Silicon Beach: Dreaming the Free Venice Infrastructure

Along Ocean Front Walk some months ago, I overheard a skinny, middle aged, black guy, wearing a leopard skin toga, fuming about the theft of his cell phone, “You steal my phone, you lock me out of the jungle! I am a Bush Man and I need my phone. Someone stole my cell!” Of course, he was describing his persona as a Venice Boardwalk performer. If you are bound to the street all day, you certainly want to stay connected. But, the irony of what he was saying, didn’t escape me. Will there be some guy, in some jungle, some day, swinging around on vines, in his lion skin underwear, an iPad slung to his back? What would an iPad really do for a guy like that?

On those same lines, what will tech really do for Free Venice?

There is very little money in the Federal Government, State Budget, or City Budget for social services, education, the arts…Can we make up the difference with the aid of our new tech friends, while we each secure our own economic hold in Venice? Is there some kind of spider-web grassroots network we can build – quickly – that will preserve the community core dynamics, so that we can grow and change from there, instead of the usual model of a tech influx (which is tech followed by more tech, then wealth and businesses ALL coming in from the OUTSIDE)? Can we use grassroots tools to build the infrastructure for the community who is already in Venice, so we can predict future trends, then train and create accordingly?

Normally, so many various elements making up a community would create an impossible situation. In the case of Venice, I think we have the opposite. We have so much to draw from, so many unique possibilities, so much creativity in so many forms – that we could birth something amazing. Imagine, play and enjoy it while it lasts. The work is coming, if there is a worthy dream to be pursued.

Can we reverse the trend of gentrification, thereby preserving our diversity and also taking care of our homeless, without sacrificing economic growth? In rough terms, can we create a tight knit, highly prosperous, local economy that threads into an internationally known brand, which can lead to a new model for long term prosperity? Can we create a model that might change the world?

Imagining an ark that holds as many of us as possible, dreaming out loud …This may not be my exact dream, but a community dream…even if loose and unimposing, off base or plain impossible…Let’s cook and see if what comes out tastes good. We can add more specific flavors as we go.

Diversity

When I have spoken of diversity, I have spoken mostly of the Black Community. That is because of the specific history of Venice Beach and the history between Black and White. But all types of diversity are important – all race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation…etc. Also, I want to make clear that I am not lumping in Black and Poor in any kind of general sense. Finally we have to be careful that, in protecting our current dynamics, we are not inadvertently excluding new diversity from coming into the community.

Addressing our current problem, in Venice Beach, there seems to be a divide between the Black and White community, an unspoken, loosely structured segregation. The primary geographical area in which the Black and Hispanic Communities are concentrated, seems to be shrinking. Also, economically, that area seems to be struggling, though I do see hard working folks out EVERYDAY. When I walk one of my dogs in that area just around the block, I rarely pass no less than three middle-aged black men going hard at small scale, skilled labor.

Instead of watching outside developers continue to suck up that area between California and Rose, how can we create developers within that area? How do we revitalize that area and keep the racial integrity in tact? With so little money, what programs and resources can we create? What are out of the box ideas to involve more of more of the Black Community in discussions of the overall future of Venice Beach? Can we implement those ideas with little more than human will, a strong sense of community and a handful of Smart phones? (A wink and a nod to James Citron)  Maybe we can’t get all the way there on our own, but can we get close enough?

To be hard and logical for a moment, there are negative trends that could be played against themselves at the exact right moment. Things are spiraling out of control in certain pockets; people are not getting any less angry; the economy is not getting that much better; and, large segments of the population are gripped by fear. Racial tensions may continue to rise. Businesses survive by looking at trends and predicting where mobs of people are going to flow. They invest capital in those currents and hope they correctly predicted the trends. Certain social experiments can be worth it to a large corporation if they at least stand to gain valuable knowledge and good international PR, if not direct profit.

A grassroots organization generally has very little money and limited resources, but hopefully, has a noble morality and hard working, dedicated people who can leverage decency in a HUGE way, if precious few cards are played strategically. And if a certain large corporation has put diversity on the table all on its own – even in a small way – why not at least see what they mean and how serious? That is, if we can get our infrastructure up and running.  We have got to get organized, clear and focused. This is too important. Not only must we preserve our diversity, but we want to see our diversity community enjoying economic prosperity, or at least security. Especially if Free Venice takes on certain burdens that it seems to want to insist on taking…

Homelessness

Homeless people make contributions to society. They just don’t have much to show on paper. I am not going to get into personal stories as far as the Homeless are concerned, but there was one life experience that, not only taught me of the boundless power of music, art, night and ocean – it taught me that, when we allow the variables to roam free, it is worth all the seeming endless hassle for a fleeting moment where God connects the dots. It would not have happened had it not been for two very lost and tortured homeless men.

