Some attentive Venice residents recently joined together to make sure that a particular piece of city-owned property was not put up for sale without allowing community members to propose potential neighborhood uses for the land.

As it turns out, the property — a fenced dirt lot at 520 Venice Way, near Venice Boulevard — has been considered by neighbors for years as a site for possible projects, such as a community garden.

The Venice Neighborhood Council recommended at its meeting in September that the specific parcel be excluded from a motion regarding proposed sales of Los Angeles-owned property in Venice. The motion stated that all proposed sales of city property be submitted to the Neighborhood Council Land Use and Planning Committee to allow the public to comment on “what it deems the best use of the property.”

The Venice Way parcel was excluded from the motion at the recommendation of a deputy for City Councilman Bill Rosendahl to allow the property to be put up for auction early this month. Proceeds from the sale would then go into a surplus property fund to be used for a potential parking facility in the future.

But resident Dennis Hathaway said he realized that the parcel was the only Venice property excluded from the motion, and knowing that some residents had previously expressed interest in using the land for neighborhood projects, he informed other community members of the situation.

“I was concerned that the property that belonged to the public would be sold without any public input and I thought that the community should have a chance to say if they wanted it for a community purpose,” Hathaway said.

Other residents who have been actively involved with the Venice Way lot over the years also expressed concerns that the site was excluded from the committee motion and brought the issue to the attention of the Neighborhood Council and Rosendahl.

Resident Jim Murez, who has planted trees near the lot along Venice Boulevard, said he proposed October 21st that the Neighborhood Council reconsider excluding the parcel from the motion, to allow the community to weigh in on the best uses for the land.

“They may not agree on the uses, but at least it needs to be heard publicly,” Murez said of his proposal to the council.

Grace Godlin, a resident who lives in the Venice Canals, said some of her neighbors have considered using the lot for a community garden and she also suggested to the Neighborhood Council that the disposition of the property be addressed by the community. She added that she learned of the potential sale at “the 11th hour” and feared that the property could be taken away from community use if something wasn’t done.

“I believe that once a public property is lost for private use it’s virtually lost forever,” said Godlin, president of the neighborhood group Voice of the Canals.

After residents requested that the Venice Way lot be included in the vetting process for proposed property sales, Rosendahl spoke at the Neighborhood Council meeting October 21st, explaining how the parcel was originally excluded at the recommendation of the Neighborhood Council.

“If the Neighborhood Council had said [the parcel should be included] initially I wouldn’t have ever put it on the block,” said Rosendahl, explaining how the parcel was first put up for auction.

Murez said that the 4,000-square-foot parcel had received a minimum auction bid of $400,000, but he questioned why the site was considered for potential parking facility funding because it would most likely not generate enough profits for such a facility.

But in learning of the residents’ desires to vet the best uses of the property, Rosendahl said he introduced a motion to withdraw the parcel from the list of surplus properties available for auction, which was approved unanimously by the City Council October 28th.

“I said, if we can find a better use that the community will buy into then let’s do it,” the councilman said. “The property is back in community hands and is no longer on the chopping block.”

Rosendahl noted that there is still a “risk” that the mayor might reconsider such parcels to be sold to deal with the city’s budget crisis, and there may not be enough support on the council to prevent that.

Venice residents praised the councilman’s actions to bring the property back to the community vetting process.

“I was very pleased to see it spared,” Godlin said.

Murez added, “I think it was a win for the community.”

Community members say they will now have the opportunity to discuss various uses of the land to benefit the community. Among the suggested proposals are landscaping and beautification projects, a nursery and a community garden with a learning program. Murez said the site is centrally located and ideal for beautification projects or a nursery.

“It’s very clear that this is a prime location to do this type of work,” he said.

Resident Suzanne Thompson, co-founder of the Venice Arts Council, said the site is “part of the gateways into Venice.” She said she supports using city property for affordable housing, but a community garden would be more suitable for the Venice Way location. The lot would require minimal work to be turned into a community garden and such a project would involve the community, she said.

“I like the idea of a community garden because it provides ongoing community interaction,” Thompson said. “We want the community to be involved and to feel like they own [the property].”

Godlin agreed that having the community work together on projects will help make residents feel more like neighbors.

“When the community works together on a project like that it fosters a sense of community,” she said.

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