Thank you to those that have been supporting our beautiful struggle over the past two and a half years to save the Historic First Baptist Church of Venice from being turned into a mega mansion for the Penskes. There’s been many stages and fronts of the fight to keep up with. To quickly recap the more pronounced battle fronts here is a list.
Initially, in the first months of our defense campaign for the First Baptist Church of Venice (mid 2017) Councilman Mike Bonin vowed support to save the space but quickly backtracked. I wrote an article detailing his systemic racism reinforcing behaviors during the first year of our defense campaign back in October 2018. In 2019 we were not publicly critical much as it wasn’t a priority on our radar and we were busy with community and church batallas (battles) and it seemed he was doing better with helpful motions for the westside and houseless issues. Over the past two and a half years he has stayed evasive about this subject and with communicating with our group. When he has spoke on it it was his usual go to lies and white paternalistic declaration of what our narrative really was. We were hoping he changed and gained some integrity. But no. He hasn’t.
The CEQA appeal was our response to the WLAAPC’s vote in late 2018 to allow the project (that was a whole other unscrupulous shitshow.) In a nutshell the CEQA appeal was about the cumulative impact of the unprecedented 11,700 sq ft single family home (7 times larger than the average house in Venice) and the numerous procedural illegalities of the project.
LA City PLUM (Land Use Committee) unanimously voted down the CEQA Appeal despite overwhelming contradictions to CEQA laws and Coastal Act violations. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how good your facts and arguments are. If you got money and a willing political whore you’re good to go. It was kinda like asking the wolf tribe to ask the other wolf relatives to let some chickens free.
Present at the CEQA Appeal hearing was Elain Irwin, Jay Penske’s wife, with the usual local lying anti-Black gentrification/displacement agents. Robert Thibodeau, the local architect who’s name is synonymous with unscrupulous land use projects. George Francisco, president of the Venice Chamber of Commerce, Vice-president of the VNC, and Venice’s top gentrification agent of the last decade. Jim Murez, VNC board member for the past I dont how many years who likes to insert himself as the center of every local political topic so he can stay relevant and purchasable for anyone who needs to buy a VNC vote. The infamous attorney/lobbyist Elisa Paster who can be found alongside almost every shady development as Robert Thibodeau and who was recently appointed to Santa Monica Land Use Commission. Chris Quintal the shady realtor who represented both the buyer and seller and some pet Mexican bodyguard or sancho for Elaine Erwin who’s name we forget.
Councilmember Mike Bonin came in last minute via his deputy Len Nguyen (who was ignoring my emails the past two weeks) with some bullshit statement supporting the Penskes. It was a revamped version of the same evasive, paternalistic excuses and sideline commentary he’s been talking to media and others (except us of course) over the past 2.5 years.
(filled with lies of course but we’ll break that down in a different post)
Thank you Chair Harris-Dawson
Len Nguyen, Senior Planning Deputy for Councilmember Mike Bonin
The proposed project, like many in Venice, is controversial, touching not just on land use entitlements, but also issues of gentrification and neighborhood character. As a result, this project has been discussed, debated, and argued about for years.
The councilmember first became aware of this project in August 2017, when he was speaking at and attending a Venice Resistance rally objecting to the hatred and racism at the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville earlier in the week. A number of people told him that the former First Baptist Church of Venice, a longtime black congregation in the community, was threatened with demolition. He committed to try to save the church building from demolition.
For decades, the First Baptist Church of Venice served a robust congregation in the historic African American neighborhood of Oakwood.
However, in recent years, the congregation suffered from dwindling numbers, in addition to significant costs for maintenance and upkeep of the church structure and property. Therefore, a few years ago, the pastor and the church elders sold the church property. The congregation now worships at a new home elsewhere on the Westside. A number of today’s appellants challenged the legitimacy of that sale, but their suit did not prevail.
It is our office’s understanding that when the building was for sale, a number of potential buyers expressed interest in acquiring the property, demolishing the church building, and building something else entirely. The church leadership states it sold the church building and properties to the only potential buyer who did not plan to demolish the structure. Rather than raze the current structures, the new owners propose an adaptive reuse project, and plan to reside there. The new owners also agreed, at their own expense, to transport the sacred elements of the church’s interior to the congregation’s new home.
Many people, including the appellants, would like the building to continue to serve as a thriving church for the community. However, the congregation legally sold the property, and the city does not have the authority to compel them to keep the property, or to require the property owners to sell to a different congregation.
While the city cannot preserve the congregation, it can act to preserve the structure.
Just a few blocks away, the nearby Monday Women’s Club, which also played a vital role in Venice’s African-American history, also faced demolition. The Cultural Heritage Commission found that it qualified as an Historic-Cultural Landmark and at Councilmember Bonin’s urging, the City Council ratified that finding.
The Commission did not make similar findings for the former First Baptist Church — but the council-member nevertheless insisted that the structure and the building facade be preserved, in acknowledgment of its significance to the neighborhood and its historic African-American community. The new owners also agreed to create a monument to the neighborhood’s African-American history.
This issue has been delayed repeatedly because the councilmember did not feel that designs for the building met that commitment to preserve the structure and historic facade — and he insisted the project not move forward until it did so.
Through repeated meetings with city officials, the designs have been reworked. The revised design preserves the facade and meets the commitment to preserve the structure. We are grateful to the owners and their team for agreeing to the new designs.
Therefore, Councilmember Bonin supports the revised project design before you today.
Good lord..love how he implies he’s a hero in all of this huh?
Don’t you know?.. HE’s the one who gets to decide what our historical narrative and destiny is? White supremacy anyone? Bonin knows the shady background and the real facts about this project. He could have easily supported a thorough CEQA review to, at the very least, ensure the appearance of a quasi-due process review. He’s also had the opportunity to support the Historical Designation last year. But no. He decided to continue to lie, dominate and misrepresent the narrative and put a nail in the coffin of the efforts to save the space.
Let’s be clear. Bonin is a smart guy. He knows exactly what he’s doing. He’s very aware of what white privilege and systemic racism is as noted in the article I wrote in October 2018 (https://vog.news/35Qg11n) This is how Mr. “Down with Bernie” , “Progressive”, “against hate” does, not just traditional Venetians, but the Black and Brown community. I dont think Bernie would approve of this at all.
My friends, we have to look beyond his superficial public relations game. I’m sure next week he’ll be at MLK celebration kissing black babies while he does us dirty over here because some rich white sociopaths, for who knows what reason, STILL want to build their home on what is arguably the most important historical property in the Oakwood subarea of Venice.
We can accept when a fight is lost fair and square. The bulk of our engagements with Los Angeles city staff, Council hearings, court hearings, etc.. those “losses“ to us have only been by way of money, dishonesty, white privilege, and power. They haven’t been won via honor, merit, logic, or facts.
It takes a network of the city’s and neighborhood’s most prolific gentrification agents, their money, and no integrity having politicians like Mike Bonin to dishonorably intervene and challenge us little group of common neighborhood people. That’s how weak these “powerful” people are.
True power doesn’t power trip.
All we’re armed with is heart, truth, and the dedication to justice. This is just another battle episode in the movie where we win. They expected us to give up a long time ago but here we are.
We ain’t going nowhere.