City of Venice

For a city of Venetians

History, Shmistory


By Laura Shepard TownsendThey say “if you don’t learn from history…then you’re just stupid!”
The changes currently assaulting the community of Venice, heralded as ‘progress’, call to mind 1926, a year of rabid dismantlement of everything Abbot Kinney, our enlightened doge-founder, wove into the fabric of Venice, a community he created to foster art, the humanities and the human spirit.
Let’s note some important similarities between 1926 and 2014. In 1926, newspaper headlines blared the record-setting numbers of building permits issued in Venice. It was marveled that each month broke the previous month’s record-breaking number of permits.
Now in 2014, unprecedented numbers of liquor licenses are applied for (108 counted and those are the ones we know about). Permits and variances have swamped and continue to swamp LUPC as well as the Coastal Commission. Yes sirree, folks, it is the wild, wild west here in Venice! At a recent Coastal Commission meeting, one owner abashedly admitted the one house under consideration for demolition had already been razed! Right under the nose of the Department of Building and Safety. WHOOPS!!! Didn’t that contractor hit the jackpot!! And what fine was levied for his serious digression? A bona fide permit by the Coastal Commission to continue the construction of yet another humongous box.
Getting back to 1926. There were so many permits granted in 1926 because that was the year after the City of Venice voted to annex to the City of Los Angeles. Venice had a lot of problems. Their city government was inept, bordering on corruption. Even though millions of dollars were needed to repair the failing infrastructure, in every election the Venice voters rejected the necessary bonds. The Kinney Company blessed annexation to L.A. as the most expedient way to get repairs done for the least amount of money; the esteemed newspaper, the Venice Vanguard, ran constant editorials touting annexation to the City of Los Angeles. When the vote was tallied, it won by a whopping 915 votes (3130 votes for annexation, 2215 against) – numbers purportedly padded by the importation of ‘temporary’ residents.
Okay, so let’s see what happened to Venice as a result of annexation in 1925, and the subsequent record-granting of permits in 1926. Since Venice had become the City of Los Angeles’ one and only beach city, it had to be rebuilt to be L.A.’s one and only beach city.
Los Angeles’ first act was to hasten the demise of the Red Cars by paving over Trolley Way. Simply, this ensured that the private automobile ruled, which meant roads had to be built for them to drive on. The Kinney Company added to the development hoopla by razing Villa City, Abbot Kinney’s prized cluster of 246 villas designed for the rich and poor, the traveler and resident. In its place, they would put a second business district.

As a result of such rapid development, traffic ballooned – the solution: the glory of the Venice Canals had to be filled in, then paved over with asphalt. This was no small matter. Venice was absolutely defined by the constant delight and serenity of its canals, “where it seemed as if some magic hand had lined the banks with beds of flowers along the clear water”. Protesting Venetians were overruled by the courts. And it was done.
Because The Kinney Company seemed to be so insistent in killing off Venice, a statement had to be issued. Thornton Kinney, Abbot Kinney’s son, explained, “Venice was a dream city and without sentiment it could not be built. But financial calculations suffocate sentiment and the march of time and progress of the community demanded sentiment be stifled.” Obviously, Thornton had different dreams than his father. And obviously, the profit margins of the Kinney Company were insufficient.
But Venetians were going to pay even more penalties with its annexation to Los Angeles. Venice relied heavily on amusement for its revenue, but L.A.’s ‘Blue Laws’ would forbid not only gambling, but all-night dancing as well as dancing on Sundays. Tourists quickly abandoned Venice for Santa Monica, where there were no such restrictions on dancing and gambling. One-third of Venetian businesses ended up closing their doors.
1925 marked when Venice ceased to be its own community, but with distillation, this remains the core of all of the battles Venice is fighting against today. In terms of the variances and permit granting by Los Angeles to these boxy behemoths, (restaurants, bars, hotels and businesses), they hasten the destruction of what is left of community.
It is only because the structures and businesses being proposed are so out of line with this community, that they require permits and variances. Because the behemoths are so built out to the property lines, they ensure that the next box structure constructed must be even larger so the new building will absolutely not reside in the shadows of the one built before. And so the beat goes on…..Imagine living in a small cottage towered over by these huge boxes that block those precious commodities for which we all moved to (or stayed in) Venice – like sunlight and air flow. The Golden Rule has ceased to be operational in Venice. Money is the only trump in this game….
Our former City Councilperson, Ruth Gallanter, once had the wisdom and the audacity to put a moratorium on all construction. It might be time to do the same.
All the great cities of Europe maintain their architecture to encourage tourism. Venice is the second largest draw in California after Disneyland. However, with the razing of the quaint cottages and California bungalows that once graced our streets and canals, what will be the interest in our city to visitors? The box architecture currently being erected is not only anti-quaint, but one can see them anywhere and everywhere. One does not have to venture all the way to Venice, California for its unique perspective on the world.
The tourists can and will go to Santa Monica for restaurants; the waves are better in Malibu. If our City Councilperson is interested in retaining revenue for Los Angeles, then as Los Angeles’ one and only beach city, Venice’s signature, its spirit and community, must be safeguarded.

