Don’t believe the hype: the Venice Median Project would improve equity and restore civic identity

By Francisco Letelier

Letelier is a longtime Venice artist responding to an Aug. 3 article about plans to build 140 units of affordable housing on the Venice Boulevard median between Pacific and Dell avenues.

I was dismayed to read the headline “No Middle Ground for Venice Median Project,” and I have certainly not witnessed the “early and concentrated pushback” mentioned in the subtitle. If The Argonaut had found time to speak to the numerous supporters of the project, the article’s subtitle might have been: “Despite some disgruntled residents, the project captures the imagination and hopes of many in Venice with an unprecedented allocation of artist housing and plans for community cultural space.”

For this longtime Venice resident who’s been active in many endeavors to improve our community, the Venice Median Project promises a small oasis of comfort amid ongoing development plans and changes in Venice that rarely address our civic and cultural public spaces or identity.

Instead of seeking out artists and others in Venice who over the last decade have most felt the impact of current changes and who are prepared to speak to the doubts and concerns of community members, The Argonaut was content to quote extensively from those who apparently organize solely to counter the work of L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin and lay global problems of homelessness, density and traffic management at his doorstep.

The article confuses readers in many ways. Instead of casting Venice Community Housing Corporation in an honest light as a nonprofit organization that has existed for decades in Venice and that continues to gather a noteworthy reputation for its programs and properties, the article quotes from persons either uninformed about their work or who belittle its abilities and accomplishments.

It’s easy to conjure a bogeyman when talking about a housing and business development that provides for the homeless. It’s understandable that many are cynical and distrusting. But it’s important to discern between those who have proven themselves allies of the things that the great majority of Venetians feel comprise the true “heart” of Venice and others who have hidden political agendas or are motivated solely by short-term profit.

A large number of Venice residents (and Argonaut readers) yearn for affordable housing. This project would provide affordable housing not only for the homeless but for many others, including artists and social entrepreneurs. It would also provide a significant community gardening opportunity and a much-needed cultural space for both its residents and the larger community, assets that have proven to benefit communities all over the world.

The flight of artists from Venice is a reality. The project’s inclusion of artist spaces that open to the street creates the possibility of an arts district in Venice — one that cannot be “Snapped up” or “Gjentrified.”

Cultural and artistic spaces and endeavors are an integral part of whatever may be called the “heart” of Venice. I do not have to assure Argonaut readers that the Venice’s heart is not the obscure and underused median strip already designated as public parking.

And not only would the project preserve public parking there, it would transform the space into a true destination — a place where one can visit art spaces, patronize business enterprises run by local residents that aim to effect social change, explore a community garden, and experience cultural events or exhibitions.

Such community benefits are hard to calculate on paper, but I am sure they add up to more than that offered by another big box or fancy restaurant.

I hope that in the future The Argonaut helps perpetuate a well-informed dialogue about housing and development in Venice. Nothing and no one can solve our problems with a silver bullet, magic wand, or clever housing development. Venetians must do what other communities do to preserve and sustain the wellbeing of our entire community in an inclusive way. The Venice Community Housing Corporation’s affordable housing proposal will be a move in the right direction.