In addition to the mystical power of embracing “the beggar”  – to use a Biblical metaphor, not a literal observation – Homeless contribute to each other with friendship, laughter, shared food, booze, found roaches, comfort, sex. So many have fascinating lives and interesting stories. They contribute their bodies, hearts and minds and it does count for something. Two girlfriends sitting in a café, talking about their relationships and seeing each other through, is a contribution to society. Homeless people have relationships that involve the same basic structures of any others in our society. Many homeless would give more, if they could overcome some tough obstacles. It can be hard.

That is why, when we sweep them off the Beach and Boardwalk, bust up camps on 3rd Street, we actually do more to worsen the problem. We take a fragile little society and insert chaos, destroying whatever semblance of community they manage to maintain. They each go running off into the night to fend for themselves, instead of hunkering down together and sleeping or talking. They deserve a sense of community as we all do. When they don’t have it, there are more problems. With that, I am not saying that it is fair for Ocean Front or 3rd Street to have more contact with the problem than the rest of us.

In acknowledging our shared humanity, we cannot ignore those problems. Homelessness puts great financial burdens upon communities who tolerate Homelessness as a matter of principal. They are a population with a higher concentration of mental illness, (some long term, some temporary due to emotional damage and malnutrition). The added survival challenges and instability cause them to exist in a high state of stress. People who are desperate for anything, will cross lines they shouldn’t, but especially those who are desperate for food. There are so many hygiene and public health issues. The list goes on…

That is why there are people who will NEVER agree to tolerate the homeless, even here in Venice Beach. The homeless can be seen as a threat to our overall survival and prosperity as a community, particularly in tough economic times.

Though there are many legitimate issues with the Homeless, let’s admit; however, that one primary problem, is simply aesthetics.

When people get upset at the sight of the homeless, they are mostly thinking of the middle aged and older men and women who have had years on the street, who are usually filthy, have strong body odor, talk loudly to themselves, carry their possession around in shopping carts and broken strollers, urinate in alleys, occasionally break into homes if they need food or a fix, sometimes frighten your dogs and small children…There is some truth to that image. But, that is not all there is, not even close. So many people who look filthy and exhausted, picking recycling out of alley, are sweet enough, try to pee in bathrooms, don’t break the law, maybe don’t smell so nice, but really don’t harm anyone. Just like all people, you have to take them on a person by person basis.

Let me tell you something, I have been picked up on the Boardwalk by normal looking guys in their mid 30s, who have a job, are clean, charming and smart, follow the law; but, are down on their luck and do not have a home. I went on a date with one of these guys and then realized later – when I kept seeing him asleep on the beach as I walked a dog in the morning – that he didn’t have a place to live. Sadly, that was the least of the reasons why I wouldn’t date the guy again, but I digress…

Then are the young people who come here to be homeless because it is a shitload easier be homeless in Venice Beach than Michigan, where they have this pesky thing called WINTER. Also, you have so many young creative types who are willing to do their street time, if the hunger and the struggle enhance their artistic soul. Sometimes that struggle goes on a lot longer than they think. Sometimes it comes and goes.

Getting people in homes who want homes would go a long way toward solving the problem, of course, and be ideal. Facing the enormity of the true solution, it would be much easier to move the Homeless along – in the American tradition of doing so, when it economic gain is easier than spiritual growth. Affordable housing is the key, but the competition will be fierce. Everybody wants affordable housing. A number of the folks I know in rent controlled apartments are white, have been in them for decades, and could afford to pay more if necessary.

What do we do about this problem when the community is starting to rip itself apart? WHAT DO WE DO? Are there compromises? Can we reach out to each other, with patience and tolerance, while we search for solutions? Is it really all or nothing; or, can we manage the situation somehow?

Creative Community

Dreaming beyond the possibilities of what can be seen on the surface, is the first thing that our creative community can do for us. Dreaming beyond those possibilities and then sharing those dreams, whether it be in the form of music, art, video or other medium or simply the act of speaking that dream out loud to another, can set the fires going.

How will our creativity bring all the elements together and make it work? What, not only is the dream, but what are the pillars on which the dreams can stand? What colors are the paint? What is the soundtrack? What are the materials? How do we take something functional and make it beautiful? How do we take something beautiful and make it functional? How do we so fully surrender to dance, laughter and celebration that it will sustain us through the grunt work and the toil of building a dream?

