Venice residents have every right to fight back when developers want too much

By DeDe Audet

“Anarchy in Paradise,” Laurette Healey’s Power to Speak column in the Nov. 6 issue of The Argonaut, brings to mind John Godfrey Saxe’s poem about the different ways six blind men perceive an elephant. The first feels a muscular side and thinks an elephant is like a wall. The second feels a tusk and thinks an elephant is like a spear. In a similar way, Ms. Healey’s article only represents her view of the law.

What she missed in her critique of the Venice Neighborhood Council’s handling of development issues is the very purpose of land-use and planning laws: the protection of private property rights. Her assumption that some power beyond the control of residents interprets the law for this community is where she takes the first step down the path to misunderstanding. The California Constitution makes it very clear that the power rests with the people to protect their rights.

Residents of Venice all have different ideas about how the laws shall be interpreted. What I gather from Ms. Healey’s position is that she believes her interpretation is best for the whole community.

But that isn’t the way it works in Venice.

People here are very concerned about land use and ready to pursue their vision of the law. So it is quite understandable that some developers are bound to be disappointed when their plans do not receive community approval.

Any set of plans always is most successful when it “fits” the community for which it was planned. Unless that plan fits the dominant vision of the residents, it will not be welcome. Successful plans are the ones for which the developer has scouted the community to see what will fit.

There is some current concern about residents’ judgment being too “subjective.” Well, yes — frequently it is. We are people of sensitivity. Who isn’t? After all, who would be wakened by car doors slamming in the middle of the night? Who is better situated to be subjective about the noise: the resident close to the noise or the planner downtown? And, when a plan is too massive for its surroundings, who has the better judgment: the planner, or the residents who have to walk around a mansion to see if neighbors’ lights are on?

My neighbor Jane works odd hours. So, in the evening, I check to see if her lights are on before going over for a chat.

Most importantly, Ms. Healey’s article reveals how uninformed City Hall can be. Working in that atmosphere tends to obscure the great variety of communities in Los Angeles, and her article reveals that she spent some time downtown. For instance, consider what residents of Venice are accustomed to: the dozens of city and tour buses clogging our streets on weekends and holidays; the millions of tourists who bring $15 billion — yes, billions — in revenue from our beaches to city and county treasuries.

And do not overlook all the local folks who come here from the valleys and East Los Angeles for a little fun in the sun. Venice Beach is a destination on the lists of all travel and tour operators here and in Europe. Visitors who do not come here to swim, bike or play volleyball are watching those who do, and will maybe even visit a fortune teller on Ocean Front Walk. Venice Beach is unique. Residents who pursue their rights in Venice haven’t kept world-class restaurants from growing here, yet anyone can buy a corn dog at the beach.

But all of this is not the product of city planning. It is the product of a community of people who allowed Venice to grow in an organic and creative way. There are no monster hotels obscuring views of the beach and ocean: Venice is a people place, and people show their appreciation by coming. TVs around the world show competitive skateboarding and bodybuilding events at Venice Beach.

Venice has been blessed with leaders who know how to leave well enough alone, bring order to our gatherings and, most importantly, listen to the community.

DeDe Audet is a longtime Venice activist. She served two terms as president of the Venice Neighborhood Council in the 2000s, was a member of former Councilwoman Ruth Galanter’s Community Advisory Planning Committee and before that sat on the former Venice Town Council in the 1960s and 1970s.