Get The Hell Off My Lawn!

In reading Curbed L.A. today, I saw an entry on the RAD Sunset project. I’m sorry to say, I haven’t taken much ownership in the community of Venice yet, but that woke me up. There’s a lot of changes happening here that may not affect me directly, but that I, and the dozens of people like me that live here, need to take more responsibility for, as a community. As a transitory resident in a city of renters, nothing done to Venice will affect me on a permanent basis. But I’m finally waking up to realize, if we don’t start taking responsibility for our communities (temporary residents or not), and don’t monitor the developments and changes, then the corporations who are selling them out will continue to alter the character of the area, and the Venice I live in today may not be the Venice that is still here in ten years. Even as a renter, I have to accept a certain temporary custodial allegiance to Venice, to Los Angeles, as long as I pay my rent to live in this slanty fourplex building.

So, reading about RAD Sunset today kind of made me stop in my tracks. I’ve been idly watching the buildings come and go here in Venice. And I don’t even think that RAD Sunset is that much of an evil. There are those that oppose it, but it’s only taking the place of an MTA lot, and it’s already on a street full of new loft developments, not to mention the Chiat/Day Giant Frickin’ Binoculars. And while I’m on the fence about regentrification – most of the time, it’s a pretty big evil – perhaps putting in more storefronts and outward-facing buildings would make those few blocks feel like less of a crime-riddled industrial zone, and more of a community.

My concern with RAD Sunset – and projects of its ilk – is the precedent it sets. Because this is where things get evil. Last year, I watched the events at Lincoln Place unfold. Two of my first friends in L.A. were living there, in a community that I envied. I’ve never known the names of my neighbors, or had the sense of community, to the degree that the Lincoln Place residents did. And there were days when I’d hang out over there, sitting in the garden courtyards between the buildings, eating loquats (they’re kind of like tiny pears with giant seeds) and chatting in the sunshine. Those days are well in the past now, as Lincoln Place has been decimated, culminating in what Rosendahl referred to as the largest mass eviction on a single day in L.A. history, at the end of 2005.

The payoffs to residents, in varying amounts of thousands of dollars, started in summer 2005. Even though the money would never equal the loss in quality of life – or even the increased rent ex-tenants would pay elsewhere on the Westside – the community began to resemble a ghost town after that. With half the residents opting to leave, mostly out of fear of eviction, visiting my friends at Lincoln Place became almost eerie. Yet the remaining residents fought on, in the hopes that they could reclaim their homes, and bring back people to fill the village again. Still, after a year of fundraisers and auctions to support the lawyers, after protests and sit-ins, the evictions continued. The last hope came when a deal was seemingly reached, but under unacceptable terms from the corporate entity responsible, and the deal was killed.

80 more evictions came down in December, including families with children. The tent city went up. 80 apartments are left, inhabited by senior citizens and the disabled – and their evictions are likely coming after March 21st. My friends finally voluntarily left, moved elsewhere in Venice, and lent their abandoned apartment (they had not yet been technically evicted) to a family who had lost their unit. From now on, Lincoln Place will likely be allowed to fall into disrepair (as hypothesized in this article) so that AIMCO can demolish it and rebuild.

The sick thing to me, is that AIMCO is based in COLORADO. None of the people who are responsible for this decision have anything to do with the community at the complex, or with the community of Venice. This isn’t a decrepit housing project that’s laced with crime and violence. This was a nice place to live. This was a village in itself. Los Angeles has a history of allowing developers, freeways and civic projects to re-create areas of the city that it deems undesirable (Bunker Hill, anyone?), but this didn’t even fall under that category. It’s happening because an out of state entity wants the money from the luxury condo development.

So at what point do we say, this is not OK? RAD Sunset is the lesser of the evils, and claims to be providing low-income housing. Since it’s not replacing a low-income complex like Lincoln Place, that’s fine. But the new Lincoln Place development, when/if it’s built (and with the historical designation being challenged, that may be soon) will have 10% low income housing, by law, in place of the 100% the original structures had. And future developments, even if they’re a RAD Sunset project, not a Lincoln Place travesty, will all continue to subtly bring a different demographic to Venice, a demographic of people who are much more homogeneous than the patchwork of people who live here now. Where do we start to speak out, push back, draw the line to say, this is not an acceptable standard? Not here, not Venice – not someplace this unique and fragile.

And where do we find the ground to stand on, when we’re not homeowners here, just residents, just renters? Do I want to wake up one day and find a godawful steel, concrete and glass building that’s totally at odds with the rest of the community, fenced and walled off and gated away?

It’s a fight I haven’t thrown my shoulder to – even now, writing this, there’s ten things I should be doing, from CODEPINK work for our new Conscientious Objectress campaign, down to freelance work that pays for me to live here. I do believe the day is coming though, when the twentysomethings and thirtysomethings that live here will need to start accepting our responsibilities. Just paying to live here isn’t enough: we need to accept the ownership of the community while we do, and keep it intact for future residents. Nothing’s going to affect me like, say, the luxury condo building that went up in my parents backyard back home in Victoria, BC, which I have had to shudder at every time I’ve gone home in the last eight years – but it will affect anyone who does call Venice home. It is time to start respecting that.

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