L.A. City Council Approves Venice's Controversial Business Improvement District

L.A. City Council Approves Venice's Controversial Business Improvement District
Charlie Llewellin / Flickr.com

The Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved a proposal on Wednesday from Venice Beach business owners to levy a special assessment on businesses and real estate along the boardwalk and in an area west of Abbot Kinney. The assessment, known as a Business Improvement District, supplements city spending on security, cleanup and promotion efforts in Venice — and it is not without its detractors.

On Tuesday, the council heard from dozens of Venice Beach business owners and longtime residents at a contentious public hearing on the proposal. Opponents of the BID argued it would infringe on public use of areas such as the beach and boardwalk, which are frequented by tourists and by the large homeless population in the area.

City Councilman Mike Bonin, whose district includes the area in Venice under discussion, spoke in support of the BID proposal. “It brings additional resources and investment into a public area to keep the beach and areas east of Main Street safe and clean,” Bonin said.

Bonin acknowledged the strong opinions on both sides of the issue. Several residents complained that their homes were unfairly "gerrymandered" into the BID assessment for being mistakenly zoned as commercial, and Bonin offered to help them rezone their properties to avoid the assessment. Some owners of small businesses within the BID district objected to the extra assessment of thousands of dollars to be part of something they oppose.

Several Venice business owners supported the BID. The owners of prominent businesses near the boardwalk, such as Sidewalk Café and the Hotel Erwin, spoke in favor of the measure, as did representatives from the Venice Chamber of Commerce, arguing it will result in a cleaner and safer neighborhood.

The management plan of the Venice BID calls for 73 percent of the funds — an estimated $1.9 million — to be spent on cleanup and safety, including safety patrols, trash pickup, graffiti removal and landscaping. In previous BIDs in downtown Los Angeles and the Fashion District, street vendors and homeless advocacy groups sued over issues related to the harassment of the homeless by private security.

The city council approved the BID yesterday, a day after owners voted in favor of it by a 3-to-1 margin.

The city manages about 25 percent of the property in the Venice BID, including the median strip between Pacific Avenue and Lincoln Boulevard, Westminster Avenue Elementary School and the Westminster Off-Leash Dog Park.

Becky Dennison, executive director of Venice Community Housing — a nonprofit that works with the homeless — says the assessment will hamper VCH's ability to carry out its mission.

Councilman Bonin alluded to his own work on behalf of the homeless in Venice and said that the BID he envisions will address homelessness constructively, not punitively. Bonin referred to other BIDs in his district, in the Pacific Palisades and Westchester, which he said have provided assistance to the homeless.

Tuesday was actually the second time the City Council has held a public hearing on the Venice BID. At the first, the council cut off public comment before all the opponents had a chance to speak. Faced with a possible Brown Act violation, the city scheduled a second hearing and started the process over.


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