Friday, May 20, 2016

ALERT: Please Send Message to Councilman Bonin Asking for Reinstatement of the Car Camping Ban

Please send the following message to Councilman Bonin:

Dear Councilman Bonin,

Venice continues to be inundated by scores of people living in their vehicles right next to schools and residences with all the problems that this generates.

The City Attorney last year presented the City Council with new language for LAMC 85.02 that meets the constitutional concerns of the court.  You can view it in CF 14-1057 and City Attorney Report R15-0088.  The CA's report includes alternative language that would allow car camping at remote locations in conjunction with participation in a program with social service agencies to find permanent housing.

I am writing to ask that you press your colleagues on the Homeless and Poverty Committee to pass this new version of LAMC 85.02 and send it to the City Council for a vote.

Thank you,

Mark Ryavec, President, Venice Stakeholders Association

cc:  Chad Molnar, Debbie Dyner-Harris

Send to:, and

Sunday, May 15, 2016

50% Loss of Your Property Rights Will Result from Neighborhood Council’s Land-Use Plan

Mass, Character and Scale Plan 
Would Freeze Building in Venice

By Mark Ryavec
An Ad-Hoc Committee of the Venice Neighborhood Council has proposed a 50 percent reduction in the square footage that will be allowed in homes built in the future. The “Mass, Character and Scale” committee has proposed this reduction in an over-reaction to the development mania we’ve witnessed in Venice in the last few years and in a genuine desire to preserve our architectural legacy. While I admire the time and diligence they devoted to their task, their proposals go way too far.

Let me put their work in context.

In the early 90s, in response a similar building boom, the City Council passed an Interim Control Ordinance (ICO) to slow down development in Venice while it prepared what later became the Venice Local Coastal Specific Plan, which controls all development here.
However, despite the limits of the ICO, many residents watched with dismay as iconic bungalows still got bulldozed and shipped off to landfills. So, in 1993 a small group that included Historical Society president Betsy Goldman, architect Michael King and myself developed and presented to the council office an Historical Preservation Incentive Program which would have granted relief from certain building codes if 75 percent of the fa├žade and 60 percent of a pre-1940 structure was pre- served during a remodel or addition. The program would have allowed the retention of non-compliant front, side and rear-yard set- backs, parking in rear side-yard setbacks and slight increases in height. 

The goal was to make remodeling and adding onto historic structures at least as financially attractive as new construction.

Councilwoman Galanter ignored our proposal and instead included in the new Specific Plan the requirement that every development project abide by the mass, character and scale of its surrounding neighborhood, without giving any definition to those terms. We all have seen how effective that has been over the last two decades at preventing over-development or preserving historic structures. The only instance I can recall of a Zoning Administrator denying a project permit on grounds that a new project would violate mass, character, and/or scale was for a two story project in North Venice where the streetscape is almost entirely one-story. Since our proposal was made in 1993, hundreds of bungalows and Craftsman structures have been destroyed and replaced by bleak, towering three-story stucco boxes.

The current push to revisit the issue grew out of resident annoyance at 3,000 square foot modernistic boxes going up next to one-story, two bedroom Craftsman homes in the eastern walk streets. In response, I formed another working group composed of Eileen Pollack Erickson, a walk street resident, Arnold Springer, former co-chair of the Venice Town Council’s land use committee, architect Michael King and myself. We developed a draft plan for the eastern walk streets that would have modestly downsized the building envelop, required variegation on the front of new structures and slight setbacks between floors, and pushed roof access structures to the back of the building so they would not be visible from the walk street. However, Mr. Springer dropped out of out of discussions before we could finalize our proposal and the VNC went ahead with setting up the Ad Hoc Committee, which has now produced a proposal that would bring most construction or remodeling of single family homes in Venice to a halt.

It would for the first time establish a Floor Area Ratio (FAR) for Venice homes at .45 of the lot size. For example, a typical lot in the “Lost Canals” district of 30 by 90 feet (2,700 square feet of lot size) would be allowed about 1,300 square feet of living space. The proposal does allow some small increases in square footage for variegation (that is, breaking up flat planes, balconies, setbacks between stories, gen- erous use of windows, etc.) but would not allow a typical 2,500 foot house for a family of four that is currently allowed by the Specific Plan. Similar to our earlier historic incentive plan, the Ad-Hoc Committee’s proposal would grant a 30 percent increase in FAR for retention of historic structures in a remodel/addition, but that would only increase FAR to .6, so the resulting house would be limited to about 1,600 total square feet, way below what is allowed today.

