I have to admit, I'd never attended a LUPC (Land Use and Planning Committee) meeting in Venice before October 2nd. I, like my friends and neighbors, was compelled to go in absolute opposition to the new hotel proposed at 1033 Abbot Kinney Boulevard. A HOTEL! What?! NO. That was the gist of the entire sitting and standing room only meeting at the Oakwood Rec Center, where even the youngest Venetians jammed in shoulder to shoulder to use their voices against yet another project determined to turn Venice all upscale and not Venice anymore.
Led by committee chair, Jake Kaufman, in a bit of an abrasive, tough guy manner ("If you even whisper, I'll point you out in front of everyone and ask you to leave."), it was clear that almost 100% of the folks in the room were there for the hotel issue, in the hopes of "Keeping Venice eclectic," which was mentioned several times. Outside you could hear the kids playing basketball and having fun after dark, which only added to the community aspect of it all.
The team behind the hotel, led by the new land owner, Dan Abrams, kept their presentation very short, and stood there with crossed arms and sullen faces while listening to what came in the next two hours. They seemed to think that it was a big deal that just that very afternoon, they decided to take the proposed fourth floor off of the project. They announced that change a couple hours before the meeting in an open letter on Yo Venice, in a move that smacked very much of the old trick where you ask for way bigger to come down to the scale that you really want in the first place. To seem like open guys, "listening to the community." Almost no one in there was buying it, or having it. Many said, "Disingenuous," about it all. When Abrams said, "A lot of people want nothing to go on this site - that is not an option." To which someone yelled out, "Yes, it is!" and everyone else clapped (and got scolded for it by Kaufman). The removal of the fourth floor also eliminated affordable housing that was originally included, something Venice NEEDS - far, far more than some posh boutique hotel.
This whole deal is still in the very early stages, which is why it was so heartening to see such a massive turnout for a preliminary meeting. Venice people know what they want - and what they for sure do NOT want - and they're not afraid to speak up.
All citizens were to be kept to a one minute speaking term, unless they respectfully asked for two, which many did. It was on a first name basis in there, and Tibby went first, setting the tone when she said, "I do NOT support this project," and surmised that committee member John Reed had already taken a side and was advocating for the project. It did feel like that as the night went along, as he kept sticking up for it all. Joan said that the "concession" to three floors is still absurd when all the other buildings are one story, and shows a lack of understanding of the community. A community of walkers, bikers, artists, and activists that already struggle with the congestion on Abbot Kinney, a main concern.
Dov read a letter from someone that couldn't be there and then said his own, and powerful, piece. "I'm TIRED of the poor being kicked out of Venice! This gentrification was funded by gang wars and crack cocaine!" He riled the place up, earning claps and shouts of agreement. Gail was opposed. She said Abbot Kinney is successful as a tourist attraction, but we don't want to become victims of that success. The PEOPLE gave it the color, diversity, and eclecticism that made it so, and they're being driven out. "All that will be left is an over-developed, congested, gridlocked mess ... I object to this project in TOTALITY." Lara was concerned about this development setting a precedent, and losing all the diversity of the neighborhood.
Joe, Antoinette, Chris, and many other voiced concerns that the hotel was going to be across the street from an elementary school, and with a roof-top bar, pool and transient hotel guests, it might not be the best idea to have all that swirling around little kids. Everyone seemed to agree on that.
Traffic was a major issue, and most speakers mentioned it. As a hotel, there will be 24 hour deliveries (which I'm sure the close neighbors will love - never mind the ages of construction it would all take), and loading docks blocking traffic on Electric, an already extra-narrow thoroughfare. Caskey spoke eloquently about how when she moved here 18 years ago ("and still consider myself a newbie"), she loved that she could ride bikes down the boulevard to the beach, but she would never dream of taking her young boys down the street on bikes now, with all the traffic and oblivious tourists ALREADY here, and this will only make it way worse. "The tourist money doesn't stay here, and it will only detract from the Venice we love ... Expect to hear from us." Word.
