Owners of commercial properties near the beach may tap their own wallets to maintain public spaces

By Gary Walker

After two years of wrangling with the concept, Venice commercial property owners are about to take the first official step toward forming a local business improvement district — a mechanism for privately funding collective efforts to enhance public spaces.

Organizers say specific goals for the Venice BID would be hammered out after its formation, but basic maintenance and sanitation issues such as graffiti removal and keeping public restrooms clean are high on a list of immediate priorities.

The proposed boundaries of the Venice BID include areas between the Venice Boardwalk and Pacific Avenue from Venice Boulevard to the Santa Monica border, plus a Rose Avenue corridor from the beach to Fourth Avenue.

BID formation paperwork is currently pending approval by the city clerk’s office, Debbie Dyner-Harris, district director for Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin, told the Venice Neighborhood Council last week.

If the initial paperwork is approved, city officials will begin contacting commercial property owners to ask whether they’d like to join the BID. The self-imposed financial assessments to create and operate the Venice BID would come from commercial property owners, with residential property owners exempted, Dyner-Harris said.

Venice Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Donna Lasman said the organization has a general view of BIDs as helpful for businesses, residents and visitors.

“Venice is host to over 10 million visitors every year, and currently there is no mechanism in place for our community stakeholders to expedite any form of improvements, whether it be for public safety, sanitation or aesthetic appeal,” Lasman said. “A BID along Ocean Front Walk will provide its members with the ability to effectively make critically needed changes and upgrades that will result in a more welcoming and safe environment that rivals neighboring beach communities.”

Tom Elliott, owner of the Venice Ale House on Ocean Front Walk and the Bank of Venice Public House on Windward Avenue, has previously been supportive of a BID that would encompass Ocean Front Walk. He remains cautiously optimistic as the possibility moves forward but is eager to see how the specifics develop.

“I’m for the concept but the details of it still need to be sussed out,” Elliott said.

If approved by city officials and supported by commercial property owners, Venice’s BID would become the fifth BID in Bonin’s city council district, Dyner-Harris said.

Existing BIDs include the Westchester Town Center Business Improvement
District and the LAX-adjacent Gateway To L.A. Business Improvement District.

The Washington Square Business Improvement Group, formed by Washington Boulevard merchants located near the beach, is a voluntary membership group and not a formal city-approved BID, said Dyner-Harris.

Some business assessment groups have been successful in transforming blighted areas into bustling retail and entertainment corridors.

Once three blocks of mostly dilapidated or derelict buildings, the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica began to emerge as a regional shopping and dining destination after a citywide bond measure refurbished public spaces and the city partnered with the nonprofit Bayside District Corporation — now called Downtown Santa Monica Inc. — to develop and maintain the area.

Downtown Santa Monica Inc. manages a business assessment district that provides maintenance services, funds infrastructure repairs and operates a hospitality ambassador service to assist visitors, residents, city employees and social services agencies.

Carl Lambert, a BID supporter who owns several commercial properties in Venice, cites a
Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board survey that found unsanitary conditions to be
the biggest turnoff for visitors to Venice Beach.

“I’m standing on the roof of a building looking down at the boardwalk and portions of it are covered in six inches of sand. The city doesn’t have the resources to keep the sand off the boardwalk, maintain the bathrooms and paint out graffiti,” Lambert said. “A BID will help improve sanitation.”

Not everyone thinks a BID is right for Venice, however.

During Dyner-Harris’ presentation to neighborhood council members, Venice resident Margaret Molloy questioned why so many residential areas would fall within the boundary of the Venice BID if residential properties are to be exempt from involvement.

“I’m completely opposed to it. From my point of view, [BIDs] are primarily focused around private security and further harassing the homeless,” Molloy said.

Because the Venice BID is in its nascent stages, it is not known whether the Venice BID would include private security officers or hospitality ambassadors.

Westchester Town Center BID Executive Director Don Duckworth thinks business owners in Venice will be happy with the results if their BID is approved.

“Ours has helped enhance and revitalize the businesses on Sepulveda Boulevard and helped raise the area’s property values,” Duckworth said.

The activities of a BID can be narrowly tailored to meet local needs, and Duckworth encourages Venice property owners to think carefully about their priorities.

The Westchester Town Center BID has facilitated landscape and lighting improvements as well as pressure washing of sidewalks, graffiti removal, tree plantings and street sweeping.

“I think the benefits have been very clear to the property owners in the BID and to visitors to Westchester,” Duckworth said.

Managing Editor Joe Piasecki contributed to this story.