This article previously appeared in the Free Venice Beachhead newspaper.


September 1, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Venice, Burning to be Restored

By Jim Smith

July is the month of revolutions. The American colonists did it on July 4. The French did it on Bastille Day, July 14. Many more nations celebrate their revolution, or liberation from an occupying power, in July. They include Algeria, Argentina, Belarus, Belgium, Mozambique, Peru, Venezuela and many more.And so it is with Venice. We celebrate our founding as taking place on July 4, 1905, when Venice of America had its grand opening. For the next 20 years, inhabitants of Venice – Venetians – basked in independence as a free city of California.

This is not the place for a recounting of the machinations that Los Angeles performed in order to annex Venice (they have been told in other Beachheads and in books). Ever since Venice lost its independence, Venetians have been struggling to regain it.

This spring, while most eyes were focused on the Ukrainian crisis, the city of Venice, Italy, held a referendum for total independence from Italy. It passed with more than 89 percent in favor. The voting was organized by the people of Veneto (the Venice region) giving the powers in Italy an excuse for not recognizing the results. But at the very least, the issue of the rebirth of the Serene Republic of Venice, after more than 200 years, is back on the table.

Should Venice, California do any less to regain its cityhood? Holding a referendum might be the first step to independence. A resounding vote in favor of Venice cityhood would show the legislators in Sacramento – who have the power to ease the process to cityhood – that there is broad-based support for an independent city.

The failed vote in 2002 for San Fernando Valley cityhood is often brought up as somehow justifying a lack of activity in promoting Venice cityhood. Yet, what is not well known is that a majority of voters within what would have been the new city, cast votes in favor. It was only outlying areas of Los Angeles that voted no after a fear-mongering campaign by L.A.’s 1 percenters.

In order to head off the fear mongering, advocates of Venice cityhood should assure low-income tenants that rent-control will not go away, but will become stronger as absentee landlords lose power. New development schemes will be decided by people in Venice who have to live with them, not by city hall bureaucrats who never set foot in Venice. And unions, should be assured that their representation rights for city workers within Venice will be recognized.

The city of Venice, along with Berkeley, can be the most progressive place to live in California, where people’s rights, regardless of their wealth or lack of it, are recognized and celebrated.

Yet, there seems to be a peculiar lassitude among Venetians, even activists, in taking the needed steps to restore cityhood. Perhaps it’s the chem trails, or maybe the GMOs that are making people passive. In any case, if civil rights activists had been as passive, there would still be segregation in the South. And if the American colonists, who were among the world’s elite in the 1770s had not roused themselves to endure terrible hardship at Valley Forge and elsewhere, this would still be a British colony. And, yes, some of us would still be demanding independence.

For those who are still not convinced that they should put their shoulders to the wheel of Venice history, perhaps the words of Venice’s greatest poetess, Philomene Long, will convince:

Venice, city conceived in imagination for imagination
With body intact –the canals, the welcoming houses
The people came. It happened – the magic – unexplainable
Venice becoming the city imagined
A city like no other city on earth
Its community of Venetians giving her a soul
Bright. Transcendent. The soul of Venice
A gift, which cannot be bought nor stolen
This is the gift out right, freely given
To those open to receive it; for those who listen
But Venice transcendent still needs a body
It can be, has been, wounded
It can die; live on only in history
So we here today, as with previous Venetians
Welcome all as neighbor, loving freely
At the same time preserve and protect our radiant city
With magic and practicality
And with the hope of a pale green egg
That resolve passed on from those that have gone before us
For them as for ourselves, and for those that will follow
Will stand here where we stand today
And who will walk upon our footsteps into the next century
That the light of Venice not be extinguished
Nor diminished, nor simply be maintained
But that light burn, burn, burn into a boundless Luminosity!


