The Other Side of the Seven Stories

Posted August 3, 2016 by The Argonaut in News

Building planned for Mar Vista would tower over its neighbors, but affordable housing for artists could sweeten the deal

By Gary Walker

An early conceptual rendering depicts the 85-foot residential and retail building planned for Venice Boulevard Rendering by GMPA Architects courtesy of Crimson Holdings

An early conceptual rendering depicts the 85-foot residential and retail building planned for Venice Boulevard
Rendering by GMPA Architects courtesy of Crimson Holdings

Some community leaders say a seven-story residential and retail building planned for the southeast corner of Venice Boulevard and Wasatch Avenue is just too tall — and its 77 housing units too dense — to be a good fit for Mar Vista, where single- and two-story structures are the norm.

The developer behind these plans, however, has found an unexpected ally: local artists.

The Mar Vista art scene has flourished over the past several years, with new public art and community arts events contributing to a strong post-recession comeback by independent shops and businesses.

But as rent prices go up — the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Mar Vista hit $2,900 last month, according to data scientist Andrew Woo — artists are feeling the squeeze.

After learning of plans for the building, Mar Vista ArtWalk organizer Lenore French contacted developer Crimson Holdings Real Estate Investment and Development to pitch the idea of including affordable housing for artists.

Crimson Holdings Managing Partner Pamela Day, an ArtWalk donor, embraced the idea, earning French’s enthusiastic endorsement with the promise of setting aside roughly 10% of the building’s housing space as affordable housing for artists.

French then put out the call for artists to support Day’s project at 12444 Venice Blvd., citing 2008 legislation by then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D- San Francisco) that may allow the developer to establish a preference for artists when filling affordable units.

“I believe that I’m the first developer on the Westside to use this obscure law to offer artists affordable housing. I want people to know that we’re saying Mar Vista is for artists,” said Day, adding that she’d also like to set aside five affordable units for artists in another project nearby.

The seven-story, 85-foot building planned for Venice and Wasatch is within the mile-long stretch of Venice Boulevard slated for pedestrian-friendly enhancements under the city’s Great Streets plan.

Replacing the two-story strip mall that currently houses the DeCarlo Pizza and Siam Chan restaurants as well as other businesses, the new structure would include 75 vehicle parking and 89 bicycle parking spaces at and below ground level as well as 2,100 square feet of ground-floor retail. Day said there’d be five stories of housing and another story of retail over what she called a “podium.”

At a Mar Vista Community Council Land Use and Planning meeting last month, Day emphasized her commitment to affordable housing as she revealed design plans before an audience of about 90 people.

“I work with artists, and one thing that I know is there is not enough affordable housing for them. One of the things that we’ve sought is to have more affordable housing to keep them in the community. We’re seeing time and time again — and we’re seeing now in Venice — how artists are being evicted,” French told the crowd.

D.J. Neff, a Mar Vista muralist who founded the Mar Vista Art Department studio and retail space, said he’d like to see the building go up across the street from his business.

“We are the first ones to leave [due to higher rents], but we bring beauty to the neighborhood,” added local painter Mitchelito Orquiola.

Day said her project is qualified “by right,” a term meaning that the project conforms to local zoning to the degree that only construction permits are needed — not extended city review.

But according to City Councilman Mike Bonin’s office, Day is using a density bonus that allows her to build a taller project and therefore will trigger further review by the city’s Planning Department.

The Mar Vista Community Council is slated to consider supporting or opposing the project at its Aug. 9 meeting.

Reaction to the development was mixed, and the primary objection seemed to be its height.

One of its most vocal opponents is Ken Alpern, a long-time member of the community council.

“The fact is this project could have been smaller. The presentation that was given was so filled with half-truth and falsehoods that it’s hard not to be upset,” Alpern said.

Ray Gunther, a 28-year resident, said the building’s height would transform Venice Boulevard into resembling other Westside thoroughfares that are lined with high rises and suggested that the building could set a dangerous precedent.

“This thing is way too big. It’s monstrous, hideous, it’s unconscionable. This is what’s coming to Mar Vista. It’s going to become the next Wilshire Boulevard. And to those of you who are happy with it, all I can say is be careful what you wish for,” Gunther said.

Concerned about traffic, resident Leanne Chaney was initially opposed to the project but became less skeptical after Day and others spoke about how ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft are deemphasizing the need for automobile ownership.

“Urban life is changing and we’re going to have to deal with these issues [of cars and traffic]. I have to learn how to integrate these new changes into my life, as we all do,” she said.

Bonin has asked the Planning Department to request a public hearing due in part to the project’s height.