Who will collect the dreams, document the dreams, mourn the lost ones? Who will manage the ingredients when, suddenly, new flavors are thrown into the stew? What might our future look like? A diversity community, trying to play catch-up, will need vision. Some, who have lost hope, need to see it before they can pursue it, because it has so long been out of the realm of possibility. It is the creative community that makes the impossible tangible.

As long as people hear their calling, answer their calling and work toward it, a lot will get done with everyone doing their part. Remember, the primary reason that tech is in Venice, according to them is the creative talent available for both employment and inspiration. You are powerful, beautiful and strong. Don’t cower from who you are. Get the work if and when it comes!

Google/Big Tech

It is simply a matter of openly and confidently dealing with a huge international corporation who has a strong presence in our community and may have a stronger presence in the future. How do we engage Google in support of those things which are the foundation and essence of our community so they do not, accidentally or intentionally, destroy them? How do we get them behind as much of who we are as possible? Can we really be friends?

What is important to Google? What is their mission statement? What are they doing in Venice? Can we help them? Can we make some money from helping them or gain knowledge and resources? How do we find commonalities on which to build? Are Free Venice and Google irreconcilable? Or, is there a healthy partnership possible?

Google offers portions of their facilities for public use. Look into that. See what that is about. What type of public use? Exactly what resources? What outreach programs have they tried in other communities that have worked thus far? What hasn’t worked? What mistakes were made by them and other tech industries as they moved into new territory? What have they seen around the world that is reminiscent of our community and how can that knowledge help us?

Get together groups of people, create a list of community concerns that may involve Google and make an appointment with their community outreach to discuss them. Don’t be afraid of Google. Knock on their door and ask them to listen. Just remember that it is a business, and it can be a lot easier on them if you do that in an organized and orderly fashion, and with a power point presentation if you can swing it. But a good old fashioned hot apple pie and a howdy neighbor should do.

Respect, but no fear…that’s always the idea.

Invasion of Start Ups

We have to be concerned about people who come into the community to make money, but are not here to respect what makes Venice Beach the unique and wonderful place that it is. We have to be wary of parasites who want to suck up the creativity, profit from it, but don’t give a shit about what is left when they’ve made their millions and our best resource is gone. We want Start Ups who love Venice as much as we do. That is why we would be served well to create Start Ups from people who are already in-neighborhood, though I am happy to welcome expertise and resources from the outside, if there is knowledge to be gained or of course, something needed that we cannot or do not provide.

Learning how to build a small business from the ground up in this current economy, is a great skill that could benefit a lot of people in our community, particularly those who have intelligence, creativity and will, but have not quite found a niche. This can be true even for people who lack resources and education. It can be true for people who think they are too old. Start Ups are rogues. You can do so much from your home with a computer. You can have any background you want, and with a good idea, a little capital, some elbow grease, the right partnership or two and you can turn it into something that, at the very least, will feed you.

Of course, not to mention, we want to see Start Ups employing local talent, when local talent and resources can provide the same quality services at a reasonably competitive price. Despite the community’s utter failure to ask these guys one real significant question about themselves at the Silicon Beach Town Hall, maybe we could have a conversation with some Start Ups about what it is they think they will need in the future, things that will make our creative community more marketable; our newly trained, entry level folks more competitive; and have our future, locally grown Start Ups investing time and capital in trends that have a better shot at paying off…

Grassroots

What can grassroots do to bring all this together? Do we now finally have enough technical resources that we can, realistically, manage loosely organized, grassroots social services primarily with volunteers and a few trained staff? Can we fix a lot of social problems ourselves without depending on non-existent State and Federal funding?

How can creativity, technology and human resources bridge diversity gaps in our community? How can we use the technology to bridge the human gap and help us make real live HUMAN connections? There is so much outreach that people can simply do on foot, on bicycle – the creative community would have a lot to gain as far as inspiration, even if interaction does not go particularly well. If we also have smart phones and iPads or whatever – we can take pictures, build quick databases, on the spot people link up with resources that interest them through just having a casual conversation. You could have people do Pop Up Classes at all hours, in parks, community center basements, bars, or on street corners. People coming together on their own time, learning in unconventional ways…

Can a network of people walking around with iPads and some apps and networks, specifically designed for Venice, basically manage the community and promote positive community interaction? How would high tech assisted grassroots social services and education function?

For instance, is there a way to gently manage the Homeless traffic pattern, keeping transient communities in tact, but with Venice sharing interaction instead of one street or area dealing with a larger homeless population all the time? I can see all kinds of reasons why this could be impossible, but am trying to think outside the box. It is hard. San Francisco had a wave of non profits build up to deal with Homelessness. There was a ton of wasted money on half baked ideas and things that did not work. Finding out what already failed and why, may be a great place to start.