Now, I am an ardent fan of historic preservation. I have spent 27 years restoring my 1905 Islamo-Byzantine house on Rialto Avenue, which is rumored to have been built by one of Abbot Kinney’s Italian draftsmen. I also recently remodeled its 1949 guesthouse in the same architectural style. However, I cannot support the Ad-Hoc Committee’s proposal because it is fundamentally unfair. 

There are 2,900 square feet of livable space on my lot and I have yet to hear anyone complain that it is over-built or an example of “mansionization.” There are five other pre-1922 structures on my block that also have more than 2,200 square feet of livable space (my thanks to Ad-Hoc Committee member Brian Finney for this research). I cannot see the justification for the Committee’s “first past the pole” policy, which would accept the generous square footage of those homes constructed early in the century – in Abbot Kinney’s time – but would deny it to those who wish to build now. I also do not believe that a broad amendment to the Specific Plan should be adopted without each sub-area in Venice having the opportunity to fine-tune it for their area, much as the Specific Plan itself was crafted, sub-area by sub-area. 

As Venice architect John Reed recently wrote: “The committee’s recommendations fail to address the uniqueness of Venice’s many different sub-areas and establishes a FAR that for numerous properties will make constructing a three bedroom, single family home for four people impossible. Venice is unlike any other district in Los Angeles for a multitude of reasons, including much smaller average lot sizes and lot width, additional parking requirements, reduced height limit, waterways, etc.”

As I mentioned recently in testimony before the committee, their plan still does not address a couple of the factors that drive owners of older buildings to demolish instead of restore: setbacks and parking. Many of these structures in my neighborhood have only one or two foot side-yard setbacks from the property line. In some instances they do not comply with current rear or front yard setbacks. So, sticking with the original building lines requires both reinforcing or replacing the old foundations while also incurring the cost of additional structural reinforcing to support second and third floors, which under current codes must conform to three or four feet side- yard setbacks. This is very costly and argues for new construction instead of reuse and restoration. Their plan also does not decrease parking from two to one spaces for a new second unit or allow parking in rear side-yard setbacks.
Before the committee’s proposals move forward to the Neighborhood Council I would recommend that:

• They base their proposals on a Floor Area Ratio that allows at least 2,500 square feet to be built on all residential lots.
• Gives parking and setback and modest height incentives to pre-1940 structures.
• Allows fine-tuning by residents in each of the Specific Plan sub-areas to assure incorporation of local concerns and issues.

I would also like to see them pursue an option to allow property owners to declare their block, by a super-majority, an historic zone where only Craftsman style construction would be allowed, existing setbacks allowed and continued into second and third stories, the full envelop of the current Specific Plan would be available, with added incentives such as relaxation of parking requirements or modest additional height. I believe this is required to encourage owners to preserve and remodel older one-story structures in the Craftsman vernacular and thus preserve the charming streetscapes of Abbot Kinney’s Venice of Amer- ica in least some areas of Venice.

Finally, the recommendations must be translated into drawings so that residents can see clearly what would be allowed under each FAR iteration and incentive scenario. The council office could greatly assist this process by providing a modicum of funding so the committee could retain an architectural firm to translate their written proposals into images.

Los Angeles is notorious for destroying its own built history. Let’s see if the Ad-Hoc Committee’s well intended efforts can be built upon to reverse that legacy of neglect here in Venice. _________________________________________________________________________________

The illustrations below are from the 1993 Historic Preservation Incentive Plan.  They were prepared by Michael King of the Studio of Architecture.  They represent a much different approach to preserving our built heritage in Venice than the path taken by the Mass, Character and Scale Committee.  The MCS Committee's Plan would largely freeze Venice in place as it is built out now with little new square footage allowed anywhere in Venice except on empty lots. If the 1993 proposal had been implemented then many of our Craftsman structures would have been added onto in the same style and still be with us today.


Saturday, May 14, 2016

Neighborhood Council Election is June 5th, 10 am to 6 pm


Venice Neighborhood Council Election
Sunday, June 5th, 10 AM to 6 PM
Oakwood Recreation Center
767 California Avenue, Venice, CA

Bring a photo ID and a utility bill, deed or proof of ownership of Venice property, or pay stub with a Venice address. 

