May 1, 2002

Los Angeles Independent
(includes the Los Angeles Independent, the Hollywood Independent, the West Hollywood Independent, the Wilshire Independent, the Edición Bilingüe Independent, The Westsider and the Culver City Chronicle.)

Secession an old subject in Venice

By Elizabeth Schneider

Two years ago, when talk about secession led seven communities within Los Angeles to consider the act, one neighborhood on the Westside didn't even bat an eye.

They had been talking about it since the early 1920s.

For 20 years in the early part of the 20th century Venice operated as an independent city.

Known for its amusement park and canals, the city was also host to its own brand of diverse politics: those in favor of the pier's famous attractions -- cafe dancing, girlie shows and boxing matches -- and those who were against them.

Adding to the divide were charges of bribery, embezzlement and corruption by city officials. In 1923 an annexation proposal calling for Venice to become part of the city of Santa Monica was introduced, only to go down to defeat.

But two years later, on Oct. 1, 1925, residents voted in favor of annexation to Los Angeles. Almost immediately after the vote the Venice secession movement was born, according to locals.

In 1997 the state Commission on Local Governance for the 21st Century was established to study local government reorganization.

Between August 1998 and January 2000, the commission heard from more than 160 persons and organizers. As for secession movements, the final report -- "Growth Within Bounds," adopted in January 2000 -- found that secession efforts had been launched in the San Fernando Valley, Hollywood, Eagle Rock, San Pedro-Wilmington, Venice, Westchester and a Westside area identified by proponents as "Rancho San Vicente."

Any recent talk of secession in Venice, though not so loud this time, is "symptomatic of the times," says Jerry Rubin, director of Alliance for Survival, an L.A. peace and environmental group.

Rubin himself doesn't support secession for any area, but remembers when the Free Venice movement had some momentum.

"Different time periods would renew interests, and then it would diminish, either because of the lack of organization or lack of understanding or the possibility that things could get worse," says Rubin, who moved to Venice from Philadelphia in 1967.

"I'm not saying that there aren't times when secession wasn't valid," he says, as in the case of West Hollywood -- which become a city in 1985 after spending decades as unincorporated county territory.

At last Tuesday's hearing held by the City Council's Ad Hoc Committee on Redistricting in Westchester, veteran Venice poet John Curtis had his own verse for the committee:

Ode to Redistricting:

We don't need to secede
But we might if it isn't done right.

While Curtis meant his poem as a joke, the idea was not lost on the crowd.

"I got the impression that all of the council members were shocked at the amount of support for secession on the Westside," says Jim Smith, vice president of the Venice Peace and Freedom Party, who was at the Westchester meeting. "[Committee Chair Jack] Weiss is obviously not in favor of secession."

The way secession enters into the redistricting process, Smith says, "is if the Valley is successful in seceding."

"That would cause an immediate call for redistricting the remainder of the city of Los Angeles," he says. "The districts would have to be redivided, and presumably new elections would be held."

Smith says his organization has talked about re-establishing the city of Venice, "but we're not at a point to go before [the Los Angeles County Local Agency Formation Commission]."

Smith thinks an independent Venice would "probably be economically viable."

"We have a lot of businesses, and property values have skyrocketed, which is a major source of funding for cities," he says, but any serious consideration would require detailed studies.

Affordable housing in Venice had been the main issue prior to redistricting in terms of interest in cityhood, Smith adds. "Forty percent of Venice are people of color, and 72 percent are tenants rather than homeowners," he says. "A lot of people are just hanging on to their homes or apartments and there seems to be no action [by the City of Los Angeles] to build any more affordable housing."

With a city of Venice, Smith says "that would be a top priority."

Elizabeth Schneider can be reached at (323) 556-5720, ext. 162, or by e-mail at