Before you get on board with the Great Streets Initiative, consider the evolution of Venice

In response to “Garcetti’s Great Streets Initiative: The Mayor’s Ambitious Plan to Remake Los Angeles One Block at a Time,” cover story, Sept. 18

By Roxanne Brown

Mayor Eric Garcetti and L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin recently announced an $800,000 “Great Streets” initiative designed, the mayor says in The Argonaut’s Sept. 18 cover story, to rejuvenate the city’s neighborhood main streets by, among other things, keeping a “human scale” and “the character of the neighborhood.”  Bonin is a great supporter of this program.

coverOn the surface the project sounds good. But the actions of City Hall suggest that the mayor’s lofty pronouncements are cover for neighborhood overdevelopment and congestion. That is what is happening in Venice, where Bonin’s pro-development support is unraveling the qualities that made and sustained Venice as a unique California beach community and worldwide tourist destination.

Mar Vista, ground zero for the mayor’s initiative, should take note at what is occurring with its neighbor to the west.  Mayor Garcetti may talk of maintaining a human scale for neighborhood main streets, but on Abbott Kinney the opposite is happening under Bonin’s watch. On the south end of Abbott Kinney, a new modern one-block hotel will likely arise. [Editor’s note: Bonin has not supported the proposed Abbot Kinney Hotel.] All along Venice’s Main Street, new and taller buildings are appearing; rows of food trucks and traffic congestion now are clouding the small town vibrancy of this historic street. The mayor talks about the need for people to “experience the character of their neighborhood,” but most of the mom-and-pop stores of Abbot Kinney have been chased out and replaced by retail corporations. Even Surfing Cowboys, the Mar Vista store featured in the Argonaut’s story about the mayor’s plans, was forced to relocate there from Abbott Kinney because of exorbitant high rents due to Bonin’s support of a new Venice [Editor’s note: Surfing Cowboys relocated before Bonin took office].

That is not all that should worry Mar Vista residents and other city neighborhoods that will be targeted to become part of the mayor’s plan. In Venice, development has run amok and city code enforcement officers are nowhere to be seen. For example, neighbors have complained about Fran Camaj’s Gjelina restaurant — seating over capacity, building dining facilities without permits, amplified music being heard in their homes, traffic and parking shenanigans — but the city has done nothing.

With so much development, restaurants in Venice now want to come into residential areas. Camaj is proposing his third restaurant in Venice at 320 Sunset Ave. — on a residential and artists’ street — 12 feet six inches from residents. Camaj’ first sought a permit for a bakery, but now it comes out that he wants a full-blown restaurant. Looks like Camaj’s bakery was a fakery. In the window of 320 Sunset is now a notice of intent to have a restaurant serving 65 on an outdoor patio, 25 inside, with a liquor license, operating from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. That doesn’t include the take-out customers and employees, vendors, maintenance, deliveries, or their vehicles. Prior tenants at 320 Sunset were six architects. That’s 20-plus times the intensity of use in the residential/artists’ Oakwood neighborhood of Venice.

While the mayor may speak of making neighborhood main streets a family-friendly place — as if they were not already — his strategy, or at least the strategy being used in Venice under Bonin’s watch, is witnessing the hijacking of entire neighborhoods of taxpaying citizens by one or two restaurant/hotel/business owners. [Editor’s note: Bonin is opposed to the 320 Sunset Ave. project.]

Rather than the hyped vision of the mayor’s Great Streets program, the approach to preserving and improving Los Angeles neighborhoods appears more likely to unravel the unique fabric of the very neighborhoods that Garcetti and Bonin claim they want to improve. That certainly is the process now underway in Venice.

Garcetti and Bonin seem to be giving the green light to business owners and developers that it is OK to ignore permits, laws and codes. This sets a precedent, having a disastrous domino effect. Rather than building neighborhoods, they are destroying neighborhoods throughout Los Angles — one block at a time. Beware, Mar Vista.

Editor’s Note: Argonaut reporters aren’t the only ones with a voice. If you have more to say about one of our stories than you can squeeze into a letter to the editor, contact to pitch a Power to Speak reader column.