforts. And we have gained at least that much time in the Canal Projects hearing.
A lawsuit by the canal renters was successful in having the particular assessment plan, with which the city council was attempting to finance the project, declared unconstitutional. Bad business conditions have played a part in preventing contractors from taking on the costly development. Had we not delayed adoption, the project would have been released during a period of more favorable financial conditions. On the other hand, the whole project has only been delayed by our protests.
We have also forced the city council and other powers involved to take us into consideration in their plans. Our efforts have made it necessary that we be dealt with. We were barred, illegally, from one meeting, where only people who could prove they were property owners were admitted. At other times we were prevented from speaking.
We know that on every occasion that we planned a protest, we produced a lot of nervousness and paranoia on the part of the Council members.
Jim Smith – Have any attempts been made to have the meetings held in the Venice area instead of downtown Los Angeles?
John Haag – We’ve brought that point up and, in fact, several meetings on various aspects of the project were held in the Venice area. All but one, however, were almost totally made up of property owners. All hell broke loose in the only meeting open to the public. Since then there have been no public hearings in Venice.
Jim Smith – How has the community been affected by the campaign to mount an effective protest?
John Haag – It’s really brought people together. The action has done much to give Venice residents a sense of community. It’s also had a demoralizing effect. For all the time and energy that’s gone into it, we still haven’t been able to defeat or alter the project. I think a lot of people have left Venice, probably sooner than they would have otherwise. It’s made them more aware of what the political powers have in store for us – nothing less than the elimination of Venice as a low-income community. Not that awareness is bad, but a lot of people do feel powerless to do anything about it.
Jim Smith – Since organized protests have met with such limited success, what other tactics are possible in this case?
John Haag – The “Free Venice” movement to separate Venice from the city of Los Angeles was formed as a direct result of policies, such as this, directed against our community. We tried to get enough momentum behind that drive to actually de-annex Venice but it involves a very complex and difficult legal procedure.
There was a rumor going around that all prospective contractors received a letter stating that their equipment would be sabotaged if they took the project. I have no idea how much bearing this tactic had on the absence of any satisfactory bids from the contractors.
Jim Smith – During the last councilmanic campaign, the now councilwoman Pat Russell seemed to have reservations about the canal plans. What has been her position since she was elected?
John Haag – She’s definitely in favor of the project. She suggested that low cost housing be build in the center of Venice Blvd. but has not made her approval contingent on any such proposals as low cost housing.
Jim Smith – How would you judge community response to the Peace and Freedom’s role in the canal opposition?
John Haag – It’s been very favorable. During 1969, Peace and Freedom registrations increased by 40 percent in Venice, a much faster rate than for the state as a whole. In the last city council election, the Peace and Freedom candidate, Rick Davidson, received between 10 and 30 percent in precincts that include the canals, as compared with a 4 percent showing districtwide.