The restoration of the historic Venice canals, a project that has been shelved for more than 20 years because of money shortages, design disputes and community infighting, could finally begin this summer.
A $3.3-million restoration plan was unanimously approved by the Los Angeles City Council week before last as about 300 residents, most of them supporters of the proposal, looked on. The project is expected to come before the state Coastal Commission for final consideration within two months.
'This Is a Good Plan'
"We're hoping to have things rolling by June," said John Hartmire, an aide to Councilwoman Pat Russell, who represents the Venice area. "A good plan motivates people and we think that this is a good plan."
Restoration work on the dilapidated canals would take about two years. Plans call for dredging the six waterways--Carroll, Linnie, Howland, Sherman, Eastern and Grand canals--and adding retaining walls, sidewalks, boat ramps, a storm drain and landscaping.
Canal homeowners would foot $2.8 million of the renovation costs through a special assesment district, with owners of the 370 canal parcels paying an average of $7,000 each over a 10-year period. The remaining costs for renovating the 72-year-old canals, estimated at $540,000, would be paid by the city.
The council vote represents a victory for a canal homeowner group that helped organize the restoration project and a setback for a smaller residents organization that has bitterly opposed the plan.
"We're ecstatic about the project being unanimously approved," said Maxine Leral, a leader of the Venice Canal Assn., which says it represents about 75% of the canal property owners. "This has been a long time in coming and we're looking forward to the time when we can enjoy the . . . canals."
"We feel there are still issues that need to be addressed," said Helen Fallon, secretary of the Venice Canals Resident Homeowners Assn., a group composed of about 15% of the residents. "We feel we stand a better chance before the commission because they're removed from city politics. I think this whole plan is on very shaky ground as far as the state coastal act goes."
State of Decline
The canals, built by Venice founder Abbott Kinney in 1904, have been in a state of decline for several decades and have never had a major overhaul. The water is murky and the sidewalks and sidewalls need to be repaired. Some residents have complained that the area is unsafe, especially for children.
In 1963, the council rejected a renovation plan that would have cost each property owner about $21,000. A plan proposed in the late 1970s also fell through when Proposition 13 drained funds for the work. Leral said interest picked up again in the early 1980s, when the area was declared a cultural and historic landmark and residents circulated a petition supporting the idea of a special assessment district to pay for the restoration.
"More than 73% of the property owners signed the petition," Leral said. "It had come to the point where the city didn't have any money and we felt this was the only way to get anything done."
Members of the Venice Canal Resident Homeowners Assn. have charged that the restoration plans are historically inaccurate and would not return the canals to their original appearance. The group has also claimed that the assessment district is unfair and that restoration could harm wildlife. They have asked for an update of a 1977 environmental impact report, enlisting the support of the Los Angeles Conservancy, which has also criticized the city's use of the 9-year-old study.
Fallon, the group's secretary, said her organization would ask the Coastal Commission to reject or delay the proposal. She said residents who favor the plan have exaggerated their case by making it sound as if emergency measures are necessary to address the canal deterioration.
Fallon added that the organization also rejects the idea that residents should pay for the bulk of the project. She said the costs are too high and could force low- and moderate-income people to move out of Venice.
"I think it's outrageous that we're being asked to pay that kind of money," Fallon said. "I don't accept the argument that there are no other alternatives. But even if I did, I feel that the city should be paying at least half of the cost."
Hartmire, Russell's aide, could not predict the outcome of the Coastal Commission hearing. But he conceded that the commission may agree that the 1977 environmental impact report should be amended.
"There's room for disagreement on any project and they've brought up some good points," Hartmire said. "I don't think an amendment to the impact report would slow things down too much. But this is just a guess. . . . We'd like to see things happening tomorrow."