Lil’ Venice Fights On

by Jim Smith

Hundred of westside refugees from L.A. Council District 6 gathered July 23 at Loyola Marymount University to consider a radical response to being dispossessed.

At the “Town Hall” they cheered representatives of the San Fernando Valley and Hollywood secession movements and sat silent or booed when District 11 Councilmember Cindy Miscikowski and L.A. Deputy Mayor Felipe Fuentes spoke.

What had brought so many otherwise laid-back beach community residents to the edge of revolt? Gene LaPietra, president of the Hollywood secession movement, pushed all the buttons when he spoke: the Playa Vista development, LAX expansion and the removal of Council District 6 and Ruth Galanter to the east Valley.

The mention of the loss of the council district and Galanter drew the largest roar from the crowd. Many of us had attended redistricting hearings in West L.A. and Westchester to express our nearly unanimous opposition to losing District 6, our elected councilmember and the cancellation of our upcoming election next year. We had even trooped downtown to the high-security Los Angeles City Council chambers to protest once again - to no avail. Unmoved, the city council voted 9-6 to throw yet another anti-secession sop to the Valley in the form of our council district.

As a consolation prize, we were given District 11 which will not have an election until 2005. Until then Cindy Miscikowski will be our representative. The fact that she was not elected - or even on the ballot - in the old District 6 was of no import to the august L.A. Council. Now, Venetians and other westsiders are in the curious position of not having elected representation on the city council for the next three years. That is, unless secession passes or Miscikowski resigns.

Not surprisingly Miscikowski is strongly against secession. All 15 L.A. City Council members think it’s a bad idea. Some will lose their jobs if the Valley and Hollywood secede and the remainder would face immediate elections in new, smaller districts. L.A.’s biggest developers, including Miscikowski’s husband Doug Ring, have given generously to the fight against secession. Ring has given $50,000 so far, according to the July 26 edition of the L.A. Times.

The disregard, and disrespect, for westside residents by City Hall is now coming home to roost. Instead of heading off secession in the east Valley, the downtown power brokers have lit a fire of resentment on L.A.’s coastal possessions. Jeff Brain, of Valley Vote, reminded the crowd that if secession passes, there will be immediate redistricting of all 15 City Council districts in the smaller L.A. As a result each city council member would represent approximately 136,000 people instead of the current quarter of a million. And, there would be an election.

Is the issue of an undemocratic process enough to drive westsiders to vote en-masse for secession in November? Probably not. But fear of LAX expansion, rampant development, even more traffic on Lincoln Blvd. may well be enough to roll up a majority of yes votes in support of Hollywood and Valley independence.

The removal of Ruth Galanter begins a new chapter in the history of Venice and the westside. Since 1987, a Venetian, Ruth Galanter, has represented the Sixth District. While not everyone (obviously) has supported her every move, Galanter has been an advocate for most community concerns about development. She was the first Councilmember from Lil’ Venice, which includes less than 40,000 souls in a 250,000 person district.

I had thought for a long while that Galanter let our community down. Her main sin was allowing development on the Ballona wetlands. On further reflection, I believe it is us who have let Galanter down.

Prior to her election Venice was a community aroused. Since the 60s, “Free Venice” had been the rallying cry. By the 1980s, the Venice Town Council was a voice for the entire community. The Beachhead led the fight to prevent then-councilmember Pat Russell from winning another term. We fought long and hard to preserve our island of diversity in a sea of uniformity.

After the 1987 upset when Galanter unseated Russell, we mistakenly believed that our troubles were over. Within a couple of years, the Venice Town Council faded into oblivion, Peace & Freedom gave up its office, the Beachhead began publishing sporadically, then not at all. In effect, the Venetian army demobilized.

Of course some dedicated Venetians soldiered on, but most decided to “let Ruth handle it.” Some long time activists moved away, while others “up and died” including Rick Davidson, Mary Lou Johnson and Marvena Kennedy. For the most part, we left Galanter on her own to deal with constant pressure from developers as well as disdain from many of her colleagues on the city council because she was smarter and better informed than they were.

Now there is once again unrest in the neighborhoods of Venice. People are grumbling, organizations are coming back to life. As you know, the Beachhead’s back! Our old public library on California has become a great community center, and meeting place, named after the beloved late activist Vera Davis McClendon. In June, more than 600 Venetians turned out for the election of neighborhood council board members.

Meanwhile, threats to our happy lifestyle are proliferating. Unaffordable housing projects and commercial development proposals are cropping up all over Venice, while “affordable” housing units continue to shrink. Chain stores, including a Nike on the boardwalk (!), are casting greedy eyes at our homegrown businesses.

Does Lil’ Venice have a chance against the massive economic forces arrayed against us? Only time will tell if we can forge a mighty movement, as Venetians did in the 60s through the 80s, that will preserve Venice relatively intact for future generations to enjoy.

Posted: Thu - August 1, 2002 at 05:41 PM