Observations on “Gentrifying” Venice, California Have Lessons for Ocean Beach

by on January 13, 2017 · 7 comments

in Civil Rights, Culture, Environment, History, Media, Ocean Beach, Politics, San Diego

Back during the 1970s, a group of OBceans (although we didn’t call ourselves that then) were looking into whether OB could separate itself away from the City of San Diego and become an independent municipality of our own. We were so disgusted then at how Ocean Beach was being treated by the larger metropolis that engulfed us, that a viable alternative seemed to be to set up the community as its own city.

We looked around for other examples where people were itching to remove their neighborhoods from a large city – and we didn’t need to look far – as we found a similar movement up in the coastal community of Venice – where locals were looking to distance their town from LA. Actually, at one time, Venice had been its own city – even had a city hall that was still standing in the 1970s.

Back then, there were a lot of similarities between Ocean Beach and Venice; both were hippie-bohemian, counter-cultural and surfer enclaves on the beach, where liberal/ radical politics held sway with strong anti-Vietnam war consciousness that translated into hometown movements with progressive aims; they both had an underground newspaper, here the OB Rag, and Venice had a similar paper.

A bunch of us from OB drove up to meet our kinfolk in Venice, and some of them visited us down here. We swapped stories, observations, tales, experiences, weed. It almost seemed each of the two neighborhoods, villages, were simply extensions of each other, despite the distances and geography between us.

There were key differences, of course. Venice was about 3 times the size of OB; Venice also had a sizable African-American population, whereas OB was of course fairly white. The city of Los Angeles, even though it was more liberal than San Diego, it also was a more formidable adversary to the ‘go-it-alone’ folks in Venice than the benign neglect that we felt from our city government down here.

In the end, neither of the two movements for an independent city worked out. Venice is still part of LA, and you know where OB is.  We discovered back then that Ocean Beach did not have a sufficient tax base to fund necessary city services. And that was that.

Decades have passed – and both OB and Venice are beset and challenged by similar forces of gentrification and vacation rentals.

Whether the average OBcean today thinks that the soul of OB has been lost or not, up one hundred miles to the north, I don’t think there is any question.

The other day, the LA Times published a piece by Jack Schwartz, a resident of Venice, a Venetian? on his observations on “Gentrifying Venice”. His observations have deep lessons for OB villagers.

In gentrifying Venice, Trumpian rage

By Jack Schwartz

My mailman told me recently that he’s retiring soon and plans to move up to Mt. Shasta. When I asked him if he would miss Venice, he replied, “I already do.”  The neighborhood he’d once loved was long gone.

Twenty-one years ago, when I moved to Venice, I installed large windows so that I could watch the sky and trees and the quiet street out front. The houses were small. My immediate neighbors were three elderly ladies who had purchased their homes — new homes — for $9,000. On a couple of occasions I came home from work to beautiful brown hawks sitting on my fence. When we had heavy rain, Penmar Park filled with ducks.

It wasn’t perfect. Park users sometimes threw their trash out their car windows. It would sit there for days because there were no regularly scheduled street cleanings. There were used condoms in the gutter from the Lincoln Boulevard hookers.

But at least the place had character. And it was affordable.

Although we Venice residents of longstanding are mostly Bernie Sanders types, we can understand the Trumpian anger that the world is changing for the worse, and that the rampaging economy is crushing rather than lifting the middle class.

Venice is where everyone can drive with a phone in their hand at high speeds and through inconvenient stop signs on their way home to their mini-mansion.

On Lincoln Boulevard and Rose Avenue there used to be thrift stores, liquor stores and mini-marts. Now we have a dozen fancy wine stores, marijuana outlets, bars and a Natural Dog Food supermarket.

The average lot size east of Lincoln is larger than points west, so developers are buying up homes by the fistful. Out go the elderly and families. Up go boxes that look like 7-11s and county jails. Across the street from me are two construction sites. Judging from glossy images out front, the developers are in competition for the title of Ugliest Building in the Community. Both are priced in the $6 million range. Those large windows I put in decades ago? I keep them shut now, with the curtains drawn.

There are still great reasons to live in Venice. Ocean breezes. People strolling down or whizzing by on a variety of wheels. The mini-library stand with free books to borrow. Some locals get that “innovative architecture” doesn’t have to mean enormous and out-of-context. When I take walks I see — and smell — gardens planted with fruit trees and vegetables. My yard is full of birds and bees and butterflies. I can hear wind chimes. There are a handful of affordable restaurants left over from the good old days and many Venice residents just odd enough to be interesting.

But the gentrifiers — colonizers, really — are spoiling our quality of life. New neighbors are often unfriendly. Sometimes they’re not really neighbors at all but transient groups from Craigslist, AirBnB or other online services. From 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., five or even six days a week, bulldozers rumble around serving the construction sites. Where I used to see blue sky and trees I now see walls hovering over my house and yard.

What else do I see? Traffic. Speeding cars. Ignored stop signs — even next to the playing fields. Morons driving with their dogs on their laps. Crowds of off-leash dogs in the park. Fliers and fly swatters stuffed into our gates by Realtors. Noisy landings and take-offs from Santa Monica Airport — some 250 each day, on average. Overpriced cocktails on Rose Avenue for overpaid high-tech kids. (I hoped gentrification would bring happy hours, instead I got $9 beers and $15 glasses of wine). Broken sidewalks. Alarms on the houses, and high fences and hedges dividing newcomers from their neighbors.

And just like 21 years ago, no regularly scheduled street cleanings. With all that money coming in, you’d think at least that would have changed for the better.

I complained to Councilman Mike Bonin’s office about the lack of street cleanings, the off-leash dogs, the fact that cops don’t ticket for speeding, and a host of other issues. The reply was that there were places that had greater problems, and the City can’t be everywhere.

Venice is where everyone can drive with a phone in their hand at high speeds and through inconvenient stop signs on their way home to their mini-mansion, so that they can walk their horse-sized dogs over to the park to use as a toilet. Antisocial behavior is the norm.

Venice was once a nice place to live and a destination in guidebooks. Now it’s just a destination.

Jack Schwartz is a housing and tribal lawyer. LA Times

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Frank Gormlie January 13, 2017 at 12:55 pm

I know part of it started in Venice with paid parking. Then they bulldozed the famous canals so there would be more land available for all the McMansions that ended being built.


Elliott Blackwood January 16, 2017 at 9:39 am

There are still canals in Venice. Did there use to be more?


Frank Gormlie January 16, 2017 at 1:39 pm

Ya, quite a few more.


john January 13, 2017 at 8:17 pm

Ocean Beach Cottage “Emerging” District should not be emerging. It is a historic district and one of the best representation of early 20th century California residential neighborhoods in the state. Just as Chicano Park rightfully became a National Landmark, this district should be at least a State District.


Thomas K January 14, 2017 at 8:21 pm

I’m not a resident but have visited OB for years to shop,dine, or walk the pier.
I hitch hiked to Palo Alto to visit a friend and passed through many small beach towns with small stores and shops that drove the local economy. Those towns are gone.
Pave paradise, put up a parking lot….
-Joni Mitchell


Frank Gormlie January 17, 2017 at 3:10 pm

Venice’s newspaper was called “The Venice Beachhead”


John O. January 23, 2017 at 3:00 pm

Don’t all desirable CA neighborhoods gentrify at some point?


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