A controversial Mar Vista development is moving forward despite concerns about height and scale

By Gary Walker

An 83-foot residential and retail complex will replace the strip mall at Venice and Wasatch

After months of public wrangling, two L.A. City Council vetoes and a bitter war of words between developer Pamela Day and Councilman Mike Bonin, a development proposal that has divided Mar Vista due to its height and scale is now moving forward — albeit with a few small adjustments.

At 83 feet, the seven-story residential and retail complex planned for 12444 Venice Blvd. would be taller than any other building in the heart of Mar Vista. Opponents also objected to its density: 77 apartments and 2,100 square feet of ground-floor retail in place of a current low-rise strip mall at the southeast corner of Venice Boulevard and Wasatch Avenue.

After two city Planning Commission approvals and two council vetoes at Bonin’s behest, the Planning Commission once again approved the project in mid-
August, only this time with concessions Bonin had requested before the vetoes: lower ceiling heights throughout the building and moving all parking spaces underground. The council subsequently signed off on the project on Aug. 30.

“We’ve made this a better project with these changes,” said Bonin, who had taken issue with surface-level parking as contrary to the city’s Great Streets initiative to make Mar Vista’s commercial core more pedestrian-friendly.

Bonin also took issue with the building’s height, but his hands were tied in that city zoning code did not impose any height limits for new structures on the 62,000-square-foot project site.

While some community leaders worry the project will pave the way for more development out of scale with existing buildings, Day and her development firm Crimson Holdings have also found support from those who want to see more available rental housing in Mar Vista.

Day has promised to set aside seven apartments as affordable housing for local artists feeling pushed out of the community by rising rents as demand for housing outweighs supply.

Although she isn’t thrilled with the final result, Day said she is eager to build housing that’s responsive to the wave of tech- and creative-industry workers flooding the Westside while also making room for less affluent local artists.

“I’m very pleased to finally get on with building the project and excited to provide our artist community with the affordable units we promised them,” Day said. “If we could only get these projects approved faster, without vetoes from our elected officials and more added fees, we’d be able to really address this housing crisis.

“My main goal right now is to drastically increase the supply of housing product for the Westside tech community. That economic driver has fueled our local economy in recent years and if we don’t create an infrastructure to support it will be at risk.”

While this certainly isn’t the first time a developer and an elected official have been at odds, the animosity between Bonin and Day was palpable to many throughout Mar Vista. One of Bonin’s deputies publicly slammed Day as having “shown an ability to antagonize those in the community who disagree with her.”

“That really surprised me,” said Mar Vista resident Saeed Ali, who vigorously opposed the project, of the tensions between Day and Bonin. “I think what Bonin was trying to do was have a project that didn’t cause any additional problems for the neighborhood. … When you’re going into business you want to get along with the person who will have some control over what you want to do.”