My mailman told me recently that he’s retiring soon and plans to move up to Mt. Shasta. When I asked him if he would miss Venice, he replied, “I already do.” The neighborhood he’d once loved was long gone.
Twenty-one years ago, when I moved to Venice, I installed large windows so that I could watch the sky and trees and the quiet street out front. The houses were small. My immediate neighbors were three elderly ladies who had purchased their homes — new homes — for $9,000. On a couple of occasions I came home from work to beautiful brown hawks sitting on my fence. When we had heavy rain, Penmar Park filled with ducks.
It wasn’t perfect. Park users sometimes threw their trash out their car windows. It would sit there for days because there were no regularly scheduled street cleanings. There were used condoms in the gutter from the Lincoln Boulevard hookers.
But at least the place had character. And it was affordable.
Although we Venice residents of longstanding are mostly Bernie Sanders types, we can understand the Trumpian anger that the world is changing for the worse, and that the rampaging economy is crushing rather than lifting the middle class.
Venice is where everyone can drive with a phone in their hand at high speeds and through inconvenient stop signs on their way home to their mini-mansion.
On Lincoln Boulevard and Rose Avenue there used to be thrift stores, liquor stores and mini-marts. Now we have a dozen fancy wine stores, marijuana outlets, bars and a Natural Dog Food supermarket.
The average lot size east of Lincoln is larger than points west, so developers are buying up homes by the fistful. Out go the elderly and families. Up go boxes that look like 7-11s and county jails. Across the street from me are two construction sites. Judging from glossy images out front, the developers are in competition for the title of Ugliest Building in the Community. Both are priced in the $6 million range. Those large windows I put in decades ago? I keep them shut now, with the curtains drawn.
There are still great reasons to live in Venice. Ocean breezes. People strolling down or whizzing by on a variety of wheels. The mini-library stand with free books to borrow. Some locals get that “innovative architecture” doesn’t have to mean enormous and out-of-context. When I take walks I see — and smell — gardens planted with fruit trees and vegetables. My yard is full of birds and bees and butterflies. I can hear wind chimes. There are a handful of affordable restaurants left over from the good old days and many Venice residents just odd enough to be interesting.
But the gentrifiers — colonizers, really — are spoiling our quality of life. New neighbors are often unfriendly. Sometimes they’re not really neighbors at all but transient groups from Craigslist, AirBnB or other online services. From 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., five or even six days a week, bulldozers rumble around serving the construction sites. Where I used to see blue sky and trees I now see walls hovering over my house and yard.
What else do I see? Traffic. Speeding cars. Ignored stop signs — even next to the playing fields. Morons driving with their dogs on their laps. Crowds of off-leash dogs in the park. Fliers and fly swatters stuffed into our gates by Realtors. Noisy landings and take-offs from Santa Monica Airport — some 250 each day, on average. Overpriced cocktails on Rose Avenue for overpaid high-tech kids. (I hoped gentrification would bring happy hours, instead I got $9 beers and $15 glasses of wine). Broken sidewalks. Alarms on the houses, and high fences and hedges dividing newcomers from their neighbors.
And just like 21 years ago, no regularly scheduled street cleanings. With all that money coming in, you’d think at least that would have changed for the better.
I complained to Councilman Mike Bonin’s office about the lack of street cleanings, the off-leash dogs, the fact that cops don’t ticket for speeding, and a host of other issues. The reply was that there were places that had greater problems, and the City can’t be everywhere.
Venice is where everyone can drive with a phone in their hand at high speeds and through inconvenient stop signs on their way home to their mini-mansion, so that they can walk their horse-sized dogs over to the park to use as a toilet. Antisocial behavior is the norm.
Venice was once a nice place to live and a destination in guidebooks. Now it’s just a destination.
Jack Schwartz is a housing and tribal lawyer.