In 1988, the California Coastal Conservancy sponsored workshops in Venice to get input on how the community envisioned Venice in the future.
Nine neighborhoods and Ocean Front Walk, Windward Circle and Venice Boulevard were the areas of focus.
The workshop results were compiled as part of the process leading to a Local Coastal Program (LCP) for Venice that would govern development, including a plan for Venice Boulevard.
Ultimately incorporated into the Venice LCP was a Venice Boulevard beautification program that included tree planting and landscaping.
Before embellishments could be added to Venice Boulevard, the street itself had to go through a transformation.
Starting early in the last century, the electric “Red Car” railway reached the ocean via a right-of-way in what is now the median Venice Boulevard. The railway access roads formed what is now the thoroughfare.
It wasn’t until the 1950s that the railroad tracks were removed, to leave a mostly unimproved roadway.
In 1991, a complete overhaul started on the unsafe and unsightly stretch of Venice Boulevard between Pacific Avenue and Lincoln Boulevard.
For this reason, Venice Boulevard had been a target area for a vision of what was to complement the new roadway.
Keep in mind how the city of Los Angeles works — 50 years for the Venice Canals to be restored, 40 years for Venice Boulevard to be repaired.
There’s always an excuse — differences of opinion on what should be done, or no funding.
The same thing happened with the landscaping. Although a plan was in place, it turned out that funding was not made available.
Or at least not until Jim Murez ran into former high school classmate Andy Lipkis, founder of Tree People.
“By the way, Jim, do you know there is an Assembly Bill (AB 471) that Richard Katz wrote that would allow you to apply for funding to plant trees on Venice Boulevard,” Jim remembers Andy asking him.
“Wow, that’s interesting. I’ve never done anything like that before,” Jim replied.
A 43-page grant written in two weeks produced 1,400 trees for Venice — on Venice Boulevard and neighboring streets, and at five schools and three parks.
The environmental enhancement mitigation grants covered areas within five miles of a newly built Caltrans roadway or an existing one being improved.
After the trees in the median were planted, funding was still lacking for the landscaping needed for the city-owned public right-of-way on the perimeter of the roadway.
These are areas where the street had existed in the past and turned into weed-strewn blights in some cases or encampments for the homeless until the police chase them away.
These are also areas where, over the years, adjacent property owners have requested that the city grant them a “vacation” of the property (the right to use the land for their personal purposes). Fences have gone up without proper authority.
Several applications for vacations of city property have been filed, too. Jim has been quick to act.
It’s his self-imposed mission to keep these spaces open and to have them landscaped for the community to enjoy.
Jim has been able to successfully educate city agencies on how community activism for almost 20 years has strived to make Venice Boulevard a true ceremonial gateway by making a slide presentation that showed all of the Coastal Conservancy workshop plans and the landscaping plans.
This information is also available at www.venice.net/archives
His most recent endeavor opened the eyes of several prominent people and earned him valuable allies.
Not willing to accept a recent decision by the City of Los Angeles Public Works Commission that there was no environmental reason why the city should hold onto public land, Jim filed an appeal with the California Coastal Commission.
Peter Douglas, executive director of the coastal commission, also appealed.
It is typical of the commission to appeal vacations of right-of-ways when the property in question provides beach access in the coastal zone. However, there was another issue.
“The commission denied vacation based on information that was presented to us and we agreed with it,” says Teresa Henry, California Coastal Commission South Coast district manager. “The long-term planning effort that had begun was so close but had not been achieved.
“We want to allow that local effort to continue.”
Visual resources are an important coastal act policy.
“To enhance the visual qualities of the area would be really great. We support that,” she said.
William Burke, coastal commissioner and husband of County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, made the motion to deny the request.
“In our neighborhood this project is of extreme importance on many levels,” Burke said. “Not the least of is that it would reflect the commitment of the recent coastal commission actions.”
Jim remembers that in his speech Burke mentioned that he and his wife drive on Venice Boulevard regularly.
“His wife, who drives it almost every day to go to Pilates classes, loves the trees and loves what’s been done there” says Jim.
“They never realized that is was a community activism effort that made it happen.
“As a result, he could not vote in support for any motion that would allow this to be taken away from all the people who worked on it.
“The commission voted unanimously. No one understood how the city could let it get this far.”
The community vision is to complete the landscaping in the median and right-of-way areas.
Former City Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski sponsored a motion that was signed by Mayor Hahn just before she left office to fund $100,000 towards the beautification project.
“Cindy did not fully fund the landscaping because she assumed that this is something Bill (City Councilman Bill Rosendahl) would like to do,” says Sandy Kievman, Miscikowski’s former chief field deputy.
“He has a deputy in charge of special projects, so you would think this would be right up their alley and they’d want to get it done quickly,” Kievman says
So, where will the rest of the funding come from?
“We will look into the different options and have to assess what the shortfall is and what is needed,” says Mike Bonin, chief of staff for Rosendahl.
“We will work cooperatively with Jim and his community partners on what is the best way to go,” Bonin says
Many new people have come to Venice lately who aren’t aware of past and present efforts to continually improve our community. Here is one way they’ll see the difference.