This year a group of reasonable, talented and bright candidates are running for the council who offer a chance for real change and leadership on the many issues that confront our community.  

If you would like my recommendations, please email me at, and I'll send them to you.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Venice Stakeholders Attorneys File Legal Challenge to Conversion of Westminster Center to Storage Use

                                                           LUNA & GLUSHON
                                                         A  T  T  O  R  N  E  Y  S     

Councilman Mitch O’Farrell  
Chair, Arts, Parks and River Committee
Los Angeles City Council   
City Hall     
200 North Spring Street, #480   
Los Angeles, CA  90012 

Re:   CF 15-1138-S8/Change of Use of Westminster Senior Center at 1234 Pacific Avenue to Storage Use 

Dear Councilman O’Farrell and Members of the Committee, 

Our firm represents the Venice Stakeholders Association, a non-profit organization dedicated to the protection and preservation of the Venice community. The Association is opposed to the proposed conversion of the Westminster Senior Center at 1234 Pacific Avenue, in Venice, for use as a storage facility for private individuals (“Project”), which the City is attempting to accomplish by the mere modification of an existing contract between it and Chryalis, a non-profit organization, which will operate the Project. 

The City’s proposed actions to approve the Project do not conform to State and City laws, including due process. 

1. The Project Requires a Project Permit pursuant to the Venice Local Coastal Specific Plan and a Coastal Development Permit  
Pursuant to the Venice Local Coastal Specific Plan, no certificate of occupancy may be issued for any Venice Coastal Development Project unless the project has received a Venice Coastal Specific Plan Exemption or a Project Permit pursuant to Los Angeles Municipal Code (“LAMC”) §11.5.7 [Section 6]. Here, the Project does not fall into any of the enumerated projects eligible for a Venice Coastal Specific Plan Exemption [Section 8.A], and therefore must receive a Project Permit pursuant to LAMC §11.5.7 [Sections 8.B, 8.C] prior to being issued a certificate of occupancy for the proposed change of use. 

Similarly, both the State Coastal Act and LAMC §12.20.2 require a Coastal Development Permit (“CDP”) to be obtained for an intensification of a nonresidential use (intensification includes increase in parking need, increased impact to potential traffic generation, noise, smoke, glare, odors, hazardous materials, water use, sewage generation, etc.). Over the last five years, the Westminster Senior Center has been only used sporadically for public meetings. Accordingly, the attraction of hundreds of people on a daily basis during the winter when the Winter Shelter program is operating constitutes an intensification of use requiring a CDP. 

2. The Project Must Comply with the California Environmental Quality Act 

Under the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”), environmental review is required for all “projects,” i.e. activities which may cause either a direct physical change in the environment, or a reasonably foreseeable indirect physical change in the environment undertaken, supported, or approved by a public agency. California Building Industry Association v. Bay Area Air Quality Management District (2013) 218 Cal.App.4th 1171. The definition of “project” is given a broad interpretation to maximize protection of the environment. Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation v. County of El Dorado (2012) 202 Cal.App.4th 1156.

Under the definition provided by CEQA, the Project, which will change the use of the Westminster Senior Center, requires environmental review prior to approval. Such environmental review must include the impacts on noise (a storage use will undoubtedly attract scores of transients to camp adjacent to the facility, both on city park property and adjacent sidewalks and alleys, causing late night noise to the surrounding residential community).

3. The Recreation and Parks Department Must Hold a Public Hearing 

The Ralph M. Brown Act serves to facilitate public participation in all phases of local government decisionmaking and curb misuse of the democratic process by secret legislation of public bodies. Epstein v. Hollywood Entertainment Dist. II Business Improvement Dist. (2001) 87 Cal.App.4th 862, 868. It requires that proceedings of public agencies, and the conduct of the public’s business, take place at open meetings, and the deliberative process by which decisions related to the public’s business are made be conducted in full view of the public. To this end, the Brown Act requires, subject to narrow exceptions, that most meetings of  a local agency’s legislative body1 be open to the public for attendance by all. Wolfe v. City of Fremont (2006) 144 Cal.App.4th 533; Epstein, supra, (the Brown Act must be construed liberally as to accomplish its purpose). 

Similarly, due process principles require reasonable notice and opportunity to be heard before governmental deprivation of a significant property interest. Horn v. County of Ventura (1979) 24 Cal.3d 605, 612. Land use decisions which “substantially affect” the property rights of owners of adjacent parcels constitute “deprivations” of property within the context of procedural due process. Id. at 615. 

