Let’s shift the conversation from personal attacks to promoting our values
Venice can be a lot like the Washington Beltway in that it loves to argue, but rarely do disagreements about hot topics such as development and homelessness result in effective compromise. One side might get part of what it wants, but the fighting never really stops. The loudest voices remain ideologically entrenched and people get the idea very little is being accomplished, except maybe hurt feelings.
And so it is ironic, but not entirely unexpected, that some of those who fought the loudest against formation of the Venice Beach Business Improvement District have been attacking its board for getting off to a slow start on the very objectives opponents criticized: litter removal crews and public safety bike patrols.
What’s taking so long? It’s not a conspiracy. Initial attempts to block the bid kept the city from disbursing funds until late last year and delayed operations, according to public documents.
About 75% of the fledging BID’s roughly $1.8-million annual budget is designated for “clean and safe” programs starting this spring along the boardwalk area, Windward Circle and Main Street. The clean team, to be staffed by graduates of local nonprofit Chrysalis’ job-training programs for homeless or struggling adults, will sweep and power wash sidewalks, scrub away graffiti and maintain landscaping. The safe team, to be staffed by subcontractor Allied Universal, will be tasked to “observe and report” safety hazards or criminal behavior and provide general information to members of the public, including social services referrals.
Critics read between the lines and see gentrification. They fear wealthy property and business interests will use the BID to further sand down Venice’s rough edges until the place becomes a sterile monoculture caricature of its former funky self.
We understand that Venice is worth fighting for. No one identifies more with his or her community than a truly committed Venetian, many of whom have been displaced by an infusion of wealth or have seen a lot of what they love about the place disappear.
But picking up trash, deterring violent confrontations (like those that prompted two shootings on Windward Avenue last month) or even just helping people feel safer in Venice doesn’t necessarily equate to a Tourists Über Alles secret police.
At least it doesn’t have to, if residents make their values and expectations clear instead of taking an ad hominem, scorched earth approach that will only further entrench perceived ideological differences.
There are Venetians who oppose further gentrification of Venice who will also tell you that Venice does not get its fair share of city services to balance out the impacts of tourism and the socioeconomic problems the community is asked to bear. The BID represents commercial property owners “taxing” themselves to expand services that benefit them as well as others who utilize these public spaces.
Leadership of the LAPD’s Pacific Division has repeatedly stated that the bulk of crime happening on and around the Venice Boardwalk is homeless people victimizing other homeless people. There are those who have called the BID a conspiracy to chase homeless people out of Venice, but if implemented correctly — that is, with compassion — BID operations could be a lifeline for homeless victims of crime.
Instead of simply lashing out at leadership of the BID, those who oppose the BID in concept should vocalize what the BID should and should not do in order to earn either their support or begrudging acceptance.
BIDs are powerful tools for community organization and distribution of resources that have been implemented in 40 Los Angeles neighborhoods since 1994. Venice is comparatively late to the starting line. But if we can stop tearing each other down long enough to clearly state constructive expectations for a BID that honors Venice’s core values, there’s a chance we’ll get it right.