Friday, February 21, 2014

Venice Reacts To The Abbot Kinney Hotel Vote

400 Venetians packed Tuesday's night meeting about the Abbot Kinney Hotel.

Here's the joke about Venice: you get four of us in a room, you'll get twelve different opinions. But Tuesday's vote to approve Entrepreneur Dan Abrams™Hotel megaplex would seem to be the exception, because the overwhelming majority of Venetians who cared to comment on the issue are united in their opposition to the outcome.

Here's a small sampling of reactions so far. To be fair, I'll start off with a letter from one of the hotel's most ardent supporters, Corbin Smith, a Venice resident who's been very public about his opinions via local blogs and email chains.

To give you a bit of context, Corbin is objecting to the reaction of residents, primarily from Oakwood, who became very vocal at the meeting when they realized they would be completely shut out from making any public comment on the hotel:

Thanks to you who came to last night's excruciatingly chaotic VNC Board meeting; there was a huge crowd there, maybe 2/3 opposed to the hotel proposal.  Things got rowdy with the chair at one point threatening to stop the proceedings and asking specific people to leave, and also threatening to cut off public comments entirely.  A large and vocal number of those opposed often boo-ed and cheered and verbally challenged the procedures.  

At times, I wanted to ask the most (to me) offensive of them whether this is the way they're teaching their kids (or want teachers teaching their kids) to engage in public discourse.  It seemed to me, at least, that there's little respect either for process, or the law.  The formal presenter for the opposition continued her sound-bite-get-em-riled-up strategy (Marta Evry, from Venice for Change).....using misleading and outright deceitful tactics, and they loved it.  It was the "community" against the elite and the big bad money-hungry developers. I found it pretty disgusting.

Now on to the rest of the community's reactions. To protect people's privacy, I am using initials and omitting street addresses unless given permission to do otherwise.

It was very disappointing to see the VNC board approve the measure for the proposed hotel on Abbot Kinney. The voices and bodies in attendance against the motion were clearly in the majority......

There are too many contortions bundled into this single project to allow the community - this active, passionate community - to consider the impacts thoroughly. Consolidating 8 lots does not serve the community. Driving out a place of education for condos does not serve the community.

We heard that Dan is a nice guy. Being a 'nice guy' is good for the community, but does not make his project beneficial to the community. Venice residents are not opposed to change. This community grew organically and that process keeps it human. We believe this hotel is an imposition and unnecessarily self-serving. 

R. P.
San Juan Ave

Hi Marta,

I want to thank you for your presentation last night, and for all the work you and your colleagues have done to bring out the truth about this project. It was inspiring to see roughly 400 people show up, and a hundred of them stand for the whole time. And they certainly did appreciate and support your presentation.   


As 28 yr. community-minded residents of Electric Ave. in Venice, my wife and I would like to state our opposition to the proposed hotel project....

Parking, traffic congestion, sidewalks, over-proliferation of alcohol sales, are a few of our concerns regarding this project and until these matters can be addressed in a cohesive manner to enhance the quality of life all parts of the community, this hotel should not be allowed to proceed as planned.

Electric Ave.
Folks seemed to be particularly incensed by remarks from Tom "the days of parking your car in front of your home are over" Elliot, one of the 9 board members who voted in favor of the hotel.
Why is Tom, a VNC board member, not concerned for his constituents who'd have to park far from the house and walk home – at night – in the 'hood. Lest we forget, Venice still has a bit of 'hood, try as it might to gentrify, gentrify.  There are car break-ins, burglaries, stabbings, shootings.  A pregnant woman was raped and murdered on Electric, not that long ago. How often do we all go to ******** in the middle of the night when the helicopter is hovering above our house, then roll back to sleep, oh it's only a few gunshots on the next block.

I own a house a block from the hotel and it scares me to death to think of a 24-7 hotel of activity and truly not being able to park in front of my house. I don't live in the silver triangle, or closer to Millwood or Palms or on the other side of Pacific. I live in Oakwood and the proposed hotel affects the quality of life for myself and all my neighbors.

When I imagine a hotel across the street from Westminster School on Little Electric Avenue and visualize all the people who'd hang out at events, the bar, the restaurants, coffee bar I see the 405 in our own backyard. Lines  of traffic, congestion on AK, Electric, Broadway, Westminster, Brooks, etc.  I see the challenge of getting home, unloading the groceries, getting the kids in the car, packing for a trip, and yes, being vulnerable to crime.

Amy Alkon, a writer who works out of her Electric Ave. home, also took issue with Elliot's remarks and vote.

