Public hearing do-over happens on Election Day at L.A. City Hall

By Gary Walker

Venice commercial property owners are once again voting on whether to pool their resources into a local business improvement district, with a final public hearing happening on Nov. 8 at L.A. City Hall before the votes are tallied.

The 10 a.m. hearing on Election Day comes after city officials invalidated the Aug. 23 vote in favor of a Venice BID and subsequent L.A. City Council because of due process complaints.

BIDs allow property owners to assess themselves in order to fund cleanup, maintenance and public safety initiatives beyond what the city currently provides.

The proposed boundaries for the Venice Beach Business Improvement District include the Venice Boardwalk, Windward Circle and Main Street as well as Venice Boulevard from the beach to Abbot Kinney Boulevard and Rose Avenue from the beach to Fourth Avenue.

Because only commercial property owners (including the city) would pay into the BID, only they can vote on whether it should form. However, anyone is entitled to speak on the record during the hearing.

Back in August, L.A. City Clerk Holly Wolcott and L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer convinced council members to annul the prior BID approval because council members cut short the public hearing before all members of the public could speak.

The BID has been as controversial outside the business community as it has been within, with several community activists voicing concern that the BID apparatus would create a private security force on the Venice Boardwalk.

The outcome of the prior BID contest was 85 votes in support to 79 votes against. But because votes are weighted according to a property’s overall value — larger, more-developed parcels would pay proportionally higher assessments into the BID — the final tally showed 77% of the proportional vote in favor, suggesting higher BID support among owners of larger properties.

As part of a package of information sent to all businesses within the proposed boundaries earlier this year, organizers of the proposed Venice BID emphasized the need for keeping commercial areas “clean and safe.”

“[BIDs] provide these clean and safe services more frequently and consistently than the city can provide them and provide expanded clean and safe services [on-call local security and ambassadorial services] as well as marketing and promotional services that the city does not provide,” reads a letter from Venice BID proponents.

As much as 73% of the BID’s nearly $2 million budget for its first year would be allotted for “clean and safe” expenditures that include hiring a private security firm to work the Venice Boardwalk, according to the BID information package.

Venice Beach commercial property owner Jack Hoffmann predicts that supporters of the BID will post an even larger turnout on Tuesday than back in August. He’s also confident that city officials will be more careful this time to recognize everyone’s right to speak.

“There is a qualified argument that only those in the BID, for or against, were required to be heard if they chose to be. Even so, I think the city is prepared to let the clock run until the end of willing voices,” Hoffmann said.

But BID opponent John Okulick, a sculptor whose studio is on Hampton Drive near Main Street, remains convinced that he and other smaller merchants won’t get the same benefits as larger businesses.

Like many others who oppose the BID, Okulick thinks private security patrols would be used to push the homeless population away from the boardwalk and anticipates conflict between the two that could lead to legal action.