By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
“All of a sudden, you’ll see that a house has gone down, and you can’t remember what was there,” he said. “It’s really weird. It’s just changing completely. It gives you a very strange feeling. I don’t know what this town is all about anymore.”
Matranga knows that his own home, a place where he created 36 years’ worth of memories, will disappear if he ever sells. But some homeowners are leaving before they are ready, spurred on by a demand from the newer residents for unmarred ocean views. For months, sections of Manhattan Beach have been voting on whether to assess themselves higher property taxes to pay for “undergrounding” — the placement of overhead electrical wires under the street.
Because properties with a higher assessed value receive a greater proportion of the vote, the owners of minimansions sometimes outnumber old-timers who have neither the money nor a desire to remove the wires. One retiree who got a bill for $38,000 faced a choice: sell her house or see a lien placed on the property. She sold and moved out of state, Matranga said.
“I just paid my house off a few years ago, and now, all of a sudden, I have to go back into debt for more than I paid for my house,” he said. “The young people who come in with all their money, they’re pretty insensitive to the other people in town. They would love all of us who have been here awhile to die or sell their house, so they can have nothing but million-dollar homes.”
Venice Is No Garden Tour
If Manhattan Beach was the first coastal community to see a dramatic influx of wealth, then Venice — the community known for its tiny beach cottages and bustling boardwalk — was almost certainly the last. Despite tiny pockets of poverty in the Oakwood section, the neighborhood long known for its artists community has been spruced up dramatically since the recession of the 1990s.
In Venice, however, debate has been raging not just about the homes, but the fences that surround them. In Los Angeles, the municipal code requires that fences around a front yard reach no higher than 42 inches. But buyers, including those willing to pay $925,000 for a two-bedroom house, have sent their walls, shrubs and fences much higher, sealing the pedestrians on the outside.
For Jataun Valentine, a 49-year resident of Venice, the fences represent more than a phone call to the city’s code-enforcement office. Valentine described them as symbols of an affluent home-buying class that has enveloped the neighborhood, putting up boxy three-story houses and staying out of sight. “We have a lot of new people that are coming in that don’t really want to have anything to do with the neighbors,” said Valentine, a retired maintenance worker. “They want to hide behind these big walls and high fences.”
Valentine’s family came to Venice in 1917 — no mean feat, considering they were African-American, and many Southern California communities had restrictive racial covenants prohibiting black buyers from moving in. In those days, Venice was a resort town separate from Los Angeles, the creation of Abbot Kinney, an asthmatic, insomniac real estate developer who wanted his stretch of coastline to resemble Italy. Valentine’s grandfather managed not only to buy a humble house in Venice, but to operate a successful cement business, laying the “walk streets” — the sidewalks that serve as de facto streets — for which the neighborhood is famous.
Nonprofit fund-raiser Linda Lucks lives on one of those walk streets, the type that guides pedestrians to the ocean. Lucks has noticed the fences too, chalking them up to a “fortress mentality” among the newcomers. The Venice that Lucks moved into in 1970 resembled Greenwich Village, with artistic inhabitants and bohemian ways. The community now shows up in celebrity magazines, as home to actress Julia Roberts.
“I’m not a real estate expert, but it seemed like [the market] would go up and plateau, up and plateau,” Lucks said. “But the last six years it’s been out of control — crazy, in terms of the inflated values. The people who have come moved here to make money, as opposed to wanting to stay here. It’s changed the dynamic of the community. And, obviously, people can’t even afford to rent here.”
Lucks said she still sees Venice as a “wonderful, creative community.” Yet with each passing year, she has a greater difficulty finding neighbors to participate in the annual garden tour, which gives ticket buyers a chance to see the landscaping and interiors of 30 Venice homes. Lucks wondered if some of the more recent buyers simply don’t trust having an outsider come in and look around.
“I don’t have a problem with a tradeoff,” she said. “I just don’t want to ruin a sense of community, and walling ourselves off would separate us from each other. And that’s not what the Venice I love represents.”
Venice resident Shep Stern has been taking on the tall-fence critics, saying he and his neighbors have every right to a sense of privacy and security — and a buffer against drunks, drug addicts and prostitutes. Stern, who bought a house on a walk street in 1984 for less than $250,000, said he too is trying to protect the neighborhood’s character, by preserving its “live and let live” ethos and disregarding rigid aesthetic codes.
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