The Project has not been vetted with the community or the Venice Neighborhood Council even though approval thereof will undoubtedly substantially affect the owners of the adjacent residential neighborhood. As such its secret approval would constitute both a violation of the Brown Act and general due process. 

In the interests of transparency, the City Council must demand that the Project be presented to the Venice Neighborhood Council and that the City’s Recreation and Parks Department hold a hearing regarding the Project at which the affected neighbors can voice their concerns. 

If the City fails to abide by law, the Venice Stakeholders Association will pursue all administrative and legal avenues to require such compliance. 

Very truly yours,  


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Venice Stakeholders Opposes Bonin's Plan for 90 Units of Housing for Chronic Homeless on Venice Median Lot

This letter, along with Mr. Ryavec's testimony, was delivered to Mr. Bonin today before the City Council's Transportation Committee.

May 11, 2016

Councilman Mike Bonin, Chair, Transportation Committee
Members of the Transportation Committee
City Hall
200 N. Spring Street
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Re: CF 15-1138-S9/Opposition to Release of Request for Proposal (RFP) to provide Housing for 90 Chronic Homeless Individuals on Beach Parking Lot in Advance of Public Hearings  

Dear Councilmember Bonin and Members of the Committee,

Venice Stakeholders Association is a non-profit public benefit organization dedicated to civic improvement and public safety.

We are opposed to the release of a Request for Proposal to provide housing for 90 chronic homeless individuals on beach parking lot #731 in Venice for several reasons:

1.      There have been no hearings in the community on this concept; it has not been submitted to either the Venice Neighborhood Council or the Venice Canals Association.
2.      Additional resident and visitor parking is sorely needed at this location.  The highest and best use for this site is as an automated parking facility which would triple parking capacity at this location and advance the California Coastal Commission’s objective of greater public access to the beach and ocean.
3.      Other homeless serving facilities in Venice have a long history of being an extreme burden to nearby residents.  For example, this past Sunday a client of the St. Joseph Service Center on Lincoln Boulevard started a fire which damaged part of a nearby residence and forced the pregnant owner to evacuate her home due to lingering fumes. Residents living adjacent to the subject parking lot on Venice Boulevard are already burdened by break-ins, assaults, sidewalk blockage, harassment, and late night noise caused by transients living in the area.  There is no requirement in State or City law for the operator of the proposed housing to provide 24/7 security in perpetuity to protect nearby residents from similar noxious activities by the occupants of the proposed facility, so we conclude that this project will place an unacceptable burden on residents and thus should be sited elsewhere.
4.      There are many other less utilized and more isolated city parking lots in other areas of Council District 11 and, indeed, elsewhere in the City that would be better suited for the proposed project.
5.      The release of an RFP puts “the cart before the house.” The California Environmental Quality Act requires that the concept of housing on this site – a significant change of use - receive an environmental review in advance of the City starting down the path to construction of a structure by releasing an RFP. 

I have attached for your consideration a recent article from The Argonaut that speaks to these concerns in more detail.  I would ask that the City Clerk make this letter and attachment a part of the council file.  Thank you. 

Sincerely yours,
Mark Ryavec
Mark Ryavec, president

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Argonaut Column May 5, 2016

Bonin's Homeless Strategy Misses the Mark

More street outreach is needed to help the homeless get off the  beach and into housing
More street outreach is needed to help the homeless get off the beach and into housing

Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin’s recent proposals to address the homeless crisis in Venice remind me of a story.

A guy comes out of a bar one evening and sees a young woman down on her hands and knees, looking for something in the street. He asks what the problem is and she says that she’s lost her car keys.  So he gets down with her and starts looking, too. After searching for several minutes and finding nothing he asks, “Are you sure you lost your keys here?” to which she replies, “No, but the light is better over here.”

Bonin is similarly moving ahead, without public hearings, with three proposals which have been in the public light for a long time, though they have not received resident support. And for good reason; these projects will not soon get any homeless folks off our streets and in some instances will just make the situation worse.

The first recycled idea is to open up the many restrooms along the Venice Beach Recreation Area for 24 hours every day. This would require amendments to both the city’s midnight to 5 a.m. beach curfew and the 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. park closure rule. The Venice Stakeholders Association believes this is just another instance of enablement that will make it easier for transients to live along the boardwalk and walk streets while getting none of them into housing. It runs counter to “best practices,” as evidenced by Santa Monica’s closure at night of its beach and park restrooms.