This article previously appeared in the July 2014 issue of the Free Venice Beachhead newspaper.

July 1, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Prospects for Venice Cityhood

By Jim Smith

Like the surf that keeps rolling up on Venice’s shore, the idea of restoring our cityhood just won’t go away.In 2012, I am continually approached by Venetians who ask “What’s going on with cityhood?” or “What do we have to do to get free of L.A.?”

It’s not a new issue. In 1925, there were immediate claims of foul when the supporters of annexation by Los Angeles finally won an election. Previous votes to annex to Los Angeles or Santa Monica had both failed. In 1940, there was a bill in the California State Senate to restore Venice cityhood. During the 1960s and ‘70s, it became a movement, called Free Venice.

This paper, the Free Venice Beachhead, has always been a part of the demand for restoration. In the 1990s, a new committee was formed that actively campaigned for cityhood. Through the “00s,” community forums took place under the auspices of the University of Venice and well-reasoned articles appeared in the Beachhead. In the end, we didn’t get any closer to getting our city back.

What’s different today? 

A couple of things. More and more Venetians are becoming disgruntled with the city of Los Angeles. Previously, the megalopolis was able to quietly siphon off much more money from Venice than it returned. Lately, its financial problems have made L.A. look for any way to make a buck in Venice. This includes raising the price of parking and the tickets that everyone eventually gets on “street cleaning” day, whether there is any actual street cleaning or not, schemes such as the “Big Wheel” and the “Zip Line,” which include revocable “promises” of sharing revenue with Venice.

Waiting in the wings are more metered parking, more amusement rides, more fees for city services such as repairing broken sidewalks, allowing advertisements everywhere including Ocean Front Walk, renewed inspections by code enforcers and a wholesale reassessment of Venice’s taxable property values.

The Los Angeles City Council, June 5, declared a fiscal emergency. This enables the Mayor to make massive layoffs (just what we need, more people out of work) and cuts in services. There is a projected deficit of $199 million for fiscal year 2013-14 and $315 million for the following year. Unless it squeezes the life out of Venice and other “holdings,” it is on the path to bankruptcy.

At the same time, Venice is becoming wealthier. Property values are on the rise again, which could make a great tax base for the city of Venice. As an independent city, Venice would be larger than half of the 88 current cities in Los Angeles County.

Some critics have said that Venice would not be viable without a shopping center to tax. Anyone who has been past the intersection of Rose and Lincoln lately knows that Venice now has a shopping center, even if it is one hugely profitable Whole Foods Market. It is only a matter of time before a new proposal to redevelop Lincoln Center, at California and Lincoln, is floated again. As Lincoln Place becomes repopulated, it makes sense to provide stores that cater to the locals, and are a source of revenue for Venice.

For anyone seriously interested in regaining cityhood, it might be useful to look at how other cities of Venice’s size gain their revenue and what they spend it on. A nearby city of approximately Venice’s size is Culver City. More than 50 percent of Culver City’s revenue comes from three sources:  Sales Tax, Utility Taxes and Business Licenses. The budgets of other cities in L.A. County can be easily accessed with an internet search.

In Venice, we would likely gain much of our income from our largest industry, tourism. This would include sales tax, hotel taxes, parking revenue, taxi fees and other fees to derive at least some income on the tens of thousands who descend on Venice each day.

Uniting for a City of Venice

In recent years, Venice has been a war zone of neighbors battling each other over parking, poverty and development. Some Venetians believe that such divisions make it impossible for the community to come together in favor of city hood.

However, the Coalition to Save the Venice Post Office has brought together groups and people who usually don’t get along. It includes this newspaper, the Venice Neighborhood Council, the Venice Stakeholders Association, Venice Peace and Freedom, SPARC, Venice Arts Council, Venice Chamber of Commerce, various poets, writers, artists, and business people. Personal attacks and extraneous issues are frowned upon by most of the participants. As a result, Venice has been able to speak with one voice and to wage a credible fight to save one of our most historic buildings.

