John Reed and Marissa Solomon

by Jon Wolff

John Reed is an architect. He works and lives in Venice. His office is located at 657 Rose Avenue in Venice. You can easily recognize his office by the large glass windows on the outside. John Reed is also a landlord and a developer. He has built many buildings. They too are recognizable by their glass exteriors. Many of them are in Venice. And John Reed is currently a member of the Venice Neighborhood Council.

Before his election to the VNC in 2016, John Reed served on the Land Use and Planning Committee, which is a standing committee that advises the VNC. In his early years on the Committee, John Reed demonstrated a good knowledge of the code and often voted in the interests of the Community of Venice. After an unsuccessful run for higher office, John Reed’s perception of things in Venice changed.

Perhaps John Reed’s picture transformed while he watched, with resentment, from the windows of his Rose Avenue property, as charitable organizations did the good work of feeding unhoused people in Venice. Maybe his vision of Rose Avenue didn’t include just everybody. Indeed, John Reed’s views were expressed clearly when he said, as quoted, “Just watch me. I’m gonna own Rose outright!”

And own much of Rose Avenue he does. He’s responsible for the retail store and ice cream shop at 542 Rose Avenue. His original proposal was for a restaurant with full bar. When that didn’t work out, he settled for ice cream and a clothing store called Parachute. But there was to be more than that. Upstairs on the property is a kind of hotel room. It’s a single unit hotel. Actually, it’s a Short Term Rental unit managed by the manager of Parachute and it’s illegal. It’s not zoned for an STR.

John Reed’s vision can be seen elsewhere in Venice. That ugly building at 479 Washington Boulevard and Ocean Avenue is his doing. It’s supposed to be a luxury designed live/work space but with no parking space provided. Not surprisingly, it’s listed by Tami Pardee.

John Reed’s panoramic view of Venice also extended to Indiana Avenue. Or, at least the building extended to the property line. It resulted in the loss of eight units as well as the people who lived in them.

You’ve seen the historic buildings on 811-815 Ocean Front Walk just north of Brooks Avenue. They’re the ones with the elaborate and colorful murals all around. Some say that they’re the oldest residences on the Boardwalk but John Reed wants to tear them down anyway. John Reed sees them as residential/retail/restaurant property.

If overdevelopment in Venice is a major problem, it’s because of the City of L.A.’s Land Use and Planning Department’s practice of issuing, what are called, Venice Sign Offs. The City is being sued over these VSOs because they are, essentially, shortcuts for the developers on the application process. They allow projects to go forward without the public scrutiny that might otherwise stop them. Greg Shoop was the man on the Planning Department who was responsible for many of these over-the-counter VSOs and he was a friend of John Reed’s when John Reed was on the VNC’s Land Use and Planning Committee. The City received numerous complaints about the generous issuance of VSOs. Eventually, Mr. Shoop was transferred within the Department to the Boyle Heights Division.

John Reed, however, stayed on the VNC’s Committee to help with another project. This was the project for a hotel on Abbot Kinney Boulevard. It was to be, possibly, the largest development ever in Venice. Some have estimated that it would be built on a budget of around $89 million. It would be situated on Abbot Kinney Boulevard across the street from Westminster Avenue Elementary School. That’s right, a hotel plopped down in front of a school.

Can you picture a major tourist accommodation replete with taxis, tour buses, airport shuttles, and Uber cars all cutting in and around each other every day on Abbot Kinney? John Reed can. He saw a river of tourist traffic in front of a school for Kindergarten through 6th grade children as absolutely acceptable. The People of Venice didn’t view it that way though and they came out and spoke against it at a VNC meeting.

Here, John Reed’s wife, Marissa Solomon, who was a VNC member at the time, scolded a Community Leader at the meeting for speaking out. Ms. Solomon said, “Shame on you!” Yes, John Reed’s wife called another person shameful for protesting against a monstrosity in the form of a hotel. But really. Is there anything more shameful than a development as obscene as this? Well, John Reed sees things differently.

John Reed is a shrewd developer. And he is also a careful member of the Venice Neighborhood Council. He wants what’s best for developers but he has been known to abstain from a vote when he sees that the majority will vote in favor of a new project. He knows when to hold back and let the others be the bad guys.

However, at the April meeting of the VNC, John Reed was seen clearly by the Venice Community. He is the Chairperson of the Rules and Selections Committee and, that evening, he proposed an amendment to the Council’s bylaws. John Reed sought to change and strike out the Code of Ethics and Standing Rules that prohibit a Councilmember from voting on issues where he or she might have a conflict of interest. In his view, there was no such thing as a “conflict of interest”. His proposed amendment was undone due to the understandable backlash against such a despicable suggestion. The public outcry caused John Reed to say that what he said was the opposite of what he meant. The one change that was made was that the Committee would no longer handle grievances. But what’s the point then?

In this current age of the importance of political discourse, we often use the term, “Transparency”. Transparency is that agreement in a civil society where all members of the Community are able to see the inside of the political structure and nothing unseemly is hidden. One would think that the People of Venice can expect a reasonable degree of Transparency into the workings and dealings of the Venice Neighborhood Council. Certainly, an architect who puts giant glass windows on all his buildings can appreciate greater visibility. That is: Transparency. Maybe. But we’ll be watching.