Reflecting his growing tendency to foist his agenda on residents without any neighborhood hearings and due process, Bonin has already introduced a motion to City Council to make this change, ignoring residents’ previous opposition to weakening the curfew and opening up the restrooms at night. Several years ago when the Coastal Commission threatened to take the city to court over the curfew (which has been in place since 1989), LAPD Pacific Division Cmdr. Brian Johnson asked residents to support the curfew and residents flooded the council office demanding that the curfew be retained.

The second old idea is to create even more storage for homeless people’s possessions, in this instance at the Westminster Senior Center on Pacific Avenue.  Bonin claims storage space is needed to entice homeless individuals to leave the street and enter shelters because they can be assured that their stuff is safe. However, neither Chrysalis, which operates the extensive storage facility downtown, nor the volunteers operating the smaller existing storage facility on Venice Beach have produced evidence that the ability to store their stuff has facilitated any transients moving into shelters or permanent housing.

Further, the need for storage is only acute during the three months that the city’s winter shelters are operating.  It makes little sense to turn over the Westminster Senior Center for that short-term use when many Venice residents would prefer that the building become a combination Venice Historical Museum and a tourist information center for the 10 million people who visit Venice Beach every year.

Nearby residents fear that drawing several hundred transients to the center will bring back camping on the adjacent park grounds, and the crime and late night noise that the LAPD only recently brought under control.  While our organization questions the efficacy of storage facilities, any of the warehouses along nearby Del Rey Avenue, which are not near residences, could be leased by the city for this use, saving the Westminster building for the museum and visitor serving uses.

The third reshod proposal is construction of homeless housing over the parking lot on the Venice Boulevard median between Pacific and Dell avenues. A similar proposal for the Electric Avenue parking lots behind Abbot Kinney Boulevard during a former councilwoman’s tenure was roundly rejected by residents.

We have three objections to the current proposal. Right now many residents living near the beach are held hostage on warm weekends and throughout the summer because if they move their cars from street spaces they will not find parking when they return. This parking scarcity results from this area of Venice being constructed before the widespread ownership of automobiles, and thus with little onsite parking. To address this, the Venice median lot is long overdue for conversion to a three-story automated facility to meet the demand for more parking for both residents and those10 million annual visitors.

The second objection is that 90 units of homeless housing on the site will come with its own parking demand. While the homeless will in most instances arrive without cars, many will not remain carless. As their lives improve, they will acquire cars and that will either rob parking from other residents or reduce visitor parking capacity.

The Los Angeles Housing Department reported to the Venice Neighborhood Council Ad-Hoc Committee on Homelessness in 2009 that Venice already had twice as many affordable housing units per capita as other parts of our council district. One can see these large multifamily buildings throughout Oakwood; most are flagged with the name Breezes del Mar.

Instead of robbing Venice of the chance to build much needed beach-adjacent parking on the Venice Boulevard site, the city should look at the many underutilized city parking lots in Westchester, West Los Angeles and Mar Vista that experience far less demand and where building homeless housing over parking would not compete with the parking needs of a world-renowned tourist destination.

Finally, as we have seen with other permanent supportive facilities, many of the tenants arrive in the grip of addiction or mental illness and continue their noxious and, on occasion, violent behavior. The residents living next to this site are already regularly accosted by homeless campers with these problems; just last year a well-known actor and his pregnant wife were the victims of a mentally ill female camper who scaled their six foot wall in the middle of the night and illegally entered their home. Concentrating 90 chronically homeless individuals in this one location is a recipe for disaster for this neighborhood.

We ask the councilman to instead focus his efforts on more immediate efforts to get campers off the street and beach, instead of making it easier for them to live and store their possessions there while we await projects that won’t come to fruition for another four or five years.

He should fund more case workers for Venice who will enroll more street campers into the Coordinated Entry System, and then get them into leased apartment buildings and houses wherever they can be found.

In this vein we applaud his award of $50,000 to the LAPD Homeless Task Force, which has a track record of getting beach campers into rehab or housing or returning them to safe family members out of state.

However, he has not responded to our call to fund the Teen Project Venice PAD, which has proven successful at getting 16-to-24 year olds off the street and into housing and back into school.

The path should be to a bed tonight or a welcoming family member out of state — not a restroom, not a storage space and not a beach-adjacent apartment that only exists today in some architect’s imagination.