The fight to save the Post Office has also pointed out our weakness in not having a city government. In Hermosa Beach, when the local Post Office was targeted for closure, the city responded with electronic signs on busy streets urging residents to email their Congressmember. In a short time, Rep. Jane Harman received 5,000 emails from angry Hermosa Beach residents. She then demanded that the Postal Service not close the HB post office. Contrast that with the lack of response from our two Senators and Rep. Henry Waxman. Post offfices are being abandoned by the USPS in Santa Monica and La Jolla. But in both communities the city government is considering buying the post offices and turning them into city buildings, thereby keeping them as public spaces.

Can we come together for cityhood before the remaining historic buildings and houses and public services are decimated?

Some Venetians have told the Beachhead that they are wary of cityhood because the other side (homeless haters or sixties hippies, take your pick) would assume power.

So it comes down to whether you’d rather be ruled by the crooks in L.A. City Hall or “those people” down the block. It also comes down to a question of democracy. Can you have anything resembling democracy in a jurisdiction of more than four million people? Democracy is more than having a secret ballot election periodically. It is at heart, a question of how much control, power, influence the average person has in the social maelstrom swirling about around him or her. Most of us who have served on the neighborhood council know that it is not a body with real power. At best, it can advise city officials on local policy. At worse, it is a placebo offered to a withering community that needs a dose of real power.

Venice is a potential city of 40,000 people. It can be walked, biked or skated from one end to the other. Anyone elected to a Venice City Council would have to live in this small area. Does anyone know where the 14 men and one woman who are the Los Angeles City Council live? Does anyone know where the department head, who has great decision-making power, lives? Does anyone even know the names of the bankers, corporate heads and big developers who are the real rulers of Los Angeles?

In Venice, civic-minded people would know their elected officials. They would also see these people at the market, the hardware store, or out riding their bikes. The potential for real democracy in a city of 40,000 would be much greater than it would be in an entity of millions.

Venice have suffered, you will ultimately find an instigator from the L.A. city government. This was true of the abolition of the progressive Grass Roots Venice Neighborhood Council in 2006, the Overnight Parking Districts, the beach curfew, and the Big Wheel, among others. This does not mean that there weren’t locals who were more than happy to “front” the fight. However, if Venice was its own city, they wouldn’t be able to rely on these powerful backers. Accommodation, not confrontation, would become the political game in small town Venice.

How can we assemble a wide-ranging committee to plan the initial steps for regaining cityhood. As a temporary measure, I’d like to suggest a discussion begin on This is neutral ground, although I am the moderator. The only rule is that people use their real names. Regaining cityhood is serious business, not an idle discussion. Once we get together on VeniceCA, we can get volunteers to put up a website, Facebook page, Twitter, etc. So let’s get started!

Would people you don’t agree with be elected to office? Yes. Would people you do agree with be elected to office? Yes. This is how democracy works. In a town or a society where everyone thinks the same, you wouldn’t need democracy. But Venice hasn’t been that homogeneous since the Sixties (and probably wasn’t even then).

So yes, we would have disagreements, hard fought elections, and a few disagreeable people. But we would likely have less disputes than we do at present. If you search carefully hrough the major controversies that we in Venice have suffered, you will ultimately find an instigator from the L.A. city government. This was true of the abolition of the progressive Grass Roots Venice Neighborhood Council in 2006, the Overnight Parking Districts, the beach curfew, and the Big Wheel, among others. This does not mean that there weren’t locals who were more than happy to “front” the fight. However, if Venice was its own city, they wouldn’t be able to rely on these powerful backers. Accommodation, not confrontation, would become the political game in small town Venice.

How can we assemble a wide-ranging committee to plan the initial steps for regaining cityhood? As a temporary measure, I’d like to suggest a discussion begin on This is neutral ground, although I am the moderator. The only rule is that people use their real names. Regaining cityhood is serious business, not an idle discussion. Once we get together on VeniceCA, we can get volunteers to put up a website, Facebook page, Twitter, etc. So let’s get started!

This article first appeared in the July 2012 issue of the Free Venice Beachhead newspaper.

July 1, 2012 Posted by | cityhood | | Leave a comment

Save The Venice Post Office

Ask Janice Hahn to help

 As our likely next Congress–member, she will have the power to stop the sale of our historic post office.

