Others see class warfare behind complaints of outrageous conduct

Matt Fisher’s official VNC member photo

By Gary Walker

Venice politics are not for the faint of heart, but Tuesday night’s neighborhood council vote to unseat elected member Matt Fisher exposed new levels of acrimony and divisiveness along socioeconomic lines.

Supporters of Fisher, who was homeless for more than a decade after leaving foster care, say he is an essential advocate for the homeless and a lonely voice on the council in solidarity with low-income residents being pushed out by gentrification.

Others, including some who voted to remove him, say they take issue not with Fisher’s ideas, but how he had expressed them at the expense of others.

In more instances than were brought forth during the meeting, Fisher has been called out for disparaging or threatening remarks to council colleagues and members of the public.

Following the Jan. 2 bomb scare during construction of the temporary homeless housing facility on Main Street, Fisher posted claims on social media, later removed, of video evidence that three of his political adversaries had planted explosive devices.

Shortly after winning his at-large council seat in June, Fisher took credit for demanding that the city remove sidewalk planter boxes displacing homeless encampments.

Over vociferous interjections by several of Fisher’s supporters, the council voted 12-4 to oust Fisher for what was described as a pattern of disruptive behavior, serial violations of city and board rules of civility, and making false or controversial statements against fellow board members. Neighborhood councils are city-sponsored advisory boards whose members sign code of conduct oaths.

Venice Neighborhood Council President Ira Koslow, author of the motion to remove Fisher, said numerous board members had complained to him for months about Fisher.

“I thought that I had to put this on the agenda because my job as president is to represent all the stakeholders in Venice,” said Koslow, who has also clashed with Fisher during
prior board meetings.

Fisher contends he’s being targeted by locals who are hostile to the homeless. He denied the grievances against him, stating he did not write the bomb scare accusations posted to Facebook from his account. He also complained of Koslow and board member Jim Murez using vulgar gestures during public meetings, with some of Fisher’s supporters distributing photographic evidence.

“You literally have nothing,” Fisher told Koslow. “I’ve been trying to work this out with you, but you don’t respond to my emails. What bothers you is what and who I stand up for.”

Throughout the meeting, some of Fisher’s supporters interrupted the proceedings with some vulgarities of their own, decrying the council as a kangaroo court. “We’ll see you next election,” several people chanted.

“Matt was duly elected to this board,” said longtime Venice resident Beth Allyn. “If you vote him off, you’re taking away our right to vote for whomever we want.”

Six LAPD officers stood guard during the meeting in the Westminster Avenue Elementary School Auditorium.

Council member Christian Wrede, a neighborhood activist who has opposed controversial plans to build dense supportive housing projects on public land in Venice, got within inches of one officer’s face — “Aren’t you going to do anything?” he exclaimed — about a man in the audience who repeatedly disrupted the meeting and proceeded to follow Wrede around the room. Police eventually escorted the audience member from the building.

Among the many complaints about Fisher that he denied, council members said Fisher would throw out wild accusations that local homeless services nonprofit Safe Place for Youth is
abusing children.

“Matt wanted to be on our homelessness committee,” said Koslow. “How can a member expect to be on our homeless committee if he’s accusing SPY of abusing kids?”

In an emotional statement, council outreach chair Sima Kostovetsky said she has “great respect for what [Fisher] has done and what he has overcome,” but is hurt by the vitriol of Fisher’s supporters — specifically taunts that council members are “fascists” who “want people to live like we have apartheid” and “probably liked apartheid.”

Prior to the meeting, Fisher and supporters held a press conference decrying efforts to remove him as motivated by ideological differences.

“He lived on the street for many, many years. So the expectation of having him always speak in this very polished, diplomatic, tactful way like developers or architects is unreasonable,” Oakwood community activist Naomi Nightingale said in Fisher’s defense. “He has a constituency, and a lot of them are the un-housed.”