I can park in front of my home because I'm a prisoner there, to a great extent. I can't leave because I can't get a parking space again if I do (without driving around for 30 minutes sometimes) -- thanks to others like you who voted in Gjelina, which brings in hundreds of people a night and has not one parking space. I don't expect one in front of my home -- but I don't think it's good to have cars tooling around a neighborhood, wasting gas, spewing fumes, to support businesses which move into areas where they can sleaze the residents by turning their blocks into parking hell.

You don't represent the community -- you represent destruction of the community. And I'm not some anti-business lefty.  But I see that Electric Avenue will be home to honking and horror, thanks to you. Proud of yourselves?  
Elliot, to his credit, wrote back to Amy to defend his vote. It's a very long response and I want to post it in it's entirety, so I'll end on his letter.

If we ever hear back from Marisa "if you weren't informed about the hotel it's because you didn't want to be informed" Solomon, you all will be the first to know.

Thank you for taking the time to write. Your note was heartbreaking. I honestly respect your opinion. I can imagine that it must not feel like I do, since I voted contrary to your position and contrary to many people in the room. However, this decision was the hardest one I've made since being on the council. In the end, I decided to cast my vote first and foremost as a resident of Venice, since I've lived up or down the street from this project site for the past 25 years. As I tried to communicate before the buzzer last night (and clearly not very eloquently), I believe that development on this site is not a matter of "if", but "how big". I viewed this proposal as far more in scale and in character than many of the others I've seen in the neighborhood. To me, 60+ hotel rooms will not make a "blip' on the traffic radar along Abbot Kinney. 6000+ apartment units in MDR already has.

Further, I would like to retract my statement that "The days of being able to park in front of YOUR home are over", and change it to "The days of being able to park in front of MY home are over" -- and have been for about 10 years now. What's new however, is the "Carmageddon" that has perfectly gridlocked my street from one end to the other during rush hour. Also it's also been quite some time since I've tried to use Electric Ave as a shortcut. Why then would I cast my vote the way I did?

I just cannot agree to a "zero growth" policy in Venice, and here's why:

Anyone who knows me, knows that my ideas for living and commuting in Venice are downright radical. As a student of urban planning, I ascribe to the school of "New Urbanism". New Urban architects, developers, community activists, and historic preservationists, accept that growth and development will continue to occur. So instead of trying to block it, they seek to direct growth in a positive way. On the flip side, developers who adhere to this philosophy, build community trust, because they demonstrate a genuine interest in the environmental quality of the neighborhood. And, as the community becomes safer, more attractive, and provides more transportation choices, the local economy thrives.

By the way, the principles of New Urbanism are not new. They are a direct response to our increasingly car-dependent culture. The precepts of New Urbanism reduce "car-dependancy" by promote cycling, walking and new modes of public transportation like electric shuttles and ride-sharing. They also promote a high level of "self-containment" -- people working, playing and living in the same location. They have a positive effect on the local environment. By providing safe options for people to walk, bike and use public transport, there are fewer automobile emissions.

Communities with strong alternative transportation policies, (like my home town of Boulder, CO), see a reduction in automobile emissions. Over the last several years, fewer people in Boulder drove alone, and bicycle and transit trips increased. As a result, the city cut annual carbon dioxide emissions by half a million pounds.

As a "transportation radical", I am an advocate for change in public policy, development practices and design codes in Venice, in order to promote a sense of community, and to actually discourage automobile traffic by the beach. Commuting by foot or bike is a zero-emission form of travel. Most daily trips around Venice can be made on foot or by bike. Let's provide the infrastructure, like bike lanes, bike parking and cross walks to allow the people of Venice to get out of their cars! Pedestrian and bike-friendly improvements not only reduce emissions and fuel consumption, but also promote good health!

Let's make Abbot Kinney a "living street" -- a boulevard designed with the interests of pedestrians and cyclists in mind -- a social space where people can meet and children can play - a street that aims to reduce the dominance of motorized vehicles.

Many communities have embraced pedestrian mobility as an alternative to building models that favors cars. They realize that dependency on automobiles is environmentally unsustainable. Alternatively, more pedestrian traffic increases social interaction and civic pride. We, as stewards of Venice, should reconsider our low-density housing and our car-dependent culture.

Isn't it interesting that around one hundred years ago, the Pacific Electric Red Car steered its way into Venice Beach. Soon thereafter, General Motors began the systematic dismantling of the "largest inter-urban electric system in the world". Now, a century later, perhaps it's time we came around full circle, and embraced Abbot Kinney's original vision of an alternative life-style and an alternative transportation system once again.

Again, thank your for your attendance and consideration. In the words of our great Parliamentarian, Ivan Spiegel, "If you don't like what they have to say, throw the bums out". I stand by his words and mine.

Thomas Elliott

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Final Tally: How Did the VNC Boad Members Vote On The Abbot Kinney Hotel Complex?

