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Residents Resume Old Feud Over New Plan to Upgrade Venice Canals

March 15, 1987|TRACEY KAPLAN | Times Staff Writer

Kurt Simon has been waiting so long for the Venice canals to be overhauled that he is ready to accept just about any cleanup plan.

"I live on Grand Canal, which I hope will someday be grand. Right now, it's a smelly, foul ditch," Simon, 74, said. "As long as it's done in my lifetime, I'd be satisfied with any improvement."

Not so his neighbors. Infighting over the city's plan to rehabilitate the six waterways--Grand, Carroll, Linnie, Howland, Sherman and Eastern canals--resumed last week as the Los Angeles Board of Public Works unanimously approved a new environmental impact report on the controversial project.

Plans to dredge the dilapidated canals and add retaining walls, sidewalks and landscaping have been repeatedly delayed over the past 20 years by design and funding disputes.

The latest proposal, a $3.3-million plan approved in February, 1986, by the City Council, was shelved last fall pending approval of a new environmental impact report requested by a group of canal residents.

The report is expected to come before the City Council for final consideration this week. If it is approved, as expected, the city and the state Coastal Commission would have to issue coastal development permits before construction could begin on the 3 1/2-mile grid of waterways connected by footbridges and bounded by South Venice Boulevard, Washington Street and Pacific and Ocean avenues.

The two-year project could start this fall unless neighbors appeal the city's decision, said Yvette McFrazier, an aide to Councilwoman Pat Russell. Russell's district includes Venice.

"We're certainly not giving up," said Helen Fallon, secretary of the Venice Canals Resident Homeowners Assn., which opposes the plan, contending that it would cost too much and would not restore the 82-year-old canals to their original appearance.

Canal homeowners would pay for $2.8 million of the renovation costs through a special assessment district, with owners of the 370 canal parcels paying an average of $7,000 each over a 10-year period. The city would pay for the remaining costs, estimated at $540,000.

Pressure on Residents

The plan's opponents claim the assessment district, established in 1983 by the city as a result of a petition signed by 73% of the canal property owners, is unfair. According to the new environmental impact report, low-income residents may be forced to move because of increased rents or property taxes, or because of the assessment cost itself.

"Sure, property values would go up," Fallon said. "But I can't eat my equity, and it won't put braces on my kids' teeth."

"The longer we wait, the more it would cost," countered Murray Leral, a member of the Venice Canals Assn., which supports the $3.3-million plan.

The canals have not had a major overhaul since 1905 when they were built and have fallen into a state of disrepair. The banks and sidewalks have crumbled and the water is murky. Every day, a three-man maintenance crew from the city removes algae clogging the waterways.

Barbara Ferguson, a homeowner and member of the opposition group, said she would prefer that the city adopt one of the alternative plans for cleaning up the canals discussed in the new environmental impact report.

Seven Plans Outlined

The report outlines seven plans, including one that would have the city clean out the muck in the canals while allowing individual homeowners to make their own improvements to canal banks and sidewalks, and two that would restore the waterways to their original design.

The city would rather construct a concrete embankment bordered by a 2-foot-wide landscaped area and a 4 1/2-foot-wide sidewalk. Originally, the canals had sloping concrete banks and wider sidewalks.

"The city's plan would substantially change the character of the canals from a unique Venetian system into a concrete bathtub or a mini-marina," said Tom Moran, whose property faces Howland Canal. "They've chosen a design that cleans up the canals but does little to preserve their historic significance."

Safety consultants hired by the Venice Canals Assn. to assist in preparation of the new environmental impact report recommended vertical banks as a safer alternative to the sloped design. In addition, city engineers have said that sloped walls would take co1853057380than vertical embankments.

Disputes over design and funding are hardly new to the Venice canals. In 1963, the City Council rejected a renovation plan that would have cost each canal property owner about $21,000. A plan proposed in the late 1970s also fell through when Proposition 13 drained funds for the work.

Area Declared Landmark

In the early 1980s, interest picked up again when the area was declared a cultural and historic landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The new environmental impact report was prepared after the Venice Canals Residents Homeowners Assn. requested an updated study to replace one that the council had approved in 1979.

Simon has watched it all transpire for the last 32 years since he bought his property on Grand Canal.

"We were promised the canals would be fixed up back back then," Simon said. "Well, I'm still sitting here looking at all the nice slime."

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