The Los Angeles City Planning Commission has sent the long-awaited land-use plan that will govern future development in Venice back to the city planning staff, agreeing with the area's councilwoman and community members that it needs more work.
The Venice Coastal Land Use Plan, which has been three years in the making, was on the commission agenda Thursday for approval in concept and a public hearing, bringing 50 speakers to City Hall. It will now be delayed for at least nine months, with an interin control ordinance managing development in the meantime.
Most of the speakers at the hearing addressed three issues involving what they believe should be preserved in the eclectic seaside community: the "walk streets"--narrow, pedestrian-only streets that lead toward the beach-- the Ocean Front Walk outdoor vendors and affordable housing.
All are threatened, either by provisions in the plan or by recent gentrification of Venice, traditionally home to a diverse group of people, many of whom say they need affordable housing.
By way of direction for the Planning Department staff, the three commissioners present at the hearing reassured community members on key concerns. Planning Commissioner William Christopher, for instance, said he favors preserving the walk streets, despite protests from the Fire Department that they are too narrow for firefighting equipment.
He also said he gives high priority to preserving and expanding affordable housing and wants to retain the street vendors. "The outdoor sales have essentially made Venice over the last 15 years," Christopher said.
More than 30 open-air vendors protested the sudden inclusion in the evolving plan of a proposal that would put them out of business by prohibiting them from selling on the Boardwalk, except for holiday weekends such as Labor Day.
The bustling shopping bazaar is a source of contention in Venice. Some residents regard it as a major drawing card and an essential component of Venice's ambience, but other locals dislike it because of the traffic and congestion it draws or because they find its flea-market atmosphere tacky. The vendors are licensed by the city.
Venice-area Councilwoman Ruth Galanter, who is running for reelection in April, has not taken a position on the vendor issue. Her planning deputy told the commission that the effort to eliminate the vendors was "one of the most profound proposals in the land-use plan and needs to be considered carefully."
Another large contingent spoke in support of a strong affordable housing element in the plan. This issue is complicated because many of the existing units are illegal "bootleg" units that the city wants to bring under some degree of control.
In a letter to the commission, Galanter recommended delaying the approval in concept because, in her view, the plan was not ready for approval "in any sense."
Despite assurances from Planning Department officials, community members on all sides of the issues feared that any vote of the commission would lock in what is to them a fatally flawed proposal.
In the months ahead, the Planning Department will work on the companion document that spells out the details of the broader policy plan under consideration Thursday, as well as providing specific regulatory controls to implement it.
Commission President William Luddy said it is sensible to consider both elements of the Venice Local Coastal Plan in tandem. "The policies aren't worth spit if you don't know how they're going to be implemented," Luddy said.