Despite continued protests and now a lawsuit, the city is holding firm on Venice Boulevard changes

By Gary Walker

There are two kinds of people in Mar Vista these days: those who support the reconfiguration of Venice Boulevard as part of the city’s Great Streets project and Vision Zero traffic safety initiative, and those who are on a mission to unravel the changes.

At this month’s meeting of the Mar Vista Community Council, people incensed by the removal of traffic lanes to install protected bike lanes between parked cars and the sidewalk waved bright orange “Restore Venice Boulevard” signs, much as they’ve done at meetings since the summer of 2017. Three weeks earlier, the leader of a community group of the same name filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming public officials violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by implementing changes without proper review.

“This project has been a disaster and has divided our community. What it has done to our community is unforgivable,” Council Chairman Elliot Hanna, who joined the board after a wave of member resignations over infighting related to the controversy, said during the meeting.

Council members discussed whether to commission an independent traffic study and an Americans with Disabilities Act evaluation of the project, but ultimately tabled those ideas hoping that L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin, who met with a smaller group of council members last, would personally address the council in March. They want Bonin to host a public town hall discussing the Great Streets Project, which has been the subject of information sessions, community surveys and informal conversations at the Mar Vista Farmers Market, but still left many locals feeling in the dark.

Bolstered by a city Department of Transportation analysis finding fewer injuries to motorists and bicyclists in the first 12 months since implementation — including a 14% drop in collisions overall and a 75% drop in crashes at Venice Boulevard and Centinela Avenue, the busiest intersection of the .8-mile reconfiguration between Inglewood Boulevard and Beethoven Street — Bonin declared in December that traffic pattern changes will remain permanent.

“At this point I have to honestly tell you that the decision to make the project permanent has been made,” Bonin’s transportation deputy, Eric Bruins, reiterated to council members during the Feb. 12 meeting.

Great Streets opponents have complained that separating parking spots from the curb confuses motorists, creating safety hazards and discouraging patronage of local businesses, and that losing a traffic lane in each direction has increased traffic congestion.

The city’s report comparing May 2017 to May 2018 date with the 12 months prior found traffic volumes remained the same, resulting in only a roughly 30-second increase of travel times at peak hours.

A number of local business owners have spoken out against the project, some blaming it for their businesses going under, but the city report found that business revenue in the area increased by more than $3 million between the 2016 and 2017 calendar years and appears to be trending upward.

Selena Innoye, chief organizer of Restore Venice Boulevard and president of parent organization the Westside Los Angeles Neighbors Network Board, which filed the CEQA lawsuit, says more study of the lane closures is needed.

“They’ve made the project permanent without community input and no public process. During the pilot project, there were enough concerns raised that the city should have conducted an environmental impact report,” said Inouye, a Mar Vista resident. “This has driven a wedge between the residents
of this community, and Councilman Bonin should come to Mar Vista to address his constituents.”

Mar Vista resident Vanessa Colosio Diaz, who is in her early 30s, observed during the meeting that opinions about the Great Streets project appear to have some correlation with the ages of residents and whether they own or rent their homes.

Younger people, who tend to be renters, seem to favor the more pedestrian-centric business district orientation, she said. By contrast, older people who own their homes and have lived in the community longer seem more likely to resent the changes — and control the dialogue about them.

“There are supporters who just aren’t as outspoken or feel too intimidated to speak out. I also think renters should have more representation. I’m tired of the intimidation factor by those that oppose the changes,” Diaz said.