In order to maximize “pedestrian orientation” for the Great Streets initiative, he believes all projects on the boulevard should have underground parking.

“This will dramatically change the character of Venice Boulevard, which is undergoing a rebirth due to the mayor’s Great Streets initiative,” Bonin said.




    I hope people come to the MVCC Board meeting on August 9th (7pm at Mar Vista Park) to see a presentation on this project. Many attendees at the PLUM meeting came expecting to oppose it and changed their minds. Unfortunately, there was some misinformation on height. My understanding is that the building is 60′ tall at the roofdeck with just a few units on the fifth floor having lofts that go up to 71′ at the tallest. It’s not actually a 7 story building.
    The developer has increased the parking to 87 spaces and there is potential for more. Looking forward to seeing everyone there!

    Curt Steindler

    This is the first step to turning the West Side into Mid-Wilshire; if you want to live in an area with that much density, please live there. It will change the entire character of the neighborhood. The infrastructure of this area cannot support this much density, even with its “pedestrian orientation.” (Without a complete revamping of this area’s structure, particularly public transport, everyone will still use a car.) Basically it is a solution looking for a problem.

    PJ Day

    To clarify and correct, the project is 5 residential stories over one retail podium. It is not 85′ high, nor is it 7 stories high.

    The density is set by Planning Code. My code, it could have been a high rise, but the developer chose to make it only 5 stories over podium.

    Darian B.

    Thank god for new housing! There is a housing crisis going on and all the NIMBYs want to talk about is height. What about being homeless because you’re priced out of new housing?

    Nothing will change the “character of the neighborhood” more than everyone moving away because they can’t afford it.


      Hi Darian, I’m wondering how you think that this building is going to help homeless people? I’d be thrilled to have a developer create homeless / transitional housing in Mar Vista, but this project ain’t it…


      You think this will HELP the area?? This isn’t affordable housing. There will be a “few” units earmarked “affordable”, but aren’t there a few “affordable” units in Playa Vista? This just means that while they’ll have 5% affordable, the rest will be obscenely priced like everything else. How does that help the homeless?

        Common Sense

        It’s called supply and demand. As the supply increases, the cost goes down for everyone. Further, more housing at the top creates more opportunities for housing for people in the middle and at the bottom because the people at the top are moving into these units leaving units in the middle and bottom open for other people.


      “Concerned about traffic, resident Leanne Chaney was initially opposed to the project but became less skeptical after Day and others spoke about how ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft are deemphasizing the need for automobile ownership.” —
      How does this help traffic? Don’t the Uber and Lyft vehicles have to DRIVE into traffic? The only thing “deemphasizing the need for automobile ownership” would help is PARKING. And you can’t honestly think that people still wouldn’t own cars.
      What would help ease traffic is for the city to slow down the growth and put the infrastructure it needs into place first — public transportation that makes sense, emergency services, power systems, WATER lines! Water mains are breaking everywhere, but “hey, let’s put more pressure on them with 100,000 more residents!”

    Fred Davis

    Honestly, does anyone really believe that they will actually follow through on their promise to the artists? Even if they do, the rents will quickly become out of reach for them as demand will inevitably drive the rents up and they’ll be quickly priced out. Which coincidentally, and as noted, is exactly why they’re in Mar Vista and not Venice.


    The seven storey height allowance is a real problem for me. I believe that it sets a precedent for our neighborhood that we will come to truly regret. If this building is allowed to go that high, we are, soon enough, going to become another Marina Del Rey or Wilshire Corridor, both of which I find hideous. In the coming years, you will be riding your bike / walking / driving along a sea of buildings on each side, blocking the sky, the light, the clouds, and everything we love about living down here. Perhaps all of the sustainable details of this particular project are smart and engaging, but once a building of that size goes up, remember that the next building and the next and the next that gets built are not going to be required, nor necessarily have to adhere to those standards. I think we should think deeply about this before allowing ourselves to be seduced by the promise of “artists” and “green features” in trade for opening the door to a floodgate of developers whose profit agendas have nothing to do with the spirit and uniqueness of our neighborhood, and really, do not care (albeit in community meetings, of course they will act as if they do). I can’t imagine the traffic crush that this will bring, over time, and the density. The scale will be tipped. Only more to come. There must be a better way. Just my $0.02…..

      I Like Buildings

      The property as zoned has no height restriction – so it is not setting a precedent, it is already allowed – actually, this property was planned to have a tall building on it.