Parking was another biggie, and almost all mentioned it. Where are all the employees going to park? Where will the people go to park that don't want to pay high hotel parking prices? Into the neighborhoods, that's where. It's already difficult for people who live adjacent to AKB to find parking anywhere near their homes, and this will, of course, only exacerbate the problem. Steve and many more mentioned that they already avoid the street at all costs, which is sad when you figure it is there for US first. Or should be.
The open letter from the owners said that Venice "needs" a hotel. One prepared speaker named Lisa did some quick research before she came and told us that there are 35 (!) hotels in a 2 mile radius, so yeah, we don't need it. One guy whose name I missed said, "This is a NOT in my backyard situation. This is our village, and this project will fundamentally shift the vibe of our town. No." Another guy said, "You walk down Abbot Kinney and you think, 'I wish I had a cup of coffee.' No one says, 'I wish I had a hotel.' This project is pure arrogance." Yep.
Danny was recently in Amsterdam, and was impressed at how developers there built things to conform to the historical nature of the area, which these guys should emulate. "Venice is in crisis now, this is a wonderful area that we want to preserve." Amen.
Logan said "We do NOT want this place to turn into the 3rd Street Promenade," which was echoed by David. Angelo said that if the hotel people were FOR community, they would never have even THOUGHT about putting a hotel there, and that he saw "No way to solve these problems in that location." Kim said she was opposed to a hotel that would cater to the wealthy. "Everything coming in is high end. I own two stores on Abbot Kinney (the lovely and reasonably priced Ananda and Skylark, proudly NOT corporate chain stores) and I can't afford to buy a house here. All my employees walk to work, but they're finding it hard to afford to even rent an apartment here anymore." That isn't right. That isn't Venice.
Marta asked for a show of hands opposing the hotel, and almost every hand went up. She said, "We, as Venetians, get to choose the character of our community!" and felt that the hotel group were making their "concessions" because of the pressure they're getting, not because it's what's right to do. She then plunked down over 100 letters of opposition in front of the committee for good measure. Bam!
There were maybe three or four people who spoke that were for the project, and at least two of them felt like total plants. One was so gushy about it, you'd think a Nobel Prize was next for people who want to put up a boxy, fancy hotel in a surf, skate, art neighborhood. She said, "I'm 100% in favor of this, and we don't need to hear another 'No' tonight," to which the entire place drowned out anything else she said after in a chorus of "NOOOOOOs!" It was kind of great, a very power to the people moment. Both Abrams and Kaufman said at different points in the evening, "Not to sound sarcastic (which it did) but if you don't like it, tell your neighbors not to sell." True enough (DON'T SELL!!!), but it came off as a screw you.
When all had spoken, the hotel team had a chance to respond. That was the "Then don't sell" time, and Abrams said he had bought the property before someone else - that didn't care as much - came in to build BIG without any regard for the community, and if they didn't get to build their hotel, they'd sell to someone who would. To that, someone radly yelled, "Don't threaten us!" More claps. When Abrams said, "We want to do something in the context and reality of Venice's future," that got maybe two claps. They ended with "We're listening and we hear you and we want to work with you, thank you." That might be true, but in demeanor and tone, it felt like some pandering to get what you want.
At the end, one guy said, "Look us in the eye and say you're going to do the right thing. Honor this exceptional community." Another lady said, "This project is NOT inevitable. We care. We fight. We are active activists. This is NOT a given, and CAN be stopped!" That got big applause, in solidarity.
And it can be stopped. As someone said, "Nowhere else do you see a community coming together like this. This is Venice, and our community is authentic." We all milled around in the lobby after the hotel part of the meeting was done and discussed it all. No one likes that it seems to be a matter of "Old, crazy Venice" vs. "Nouveau riche Venice," because time and money spent do not make the spirit of a place. A thoughtful population - from 50 years to 50 days living here - that honors the past, respects its beautiful diversity of residents in all income brackets (including none), and looks forward in a cool, conscientious manner is what makes a place great. We still have that, and we WILL fight for it. There will be more meetings, debate and votes about this, and we will be there. Defend Venice!
*You can learn more for yourself at AbbotKinneyHotel.com and at http://www.venicenc.org/committees/lupc
** Additional photos by Marta Evry and Mario Signore