Meet the 9 VNC Board members who voted for "Entrepreneur"Dan Abrams™Hotel megaplex

Since no formal roll-call vote was taken on Tuesday night, it's taken a bit of detective work to find out which board members voted for and against "Entrepreneur"Dan Abrams™Hotel megaplex, but after a bit of crowd-sourcing elbow grease, we have the results.

Jake Kaufman (LUPC Chair)
Matt Kline (Outreach)
Tom Elliott
Marisa Solomon
Sevan Gerard
Scot Kramarich
Erin Sullivan-Ward
Max Sloan
Cynthia Rogers

 Ira Koslow
Helen Stotler (Communication)
Eduardo Manilla
Hugh Harrison (Treasurer)
Tommy Walker
Bud Jacobs
Abigail Myers

 Marc Saltzberg (Vice-President)
Linda Lucks (President)
Sylvia Aroth

Interesting to note that all three members who abstained from voting would have voted against  "Entrepreneur"Dan Abrams™Hotel had they voted, but Lucks and Aroth recused themselves because Abrams had donated money to a non-profit they were associated with and Saltzberg would have only voted in the case of a tie.

Couple of other relevant side notes about the board members who voted in favor of the hotel:
  • Tom Elliot (he of "the days of parking your car in front of your home are over" fame) owns two restaurants in Venice and would certainly profit off of any uptick in the tourist business.
  • Marisa Solomon ("if you weren't informed about the hotel it's because you didn't want to be informed") is the wife of LUPC member John Reed, who wrote the faulty staff report on the hotel on which the Board based their vote.
  • Matt Kline was not legally entitled to vote since he was not current on ethics training. No, I'm not being snarky, this is a real thing. Neighborhood Council members are required to complete and be current on LA City-certified ethics training in order vote on anything. Kline's Ethics Training certification expired last November. Thomas Soong at DONE just got back to us about Kline's lapse in ethics training: "I just checked and Matt Kline did take the Ethics Training on February 10, 2014. We have not updated our website to reflect the new change. Thanks for your patience."
  •  Jake Kaufman (LUPC Chair) refused a FOIA request prior to the vote for emails between himself and "Entrepreneur"Dan Abrams™Hotel development team. At issue were allegations of improper and undisclosed communications between the two parties prior to the December LUPC hearing.
And so it goes.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Divided Council Approves Abbot Kinney Hotel 9-7 "The days of being able to park in front of your home are over"

The 4 next-largest developments on Abbot Kinney could fit inside the hotel with 5,500 sq ft to spare

"The days of being able to park in front of your home are over," said VNC Board member Thomas Elliot as he cast the first of nine votes in favor of Dan Abrams block-long hotel complex. "The days of being able to just drive down Abbot Kinney and Main Street are over."

Board member Marisa Solomon used her favorable vote for the hotel to take a swipe at Oakwood and other community members who voiced concerns they only recently learned of thehotel development,  "People aren't informed when they don't want to be informed."

And so it went. Despite hundreds of community emails running 10-1 against the hotel (VNC's figure, not mine), a deeply divided board voted 9-7 in favor of approving Dan Abram's hotel. 

The frustrating thing? Two board members who would have voted against the hotel had to recuse themselves because Dan Abrams donated money to a non-profit they were associated with.  

And make no mistake, this is all about money.  Records show the self-described "entrepreneur" spent upwards of $17 million for 8 lots of prime Abbot Kinney real estate. A few thousand more for wining and dining supporters before the meeting, distributing glossy full-color portfolios to all the board members at the meeting, and lobbying them for weeks beforehand was a drop in the bucket by comparison.   

This vote sets a frightening precedent for Venice. If Abrams' hotel makes it all the way through the LA City planning process as is, all bets are off. Developers will be able to buy up and consolidate an unlimited number of lots in both commercial and residential areas of Venice. Mass and scale will no longer be a consideration. The only limitations will be the the depth of developer's pockets.

So now what?
The VNC vote, for all it's drama, is advisory. It holds no legal weight, although we should expect Abrams and his team to flog the results to the city at every opportunity.  
But this project must still go through the REAL City planning process - that means hearings in front of the Zoning Administrator, the Planning Commission and, ultimately, the Coastal Commission. And of course, Mike Bonin, our City Councilman, will have to weigh in as well. 
We don't have dates yet for ANY of those hearings, but as soon as we do, we'll let you know when they are happening and what we need you to do.  
This link will take you to the presentation I gave the board last night. It describes in great detail why Abrams' hotel as proposed is bad for Abbot Kinney and bad for Venice. It's wonky, but it puts truth to the lies Abrams' development team have been spreading for months. 
But before you read that, I'm going to ask you to do one more thing. Write to these folks and let them know what you think of their vote.  
And then vote them out of office May 18th.