    Christopher McKinnon

    Some google hits you can check yourself:

    To paraphrase the Boyle Heights art galleries get out activists: “Defend Mar Vista”

    Gabriel Martinez

    What about starving evicted the rest of us living on Venice Blvd in Mar Vista. There is a huge population of low income people living in Mar Vista. Projects like these have a domino effect and are the direct cause of homelessness. This is the same Pamela Day that has her office on Venice Blvd and has a Marijuana Dispensary in that same building. I pick up my two girls from school there 10 months out of the year and she allows the dispensary to have people smoke the pot on premise. The smoke comes pouring out into the sidewalk and my girls and I have to inhale that stuff 5 days a week. Pamela has no consideration for school aged childrens health. What is with The Art Department. Who can afford to shop there anyway? Artists compromise a small part of the population in Mar Vista. Artists are great but this development is obviously going to cater to wealthy people who can afford the high rents.

    Gabriel Martinez

    Correction, my kids go to school in Mar Vista and I have to deal with Pamela’s tenants that run a pot dispensary there smoking pot on premise blowing smoke our way each day 5 days a week. Is this someone you can trust? I don’t think so.

    Gabriel Martinez

    I read the yelp reviews. Pamela Day has been waiting like a hawk to prey on Mar Vista and if we let her, she will destroy our community. What I don’t understand is this whole shop small campaign. Ever since this great streets thing started I’ve seen these shops start catering to people with a lot of wealth. Even the farmers market in Mar Vista is geared towards people who can afford their over priced produce. The art dept is catering to rich and wealthy artists. Surfing Cowboys is also geared towards wealthy people. This shop small campaign and the great streets thing is geared toward the rich and wealthy gentrifiers. Pamela Day has been waiting like a hawk to prey on Mar Vista and if we let her, she will destroy our community. She is trying to make herself look good on paper that she is all for artists. Her record speaks for itself and the only thing Pamela Day is concerned with is profit taking. I have to pick up my girls from school 5 days a week, and Pamela Day allowed a pot dispensary to have people smoke inside, on premise. The whole sidewalk is lit up with marijuana smoke. My children inhale the smoke, and it’s hard for them to breathe after we walk past that building. Bonin should look into that matter. Gary Walker should also investigate. There is something very shady about Pamela Day and this woman and her company can’t be trusted.


    Can’t believe they actually wrote those words by Ray Gunther. He should be ejected from the dialogue immediately…high rises? It’s seven stories. Check the dictionary that’s not high rise. “it’s monstrous” The reporter shouldn’t have even given the man a forum to speak. Ray do me a favor and move to Montana. I have no stake in this project but LA has the worst affordability in the country thanks to backwoods people like this who complain about high rents in one breath and shoot down everything that tries to solve that.

    for all the complainers about prices in the comment section, do the math, if 15 of these are built along a very busy thoroughfare (ideally where you want density according to every urban planner with a degree), do you think rents would go up and down? Duh, they would probably drop by function of pure supply and demand. There’s only a limited amount of people that can afford top of the market rents. demand stays constant, supply rises, prices drop.
    For anyone need math lessons, please reply and i’ll give you my personal email and cell.

    As to mar vista, it’s on a busy street and a weird mixture of existing uses. LA is a major metropolitan City, one of the largest in the world. If you are the resistant to 77 housing units going up, please move. The rest of the world would like a place to live besides a shitty 1960’s dingbat.

    Oh yeah, i can’t buy a home because they’re egregiously overpriced thanks to the same housing shortage.


    While the idea of “artist housing” is really nice, I have to wonder a few things. 1- Would they actually put artists in those units, or is that just lip service to get more approval from the neighborhood? 2- Who decides which artists get to be a part of this? This smacks of bad Fair Housing practice, and it seems like it might be illegal in the first place. 3- The starving artist story might be true in some cases, but there are many successful artists in Los Angeles. Again, who decides who gets this discounted rate? You could be a six-figure artist (though rare) saving tons of rent when you pal up with this building owner. I paint you a mural, get cheap rent, win win! There are simply too many logistical issues… It does sound really nice in concept, but there is no meat here.


    BAMM – and the confirmation is in, and the building height is confirmed by Mike Bonins Planning Deputy – 85′ was the application to the City, as in the 85′ he wrote in his letter saying it was too big and wanted a hearing, as in 85′ – 7 Stories, NOT 71′ as presented by the Architect at the Mar Vista Community Council Board Meeting, NOT 71′ as presented by the Developer at the Mar Vista Community Council Board Meeting, which the minutes of the meeting will reflect and confirm the Bait & Switch Effort. Can you trust these people Hell No, do you believe Artists will get these Apartments? I will let you answer that one for yourself! But from me, Hell NOOOOO!

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