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
VENICE IS KNOWN FOR its vicious, microbe-sized internecine political fights, but a recent one turned out to be a doozy, garnering coverage by media as far away as The New York Timesand the New Yorker and pitting the district’s noteworthy artistic community against its vocal business community.
At issue: asphalt or artists? Should two old shacks adjacent to studios used by famed Los Angeles artists Ed Ruscha and Laddie John Dill be razed to make way for parking?
Dill, a commercial success with plenty of museum exhibitions to his credit, has been a 30-year fixture on the Venice scene, a community tent pole and driving force behind the area’s identity as an artists’ enclave. Ruscha’s art world credentials place him in the same echelon as Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. Museums such as MOMA, LACMA and the New Tate possess work by the men.
This being Los Angeles and not London or New York, automobiles won the round, launching a new phase in Venice’s history. It turns out that Venice’s love affair with its artists was just a long fling — great sex but not worth the sacrifices of an enduring relationship.
Declaring that the dirt alley on which both art shacks sit is city property, City Councilman Bill Rosendahl and parking proponents want it paved and filled with parking meters to serve the increasingly crowded, almost terminally hip Abbot Kinney business district. They say that the shack, where Ruscha often paints, encroaches on city property and that no one, even men who created Venice’s valuable-to-the-city-treasury brand, should be given special treatment.
When my editorial, published by a Venice-online site, stated that this was a bad business practice for Brand Venice, casting an unnecessary stone at its most core business — the creation of art — The New York Times followed with a news story, and righteous indignation ran rampant in Venice. (Full disclosure: I am on record opposing the plan to remove the artists’ space for parking.)
In response to the national attention, an e-mail war raged in which the opposing camp made the case that no special favors should be granted to successful — meaning wealthy — artists. Never mind that Culver City and Santa Monica are courting artists for the economic payoff they bring. Robert Feist, who owns a business next to the two artists’ studios and wants the extra parking installed instead of vintage old artists’ shacks, sent out sardonic e-mails along with a photo of the offending structure.
In reaction to The New York Times’ lame out-of-towner headline describing one shack as “Eden,” Feist sent out e-mails enclosing a photo of a shack and snickered over whether such a rough-looking structure deserved landmark status.
Just what made Venice go so ballistic? Several groups in Venice have been advocating for parking space, but this wasn’t really about whether to put parking on this tiny bit of public land. Back in 2002, the parking lot adjacent to the shacks was welcomed by locals because it served as a ruse to halt a row of affordable housing proposed for that same alley. Left-leaning or not, Venice residents don’t want affordable housing any more than Rancho Park residents.
They objected to the fact that the building would include three stories — ground-level parking and two stories of apartments above — saying it was too big for the area, and a poor fit in the pricey, bustling shopping and eating district along Abbot Kinney.
Abbot Kinney business owners, anti-affordable housing advocates and a respected real estate strategist met with Cindy Miscikowski, Venice’s then–city councilwoman, to come up with a plan to put the kibosh on the deal. The long, narrow property, a former railroad-right-of-way, had always been set aside for parking.
Evincing the virulence of feeling against affordable housing — sharpened in Venice by three decades in which old-style federally subsidized housing projects for the poor have been badly run and allowed to turn shabby — Venice residents lined up at a public meeting to complain that Venice had enough “affordable housing.”
Miscikowski, whose husband, Doug Ring, is a wealthy developer with vast holdings in nearby Marina del Rey, went the obvious route, opposing the affordable housing and backing plans for parking meters. Her successor, Rosendahl, followed suit.
And that’s how things were left. But since 2002, there’s been a dramatic resurgence of businesses on Abbot Kinney, and many restaurants and other buildings have been granted development permits with little or no parking. City Hall and Rosendahl are also allowing illegal land uses that jack up the fight for parking.
These special favors from downtown allow property owners to erect new development or expand without adding enough extra parking. For example, one glamorous residence with a rooftop swimming pool has operated for months as a de facto television studio while the city has turned a blind eye.
The rules for requiring shops, businesses and housing developments to provide parking were created long ago to make sure Los Angeles does not become unlivable. But under the heavily pro-development Villaraigosa Administration, as the Weekly has previously reported, those safeguards are steadily being dismantled.
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