Venice residents who want to speak out on plans to build a 4,000-square-foot shopping plaza on Ocean Front Walk will have to travel to Santa Barbara for the state Coastal Commission's only public hearing on the proposal.
News that next Wednesday's hearing is being held 85 miles from the proposed development site has angered some residents who contend that the travel is an unnecessary hardship. Arnold Springer, a member of the Venice Town Council, said many local activists will not be able to attend.
"It's certainly unfair for people who can't afford to hire lawyers to represent them," Springer said. "It's difficult for those of us who are working people to travel. . . . It's really not fair."
The hearing concerns Parkco Management Co.'s request to build a one-story shopping plaza on the beach at 1007-1009 Ocean Front Walk. Bill Harris, attorney for the developers, said his clients had nothing to do with choosing the hearing site.
Commission Sets Site
"It just so happens that the next place they'll be meeting is in Santa Barbara," Harris said. "It could have been San Diego or Marina del Rey. . . . The Coastal Commission sets the hearing locations."
Commission staff member Pam Emerson said the hearing was scheduled for the first available meeting site, which happens to be at the Board of Supervisors chambers in Santa Barbara. She added that it cannot be postponed until a subsequent Inglewood meeting because proposals submitted to the commission have to be considered within 48 days.
"The Coastal Act is written to put these things on the agenda as quickly as possible," Emerson said. "So we can't postpone until it gets to L. A."
The Parkco development would cost about $100,000. Harris said it would include four or five shops that would be rented to merchants who currently peddle their wares on the outdoor walk.
Conflict With Coastal Plan
The Coastal Commission staff has recommended denial of the project, noting that plans to replace a 39-car parking lot with 18 on-site parking spaces is inconsistent with Venice's pending local coastal plan, which calls for developers to provide replacement parking when existing parking is displaced.
The commission staff report states that more than 2,000 Venice residents have no off-street parking. Of the 140 vacant lots in the area, 40 to 50 are used for parking, according to the report, which adds that the area near the proposed Parkco development is "particularly affected" by the parking shortage.
"Probably the single most important coastal planning issue for the North Venice area is the provision of adequate parking facilities to assure continued public access to the Venice Beach," the report states.
Residents also have complained that loss of parking spaces would reduce public access to the beach.
Fears Bad Precedent
"To allow this project and not mandate (additional) parking would be a precedent that would make it impossible for the city to impose that demand on other developers," Springer said. "What they should do is excavate the lot, put in a floor of parking and have their shops elevated. They can't hope to develop the property without providing the parking. That would mean the demise of the residential community."
Harris argued that the parking demands are unreasonable, saying that the Coastal Commission staff was wrong to base its decision on a coastal plan that has not been approved. He also contended that adequate parking is provided.
"I don't know how we can provide more parking without taking away from the size of the building," Harris said. "It's the tiniest project that you could ever imagine on this piece of property."
Harris also questioned why commission staff members and some Venice residents would challenge a project that would take a handful of merchants off the streets.
Commission 'More Reasonable'
"We're only trying to provide commercial indoor space for what's been going on there for years in the parking lots," Harris said. "It's not to create more retail or more commercial activity there. It's to take what's currently in existence and put it indoors."
Harris said that the effort to win commission approval over the staff's objections is a "crapshoot" but that the commission tends to be "more reasonable" than its staff.
Springer has written a letter opposing the project on behalf of the Venice Town Council. He called on the commission to support the staff denial, saying that parking should be the major consideration.
"The ability to provide replacement parking has to be the key for approval," Springer said. "If the commission doesn't stand for that . . . we might as well give up."