Supporters see an opportunity for cooperative problem-solving, but others fear a power grab
By Gary Walker
UPDATE (Aug. 24): Venice commercial property owners have voted in favor of forming a local business improvement district.
The breakdown of total votes was 85 in favor to 79 against. But because votes were weighted according to total property area — owners of larger commercial parcels will pay more into the BID — the weighted result was a more decisive 77.2% in favor to 22.8% against.
Only property owners within the BID boundaries were allowed to vote, but opponents turned in a petition with 549 signatures opposing it.
The Los Angeles City Council certified the results on Wednesday, Aug. 24.
One of the few things Venice residents engaged in local politics can agree on is a belief that L.A. City Hall fails to provide this international tourist destination with its fair share of spending for basic public services.
From this ethos springs an attempt by commercial property owners to pool their resources for additional cleaning, maintenance and public safety efforts in common areas that impact their business and the community at large.
By forming a business improvement district, or BID, non-residential property owners along the Venice Boardwalk as well as Main Street, the west end of Venice Boulevard and Windward Circle would agree to self-asses fees for mutually agreed upon programs and activities beyond what city government already provides.
Only light industrial, commercial and city-owned properties would be included in the Venice Business Improvement District, which goes up for a vote among prospective members at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 23, at L.A. City Hall.
“In my 30-plus years of activism in Venice, I’ve never seen a groundswell greater than the support for the BID. This is the best chance we’ve had to work on cleanliness and safety issues, collectively. We will be able to address problems with comprehensive solutions rather than relocate them,” said Jack Hoffmann, who owns the Venice Properties real estate brokerage on Ocean Front Walk.
If approved, more than 70% of the Venice Business Improvement District budget would be earmarked for safety patrols and maintenance, according to BID documents. Other planned services include cleaning of alleys, sidewalks and curbs, trash removal, tourist assistance, a marketing campaign and local ambassadors who would interact with the public.
Property owner assessments would be based on the frontage length, structure size and lot area of the properties within the BID boundaries, a consultant working with BID supporters said.
The BID would commence on Jan. 1, 2017, with an annual budget of nearly $1.9 million raised through assessments. Voting materials sent to property owners disclosed individual assessments. City Hall would contribute nearly $427,000 for publicly owned parcels in the BID area, including Westminster Avenue Elementary School and the adjacent public park.
The BID would be governed by a board of directors elected by members of the BID, with the city clerk, city attorney and city controller providing public oversight.
Only property owners who would be impacted can vote for or against the bid, but anyone can speak for the record during Tuesday’s public hearing.
To win approval, the BID must receive support from a majority of property owners as calculated by total assessments — in other words, owners of a large commercial office building would be paying more and thus have more say
in the formation of the BID than owners of a tiny lot.
Robert Benderson, who owns CMI Films on Hampton Drive near Rose Avenue, said he’s still considering how he will vote but likes some of the potential benefits the BID can offer.
“If it’s something that works, I’m willing to chip in, even if it cost me a little more. But I’m still open to having my mind changed,” Benderson said.
Sandi West, who owns Creative Chakra Spa on Pacific Avenue, hasn’t heard a lot about the BID, but like Benderson she thinks some of the services — especially alley cleanups — could help businesses near the beach.
“I don’t think that it would be such a bad situation, especially in terms of it making improvements,” West said.
While other communities have embraced bids despite varying degrees of resistance, BID opposition in Venice has become intertwined with ongoing socioeconomic debates that are never far from the surface of any issue: gentrification, income inequality and the perception that BIDS are created to displace and disenfranchise homeless people and others who do not own property.
Becky Dennison, executive director of the affordable housing nonprofit Venice Community Housing Corp., is wary that the BID proposal will continue what she and others see as a widening of the gap between the haves and have-nots in Venice.
“One of my main concerns is this concentrates money and power in the hands of wealthy property owners who will have private security. And the process for creating the BID was not transparent. Our organization has a property within the [proposed] boundaries and we weren’t notified about it,” Dennison said.
Dennison is asking for the vote to be postponed until “we can have a more transparent process,” she said, adding that she’s spoken to many business owners who hadn’t heard of the proposal because they lease property instead of own it.
Sylvia Aroth, formerly a member of the Venice Neighborhood Council, is worried that a private security patrol might eventually become more aggressive with the homeless population on the boardwalk than the LAPD officers who currently patrol Ocean Front Walk.
“I’m really concerned about beach access, how the culture and character of Venice could change and how security might treat our unhoused,” she said. “It’s another thinly veiled attempt at cleaning up, gentrifying and privatizing our boardwalk.”
Downtown Los Angeles BID security forces have been sued in the past by community groups alleging mistreatment of street vendors and the homeless.
Like Aroth, Dennison is concerned about a concentrated effort to displace the homeless.
“From what I’ve heard, this is about the boardwalk and keeping the unhoused population away from it,” she said.
Hoffmann said there is a familiarity and camaraderie among many who favor starting a BID, and the Venice Business Improvement District would be a natural extension of that.
“Many of those involved have worked side by side with each other for decades on community issues. The BID represents the most comprehensive opportunity we’ve ever had to focus our collective resources on our local problems,” he said.