Overdevelopment and antisocial behavior are ruining what used to be a great place to live
By Jack Schwartz
The author is an attorney who’s lived in Venice for more than two decades.
My mailman plans to retire soon and tells me he’ll be moving to Mt. Shasta. When I ask if he’ll miss Venice, his reply is “I already do.” Venice has already lost what made him love this place.
When I bought my house in Venice 21 years ago, I installed large windows so I could see the sky and trees and enjoy the quiet street out front. My neighbors were three elderly ladies in modest homes they had purchased for about $9,000 when their husbands worked for Douglas Aircraft at what’s now Santa Monica Airport. Once in a while I’d come home from work to find beautiful brown hawks sitting on my fence. When he had a heavy rain, Penmar Park filled with ducks.
Sure, things weren’t perfect around Penmar Park back then: no scheduled street cleaning, park-user trash thrown out of cars, a few off-leash dogs scaring old folks out on their daily walks, used condoms in the gutter from hookers who worked out of their cars, the early Monday onslaught of trash trucks (even on holiday weekends).
These days I keep my windows closed and the curtains shut. Though we Venetians are mostly Bernie Sanders types, I can relate to what the Trumpers feel — outrage at the middle class getting stomped on by destructive economic forces, offense at gentrifying newcomers’ sense of entitlement, and frustration with the city’s unwillingness to do anything about it.
The quality and uniqueness of Venice life is sliding downhill, thanks to an influx of the rich and tasteless.
The average lot size east of Lincoln Boulevard is larger than to the west, so developers are buying up homes here by the fist-full, displacing families and the elderly to build giant boxes that look like 7-Elevens or county jails. They house transient Airbnb tourists or new neighbors who are often unfriendly. We live in a 7a.m.-to-5 p.m. construction zone six days a week. And when you feel the vibrations of the bulldozers, you look out your window and instead of blue sky and trees you see a wall. If you’re really unlucky, you have a neighbor’s second-floor exterior balcony with a clear view into your bedroom, as I now have from three.
Across the street from me are two houses that appear to be competing for the title of the Westside’s Ugliest Building. Think bizarre exteriors, double-lot footprints and prices in the $6-million range. One of my new neighbors, the Venice Wave House at 1234 Morningside Way, is complemented by barricades out front that make it look like street parking is prohibited there — this way potential buyers get an unobstructed view of the property.
There are still great reasons to live in Venice. Ocean breezes. People strolling down or whizzing by on a variety of wheels. Mini library stands that offer a free book to borrow. My yard full of birds and bees and butterflies. And some new homes are truly innovative, by which I mean creative and beautiful instead of flashy and out of context with the neighborhood. We still have a handful of affordable restaurants and lots of what I call real Venetians — people just odd enough to be interesting.
What else do we have? Traffic. Congested intersections. Cars speeding on residential streets. Morons driving with dogs in their laps. Ignored stop signs — even next to playing fields. Lots of illegal off-leash dogs in the park (Recreation & Parks employees tell me it’s up to police to enforce leash laws, but police incorrectly say no one is asking them to do so as my neighbors and I have done). Flyers and flyswatters stuffed into our gates by ambitious real estate agents. Hundreds of takeoffs and landings from nearby Santa Monica Airport. Nine-dollar beers and $15 glasses of wine on Rose Avenue for the overpaid tech kids. Fortress-high fences and hedges dividing newcomers from their neighbors. Broken sidewalks. Live-in RVs with toilet flush streams flowing into the gutter.
And, same as 21 years ago, no regular street cleanings. I’ve complained to Councilman Mike Bonin’s office about the lack of street cleaning, off-leash dogs and speeding cars, only to have an aide tell me there are neighborhoods with even greater problems and the city can’t be everywhere all the time.
And so Venice has become a place where people can drive fast with a phone in their hand and ignore inconvenient stop signs on the way home to their mini-mansions, then walk their horse-sized dogs over to the park to use it as a toilet. Antisocial behavior is no longer the exclusive province of the filthy rich, it’s the norm.
Something must be done, and soon, or Venice will become nothing more than a destination in tourist guidebooks. It would be better if it also remained a nice place to live.
A version of this column first appeared in the Los Angeles Times.