Developers and officials at L.A. City Hall can be awfully clever. Take what they’re doing in Venice, where fancy, Lego-like homes have been popping up like crazy in lower-income neighborhoods, taking away existing affordable housing, jacking up rent and forcing working- and middle-class people out of one of L.A.’s most eclectic communities. But all that’s happening without any proper public notice, according to a new lawsuit.
You see, Venice residents have long been known for their activism, and developers and their pals at City Hall understand that. They don’t want to get into a dragged-out fight over a new project. So in another example of L.A. officials bending the rules for the developers’ benefit, the city planning department has been giving hundreds of approvals through an administrative procedure called a “Venice Sign Off” (VSO).
As a result, Venice residents are not notified about a huge, fancy home going up next to them, and have no way to speak out or take action against the development project.
“The City and the Planning Department do not ensure that projects seeking VSOs comply with development protections in the California Coastal Act or the City of Los Angeles’ Venice Land Use Plan,” a lawsuit filed by attorney Sabrina Venskus on the behalf of a community group known as the Venice Coalition to Preserve our Unique Community Character (VC-PUCC) charges, “and have illegally approved coastal exemptions, which allow development without a coastal development permit required by the California Coastal Act.”
Developers and City Hall officials are clever, but they may also be doing something that’s illegal. The lawsuit plans to stop that.
Such serious bending of the rules for development approvals have been taking place across L.A. — in Koreatown, Mid-Wilshire, Chinatown, Hollywood, the Westside, Boyle Heights and the list goes on.
In Venice, residents are fighting back. Yesterday, they spoke out about their dire situation at a press conference and took reporters on a walking tour of all the Lego homes going up in the neighborhood. At one point, a former Venice resident, who was forced out of her home, started crying. This stuff matters.
“The lawsuit is needed so the community is given notice and an opportunity to be heard before permitting is given to the developers,” attorney Sabrina Venskus told us.
Venskus and her legal team have done their homework. According to them, in just over 20 months between February 2014 and October 2015, the city of L.A. has “illegally” approved 230 VSOs. Venskus also charges that the city “illegally” issued 265 coastal exemptions (CEX) in Venice.
Such secret approvals have “gotten worse and worse and worse,” said Venskus. “The more the city and developers get away with it, the more they do it.”
She added, “They’re changing the character and affordability of Venice without giving any notice to the community. That’s illegal.”
Pam Anderson, an African American woman and fifth generation Venice resident, said about city officials, “Government should be held accountable. They should be for the people, but they’ve forgotten that. They have no honor. They have no integrity.”
Anderson sees the lawsuit as a game changer for all of L.A.
“We can set a precedent for other communities in a similar situation,” she said. “We want to stop City Hall from turning a blind eye.”
Alma Collins, another African American woman and longtime Venice resident, moved out of the neighborhood after a huge home suddenly started to go up next to hers, causing loud construction noises and taking away her sunlight and airflow. The project still isn’t finished.
“I left,” Collins said. “Done. Because the Venice I love is disappearing.”
She added, “I get the American Dream is profit. But why do you have to profit off me? The specialness and artistic side of Venice is disappearing. [City Hall] is selling the whole community down the drain.”
The Neighborhood Integrity Initiative, which seeks to give residents greater input into how their communities are developed and shaped, aims to stop such madness and fix L.A.’s rigged and broken development-approval process. The Coalition to Preserve L.A., which sponsors the citywide initiative, supports Collins and Anderson and other Venice residents 100 percent. Together, we will take back L.A. from greedy developers and their pals at City Hall.
Please join the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative movement by clicking to our Act page right now, and please follow and cheer our efforts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
And help our friends, the Venice Coalition to Preserve Unique Community Character, at their website at savevenice.me.