Tonight, the Venice Neighborhood Council will host a Showcase of Tech companies that now call Venice home, led by global giant Google. At first when I read this, I was excited for an opportunity to finally participate in a community discussion about huge changes many of us are feeling. But as I read further, I saw little opportunity to have a conversation about the changing shape of our community.
According to the VNC’s announcement, “Venice is becoming a major player in the evolving LA high-tech and digital media scene.” Major player or majorly played? What is Venice really gaining from the encroachment of Silicon Valley in our vibrant, one-of-a-kind beach town?
I’m not saying I oppose the influx of high tech creativity nor economic growth. But this event, while well-meaning, does little to add to a sadly lacking public conversation about the impact these corporate neighbors are likely to have on Venice. Again, according to the announcement, “The discussion will focus on an array of topics including: why these companies are moving to Silicon Beach, what they mean to the area’s economy in terms of jobs and average wages, the city of Los Angeles’ role in bringing businesses to the Westside, and the limitations that hold back growth.”
Where in the program do the representatives of these corporate giants listen to community concerns, vision, goals, hopes and dreams, threats and challenges? The panel discussion is backward; we should be on the panel and these corporate citizens should be in the audience listening to what we want them to know about our neighborhood. We should be able to ask them what they plan to do to change a complex, organic community, and what we can count on them for in terms of mitigation and renewal, to name a few.
As for “limitations that hold back growth,” this presupposes that everyone shares the goal of corporate growth. Besides, Google doesn’t seem to have adhered to any limitations. Word has it that they added hundreds of square feet of office space without so much as a colorful rendering at a LUPC presentation. This undermines the legacy left by Venice’s elders like Challis MacPherson whose point of view was nearly “It’s a privilege to develop here. Why should we let you, and what are you going to do to contribute to our neighborhood in return?” Where is that kind of voice now?
According to another decades-long Venice leader, VNC president, Linda Lucks, the VNC is offering a “golden opportunity to bring together members of the Venice tech and residential communities to mingle in a social setting.” SAY WHAT?! I mingle at Venice Beach Wines, or Gelina or the Rose Café, or walking in the neighborhood. Those are our places to socialize, run into neighbors and get to know each other. Why aren’t our new corporate neighbors meeting us out and about?
Which brings me to my final gripe. From where I sit, the primary beneficiaries of the influx of tech companies are the landlords and the politicians vying for credit for ethereal economic growth. But local businesses, like the Rose Café, used to bustle during lunch, serving local workers from various creative businesses. Now that Google has taken all that office space, built five kitchens and every other amenity to ensure their workers never leave, they aren’t filling local cafes—or City tax coffers. And that’s just one example.
I’m sure we’ll hear about the philanthropy of these companies. They’re undoubtedly doling out dollars to local schools and to pet projects of the Venetians who get meetings with them. But to what other issues do my neighbors want to apply all that high-tech brilliance? What are they doing for at-risk youth who will be out of school in a couple of months with parks programs cut and not enough good jobs? What are they doing to provide parking for their increased density? What creativity are they bringing to the problem of homelessness that plagues their new neighborhood? What are they doing for the privilege of developing in Venice?
Venice has never been a sleepy beachside community, but a boisterous, artsy attraction we’re lucky enough to call home. Now, as Venice experiences this riptide of global creativity, will we ride the wave or let the current push us out to sea?