The tone of a recent press release from City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter was decidedly self-congratulatory.
Galanter announced the culmination of a deal she brokered in which the city will get the land to build a few dozen affordable housing units in Venice and the community will get a mammoth storage warehouse.
According to the Galanter "spin" on the release, she snatched the self-storage project from the jaws of her predecessor, Pat Russell, who had been pressuring the company, Public Storage Inc., to include a mixed-use retail and residential component in its plans for what had originally been the home of a dairy plant.
But Galanter concluded that self-storage was preferable for Rose Avenue and Sunset Avenue, a block from the Rose Cafe, because it would not intensify traffic.
The land for the housing was extracted from the developer in exchange for a three-foot height exemption from prevailing coastal guidelines. "This is one of those unusual cases where a development project will probably solve more problems than it creates," Galanter said.
There was not a word mentioned about the brouhaha her "solution" had already created, or the battle waged over her insistence that the 200,000-square-foot facility was suitable four blocks from the beach.
But members of the Venice Action Committee, an activist group that fought the self-storage facility, have not forgotten. Some are still embittered by their experience with Galanter in what was her first battle over the future of the eclectic seaside community.
They abhor the sight of what they view as a monstrous eyesore on a favorite thoroughfare to the beach, giving it the slightly outdated moniker "The Berlin Wall West" or, simply, "The Bunker."
"It's ugly. It's awful. It's totally inappropriate," Venice Action Committee member Don Feinstein said. "Ruth had a chance to do something the neighborhood wanted, but she totally disregarded the input of the community."
The Venice Action Committee tends toward a pro-development stance, envisioning a renaissance of the funky area. Feinstein contends that Galanter is against the gentrification of the area just east of already upscale Main Street, pointing to a Galanter statement that Venice didn't need any more "trendy boutiques."
"Her advisers told her this would be the way to get rid of the yuppie influence in the community," Feinstein said.
Galanter press secretary Rick Ruiz said he didn't know what Feinstein was talking about "and I don't think that he knows what he's talking about either. . . . There is enough going on in Venice to make the yuppies happy."
The flap started just after Galanter took office in 1987 and decided to reconsider Russell's plan for the site, which had been reached after consulting the community. According to Venice Action Committee President Jack Hoffman and others involved, Galanter made a bargain with Public Storage before considering their or any other group's views.
Ruiz said Russell had been using her "muscle" as council president to demand the retail, residential component to the project. "We let them go back to their original plan"--all self-storage.
By erecting a low-investment self-storage facility on a valuable piece of property, the landowner can hold on to the land for 10 or 20 years or more until its worth multiplies. This practice is known as "land-banking."
Members of the Venice Action Committee staged a demonstration in 1988 at the Public Storage property, brandishing picket signs, one of which implored Galanter not to be "Ruthless."
The group also opposed Galanter's original plan to have part of the Public Storage facility used as a homeless shelter, an outgrowth of concern over a large concentration of homeless people who were living on Venice Beach.
In the end, Public Storage Inc. donated about 27,000 square feet of land at one edge of the property for affordable housing and agreed to give the front of the storage facility an "early California rancho" facade. A maximum of 35 units can be built on the donated land, but Jim Bickhart, Galanter's planning deputy, said 20-something units is a more realistic number. As for the much-vaunted retail the community lost in the deal, it was just another traffic-generating mini-mall, he said.