Venice residents angered by the construction of a public storage warehouse on popular Rose Avenue are using the issue as ammunition in a political dogfight with City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter.
They accuse Galanter of cutting an under-the-table deal with the warehouse builder that breaks promises to the neighborhood and will place what they call a monstrous eyesore on a favorite thoroughfare to the beach. Galanter says all dealings were aboveboard and in keeping with what is best for Venice.
The dispute underscores a struggle that rages in Venice over what kind of changes, if any, people want to see happen in the eclectic seaside community. Some envision renovation; others dread gentrification.
And Galanter, with less than a year in office, seems to find herself time and again at odds with vociferous groups of developers, property owners and business leaders.
Public Storage Inc. is building a 200,000-square-foot storage warehouse on Rose Avenue between 3rd and 4th streets, about four blocks from the Venice beach, on property the company bought two years ago. Two large, concrete structures are already being built.
On Tuesday, about 70 people picketed the site to protest the project and to demand that any building include housing for senior citizens.
"We want a clean, safe, beautiful Venice, not an ugly eyesore near the beach," said Jeffrey Miles, head of the Venice-Santa Monica Neighborhood Assn. and organizer of the demonstration.
"It's a monstrosity being plopped down in the middle of a residential area," complained 10-year Venice resident Kathy Smith, who waved a sign saying, "Galanter, don't be ruthless."
"Venice is changing, and that's good. But there are ways to change and not to change," Smith said as she pushed her 18-month-old daughter in a stroller and her 5-year-old son tugged at her elbow.
"I don't have anything against public storage, but make it equal, give us some room," said Florence Goldstein, 78, one of several senior citizens who were bused to the demonstration from nearby centers for the elderly.
'Should Be Under Freeways'
"Those things should be built under freeways," said Michael Dieden, a member of the Venice Action Committee, a coalition of business leaders. "It is completely antithetical to everything going on in Venice."
Chanting "Ruth, Ruth, tell the truth," the demonstrators accused Galanter of reneging on a 1987 agreement among community groups, Public Storage and Galanter's predecessor, former Councilwoman Pat Russell.
That agreement, Miles said, would have required Public Storage to include in its project retail stores, office space and housing for senior citizens.
The proposal was scrapped after Galanter unseated Russell and took office last July. Galanter said it would have generated too much traffic in the already-congested beachfront area and that Public Storage officials came to her and said they preferred to build an all-storage facility, which would generate very little traffic.
Galanter at first got Public Storage to agree to allow part of the property to be used for a shelter for the homeless. When that idea ran up against vehement opposition from the Venice-Santa Monica Neighborhood Assn. and the Venice Action Committee, Galanter backed down. Now, she said, the firm has agreed to let the city use part of the property, about 25,000 square feet, for affordable housing for seniors and others.
"A deal that would have brought in more trendy boutiques and offices was not going to do Venice any good," Galanter said.
Space for Housing
"I ran on a platform of altering the development policies that had been in effect, specifically the policies that were changing Venice from a mixed-used, mixed-income community to a (commercially) intense area. They (critics) should not be surprised that I took another look at deals Pat Russell made."
But Miles said opponents of the public storage project are not calling for trendy boutiques. He said they are willing to drop the demand for retail space and to dedicate more of the property to housing.
Galanter accused the demonstration organizers of "deliberately manipulating" senior citizens by confusing the issues of housing and the public storage project. She said the elderly, some of whom apparently fear eviction, were being used by the demonstrators for their own political purposes.
Miles and the demonstrators also charged that Galanter failed to have adequate public hearings on changes in the Public Storage project. Galanter denied that, saying all public notifications were carried out.