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The VenicePaper Editorial

Asphalt or Artists? Which Way, Venice?

The Value of Ed Ruscha and Laddie John Dill Should Be Considered in the Parking Lot Debate

August 02, 2008. 9:05 a.m. Venice. Gain a parking lot; lose your artists. That’s Venice mediocre future if work on a segment of a parking lot (slated to lie between Abbot Kinney Blvd and Electric Avenue) continues as planned this August 14.

Though the lot, which will feature metered parking, has long been touted as a benefit for the valued small businesses of our community, VenicePaper has been informed that the paving of its first phase—between Venice Boulevard and Palms Avenue—will entail the removal of a much-used, albeit shabby work-area situated behind studio spaces occupied by artists Ed Ruscha and Laddie John Dill. Prompting the low-key Ruscha to consider leaving Venice after years working here.

Ruscha is said to be loathe to ask for favors. But this isn’t about a favor for him. This is about a favor for Venice.

Both economically and philosophically it benefits Venice, and our Abbot Kinney business district, to keep Ruscha, Dill and as many artists as we can in within the area. The parking area adjacent to their studios should remain unpaved and undisturbed.
As for Dill, he has given a lifetime of favors to Venice. On his back, Art Walk was built. Lest you think Art Walk simply drove dollars to the Venice Family Clinic, think again. Art Walk was the mega-marketing vehicle that trumpeted the unique lifestyle Venice offered, creating the vibe that sold a thousand art lofts.

Between the two men, they have helped put Venice on the map, changed the way the world sees our community, elevated it’s place in the artworld and supported a multitude of Venetians and local businesses.

Other cities are already leveraging the marketability artists bring to drive economies in their purview. Santa Monica recently dedicated the entire walk street of a new development on Santa Monica city property to studios for artists only. Culver City is riding high on its Gallery Row.

While we have enormous respect for some of the individuals that worked hard to make the new metered parking district a reality—one of whom is a Venice Neighborhood councilmember who has been selfless in their contributions to our community, who always strives for consensus and worked on the lot in response to requests by their community—we believe that it is important to speak, even at this late date in the process.

Ironically, the dirt lot which lies between Venice Boulevard and Milwood Avenue (that borders the studios) is the only section of the old “railroad right-of-way”, stretching from Venice Boulevard to Brooks Avenue, that already features plentiful and free parking.

From a purely “we’re-desperate-for-more-parking” argument, there is simply no reason to pave this section.

It’s only when the right-of-way crosses California Avenue that the massive absconding of public property begins. Almost all of the land bordering Electric Avenue from California to Santa Clara (also slated to receive parking meters) is public, but the majority of it has been fenced in for private use over time. We support plans to reclaim such in order to create new parking slots for treasured local businesses. Venice patriots spent hours in community meetings making the lot happen. They should receive way more appreciation for their work than they do.

From an environmental point of view, paving the Venice–Palms section doesn’t make sense. Environmentalist tells us we need to preserve more gravel space (which filters runoff water) rather than add pavement (which dispatches pollution directly to the ocean.) In addition, a grade change makes drainage during California’s short but often severe rainy season a serious challenge, putting structures on the Abbot Kinney side of the right-of-way at risk of flooding if the alley is cemented.

From an economic perspective, pushing out name artists is just bad business. Shouldn’t the value of Ruscha and Dill to the community be considered in the parking stall equation?

They and their brethren brand Venice, create the point-of-difference between our locale and that of Montana Avenue or Old Pasadena, a difference which drives hype, diners and tourist dollars to Abbot Kinney. The meager 14-foot-wide space to the south of their studios, grandfathered to Dill for use 25-years ago, is one of the cheapest business investments the community has.

Isn’t removing this investment to our economy shortsighted? How many Ed Ruschas does Los Angeles have? How many Laddie John Dills? How much concrete? Your guess.

Museums that collect and/or have exhibited work by either of the men include such minor institutions as MOMA, the Whitney, LACMA, and the Pompidou Center in Paris.

While individuals who have pressed for the parking lot are understandably against further delays or changes, we have heard that already exceptions are being made; that, reportedly, the owners of an AK eatery have secured an agreement to use a segment of the public lot for their restaurant. One wonders: can the restaurant (which made a name for itself as an artists’ watering hole) procure usage of public property for their businesses benefit, but the artists that eat there, whose art lines the walls don’t warrant similar respect?

Councilman Bill Rosendahl has followed Venetians requests when it comes to the parking lot. The California-Santa Clara section will bring Abbot Kinney new parking which we direly need. But based on all the arguments, paving a small section of the Venice Blvd-Palms Ave portion, which already provides parking will result in fewer benefits to our economy than losses.

It also cuts into Venice's soul. Has Venice become a place that values asphalt more than two artists who have made huge contributions in making Venice Venice.

Must we rush so quickly to mediocrity?

We ask our friends to join us in contacting Councilman Rosendahl’s Southern District/Venice deputy, Arturo Pina at arturo.pina@lacity.org immediately to share your thoughts with the Councilman. Say “yes” to reclaiming the railroad right of way between California Avenue and Santa Clara. But “no” to the costly, unproductive paving of Palms Avenue to Venice Boulevard.

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