 Email or call Janice Hahn. She will likely win the runoff election, July 12, for Congress. 

Send an email to


Call Janice Hahn at 323-338-4441

Ask your friends & neighbors to do likewise.


Which Post Office Do You Want?

• Our historic post office with an equally historic mural inside.


• A barn of a building (the annex) that was falling apart when Safeway abandoned it 30 years ago.



By Jim Smith – June Beachhead

Why would anyone want to sell our 72-year-old historic post office? The officials at the US Postal Service claim that it is because the quasi-public organization is in deep financial trouble. The USPS currently is $8 billion in debt. It estimates the sale of the Venice Post Office could bring in $4.8 million, a drop in the debt bucket.

The USPS wants to close 2,000 of its more than 31,000 post offices, and cut mail delivery to five days per week. A major part of the problem, like many businesses, is employee health care. This could easily be eliminated by implementing single-payer health care, which is not employer based. In addition, the postal service says it over-contributed $75 billion to federal retirement. A reversal of this account could save the post office for the foreseeable future, while it comes up with a plan to deliver vital communication services such as first-class mail, and to reclaim more of the lucrative overnight mail and package express market, which critics say it gave away because of political pressure.

The Postal Service, as it now exists, is Nixon’s parting shot to an ungrateful nation. It is neither public nor private, but incorporates the worst features of each. It has an impossible mission of delivering mail to a large part of the globe while making a profit. Its current deficit is made worse by a lasting economic depression that has cut its business significantly. In addition, it gave away most of its most lucrative business -– overnight mail – to corporations. The Postal Service doesn’t have a business plan to speak of and is taking its deficit out on the public by cutting services and selling off valuable property, like the Venice Post Office.

A rational business plan for the postal service may include getting rid of many of its brick and mortar post offices, but it makes little sense to begin with the highly visible “legacy” post offices that are historic. The Venice Post Office is a symbol of our community. Its looming presence gives our community the status of a town, not just a wide place in the road.

Read the whole story at:


June 27, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Town Council meeting on Vera Davis Center and Post Office – June 16

The next meeting of the Venice Town Council will be as follows:

6:30pm – Housekeeping items, announcements

7pm – Vera Davis Center – Save the services at the VDC!

8pm – Venice Post Office – Save the historic building as the Post Office

Location: Vera Davis Center

All Venetians may speak and may vote.

May 30, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Petition to Save Vera Davis Center Services


April 23, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Save the Vera Davis Center services

The Venice Town Council will meet at follows on this topic:

7pm Thursday, April 21
Vera Davis Center
610 California Avenue

Please join us in this effort to keep services to the low income and jobless at this location.

April 19, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Venice Cityhood Meeting

The Venice Cityhood Committee meets:

7-9 pm Friday, October 22
at 533 Rialto Avenue
(one block west of Abbot Kinney Blvd.)

Why Cityhood?

  • Decisions should be made at the local level (Venice)
  • L.A. wants to gut its zoning code, say L.A. Neighbors United –
  • L.A. dictates rent increases in spite of zero inflation (cpi) –
  • Venice libraries, parks, beach, streets and social services suffer with no end in sight due to L.A.’s budget crisis.

Who would benefit?

  • Venice residents, 70% of whom are renters.
  • Venice businesses who would see their fees stay in the community.
  • Venice home owners who would likewise see their property taxes put to use in their community.
  • Venice artists who would have a city government friendly to the arts.
  • Venice social service organizations who would no longer have to compete with agencies all over L.A. for needed funding.

How do we get started?

  • Join us on Oct. 22 and subsequent committee meetings.
  • Lend your expertise in research, law, accounting, communications, graphic design and outreach. No skills will be turned away.
  • Tell your friends why we need cityhood. Get them involved!

Venice becoming the city imagined
A city like no other city on earth
–Philomene Long

August 25, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Venice Cityhood – Powerpoint/Keynote Presentation

Here is the slightly modified presentation made at the kickoff meeting on July 25, 2010 at our old city hall.

Venice Cityhood

July 30, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Venice Cityhood Committee Sign-up

Here is the pdf of the sign-up sheet for those wishing to become active in the Venice cityhood campaign.


July 30, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment