Venice Listening Sessions By Jon Wolff
After five and a half years of hard work, the group Original Save Venice (OSV) managed to preserve the First Baptist Church of Venice by winning historical resource status for the church and all seven of its lots. OSV then enlisted the aid of Community Corporation of Santa Monica (CCSM) which purchased the church and the properties. CCSM is a local organization that builds affordable housing in areas where housing is becoming prohibitively expensive. CCSM is currently working with OSV on a plan to restore the church building and also to build low income housing on its adjacent lots.
As part of its outreach process, Community Corporation of Santa Monica recently held three “listening sessions” in the community room of the Reese-Tabor Oakwood Recreation Center in Venice. These listening sessions were a forum for CCSM representatives and OSV members to meet in person with Venice residents and take questions and suggestions from the residents. The meetings were open to all attendees. CCSM outlined their strategies and OSV provided the historical background of the church.
Everyone voiced their opinions about what is needed in the community. Their answers included issues ranging from environmental concerns to resources for youths and seniors. They talked about usable spaces for art and nature. And many raised the question of the “right of return” for original Venice community members who have been displaced by gentrification and unconstitutional police injunctions.
The discussion about housing addressed questions of height and scale; single occupancy or family apartments; parking and sustainability. But the subject of the church remained settled. Original Save Venice fought to save the First Baptist Church of Venice. The church will stay a church.
Attendees of every ethnic and economic background came to the meetings. All were welcome. A few individuals with predatory private development interests showed up to ask impertinent questions. But they were easily corrected by OSV members. By the third session, there were more people from the Oakwood community present, and a strong contingent of Black pastors with generational ties to Venice and to the church were there. The bad guys were outnumbered.
Original Save Venice has overcome all odds to get to this point. They have prevailed in spite of the naysayers. And they will be at the forefront until the battle is won and the doors of the First Baptist Church of Venice are open.