Victory is Sweet

Venice, CA, Thursday, June 10, 2010. My home town is still in mourning from the lost of it's favorite son, Dennis Hopper. I saw the freshly painted mural to his life as I went to the polls on Tuesday. So after working on the Marcy Winograd campaign and seeing that and so many other important struggles fall short, it was nice to be able to savor a small community victory on Thursday before the California Coastal Commission.

Let me set the scene for you. Nestled between expensive Santa Monica to the north and trendy Marina Del Rey to the south, the big developers consider Venice Beach one of the last 'undeveloped' beach areas in Southern California. Gentrification is afoot and a necessary part of the plan of these city "leaders" is to rid the area of homeless people, including Venice's long standing community of people living in RVs and other vehicles. Since the actual struggle took place in the Marina Del Rey Hotel, the description someone gave it as a struggle between the 'have nots' and the 'have yachts' really seemed to fit.

One part of their scheme has been to set up Overnight Parking Districts [OPDs]. By establishing permit parking in Venice they hope to stop people from parking on the streets overnight while at the same time creating another revenue stream for the city through permit fees, increased parking fees and increase tickets.

But the City of Los Angeles had a problem. Two problems really. The first problem is that Venice is also an activist community. The second problem is that any changes in parking that may effect beach access must also be approved by the California Coastal Commission. The City tried to get their way before CCC a year ago and failed when the Venice community turned out in large numbers and showed itself to be overwhelmingly opposed to the OPDs. The Commissioners told the City that it was not their job to solve the city's social problems and they thought the change would aversely affect beach access and voted 9 to 1 against. They told the city to try the application of existing laws and new social services to tackle the problem and then come back later if the still thought they needed OPDs.

A year later, this was the rematch. The City of LA has done none of the things the CCC asked them to do but they had work hard to make the CCC change their decision. A new community group, the Venice Stakeholders Association [VSA], sued the city over it and the city quickly settled pending the CCC decision and Assemblyman Ted Lieu introduced a bill in the legislature stripping the CCC of it's power in this matter, All this was put on hold while the matter was put before the CCC again.

Monday there was a community meeting at Venice United Methodist Church and from there dozens of community activist fanned out with fliers about the upcoming CCC meeting. So Thursday morning the hearing room was packed, they set up an overflow room. Nearly a hundred people signed up to speak, again 10 to 1 opposed. Most had blue signs saying 'NO OPD' which we waved above our heads whenever a point we favored was being made. The meeting lasted all day. After lunch, I brought my notebook and got wireless access. Five comments I posted to my Kos I/P diary of the day before were done from the hearing room. Around 5 o'clock the commission got around to voting. With Councilmen Bill Rosenthal, representatives of the LAPD and a rep from the city attorneys office all speaking in favor, threat from the Assembly to take away their power and the added pressure that a negative decision would unravel the out-of-court settlement between the city and the VSA, we all assumed the fix was in.

So we were every pleasantly surprised when the commission voted 6-3 against! It is so nice to see a government body say no to money and power and do what the community wants. As the cheering and celebration subsided, I yelled "Party at the [Venice] Bistro. And that's what many of us did.