In the meantime, the grassroots community can also be involved in organizing the notoriously disorganized creative community. Secure your own oxygen mask before helping others! We need to make sure that our very talented creative people are getting the creative work. The talent and experience are here, but the communication to these new industries may be sporadic and unfocused. We have to at least hold tech to its implied promise to employ the talent here, whenever possible. If we don’t get organized, our Creatives could get swept aside, just because the right people do not know about them.

We can make up for so much by simply taking the power ourselves.

Spiritual Community

So much of what the spiritual community does is abstract. And yes, I am cool with the New Age Cosmic Hippies who honestly believe that you can quietly sit under a tree, channel love, raise Divine Consciousness, and that is the only purpose you need ever serve. I have channeled Spirit, and I can just tell you that it exists. The Universe is vast and we are all one. I have known that for fleeting seconds and, because I have the memory, I keep my faith.

Integrity will become so important in building a grassroots economy and social services network – not only for humanitarian work – but for keeping us in touch with a moral compass. You are not talking about an economy that is going to run on a lot of regulation. You are talking about an economy that will rely on people looking each other in the eye and moving forward with good faith intentions, based on shared verbal agreements. Although, I guess with a smart phone, you may be able to conjure up a quick, legal and binding, electronic handshake, on the spot, no matter what you just negotiated…

Tech can create a false sense of connection or keep us distracted with too many connections that lack emotional and spiritual substance. We need heart connections. We need to lead the way in getting love back into the conversation. We need a foundation that can off set the pitfalls of rapid economic growth.

We are all free to choose our way home. Some spiritual folks think of tech as another of God’s tool. Others think of tech as a kind of anti-Christ or, at the very least, meaningless. But, if our intention is all toward the health of our soul, we should be ok, in spite of our varied roles. If we stay one with soul, we should not get in each other’s way. We simply blend together as we release our egos.

Caution/Trends

If we embrace tech, we cannot forget the need to disconnect from cyberspace from time to time. Or, even that certain significant segments of our able bodied population will not care for the heavy tech presence and prefer to remain off the grid as much as possible. Also, there will be a need for perpetually connected techies to power down.

I would die, if I was walking around Venice Beach and, instead of waving hello, everyone had their faces buried in some cyber life. As much as a homeless guy’s life might be enhanced by an iPad, it would make me sad to see them all have one.

What do we do to offset the dangers of tech isolation? Can we rebuild new models of the old-fashioned salons, find ways that encourage people to leave their computers on a Sunday morning and go down to a café, where ten relative strangers sit at a table, discussing a lively and interesting topic. The irony is that tech can facilitate that, but then we need to leave tech behind to participate.

What about businesses that may develop or business models that may adjust to meet the needs of our unplugged – whether they are permanently so or on a break. We might have businesses where you happily check all your electronic devices at the door. Certain neighborhoods, festivals or days even that are powered down. “All the cosmic love you want baby, but no fucking cyberspace here.”

The biggest caveat, of course: WILL WE SACRIFICE OUR PRIVACY? Can we be setting ourselves up for a BIG BROTHER situation? How do we proceed with caution?

Also, let us not forget that just because we keep our current diversity dynamic, as we grow and, if our theory holds correct, we all prosper and we break down more barriers -we may still become homogenized, despite all the rich variation in the color of our skin? How do we offset the danger of comfort and that it can negatively impact creativity, because we are no longer in a state of challenge? How do we keep fresh and alive? How do we keep diversity coming into our community? What will diversity even mean in 25 years? 50 years?

Venice Beach Brand

When the latest hot premium internet series ends with “Filmed in Venice Beach” what will that mean? When an international art collector comes to Venice looking for his or her next big investment, what will that mean? When people come from all over the country to enjoy our dynamic music scene, what will that mean? When Google releases software or other products developed at the Venice Branch Office, what does that mean? What is our food? What is the vibe? When people come here for enlightenment, what does that mean?  How can something so eclectic possibly have long term integrity?

Can we reinvent Venice Beach from all that we are as a community into something we can stamp on anything that is worthy and our name will automatically carry respect? Can we turn that into, not only economic prosperity, but something that inspires the world? What does it mean to brand yourself as a community? Is that what we even want?

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Silicon Hollywood: Emergency Guide to ‘Venaissance’

MAY 2, 2012 NOTE: The May issue of the Beachhead features a condensed, less scolding version of my “Guide” entitled Free Venice Where Art Thou. The following contains more specifics; but I was still a little pissed off when I wrote it.
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How will Venice Beach’s future be effected by the influx of wealth and technology that is primed to take place over the next few years? That is the question and the subject of a recent neighborhood meeting…

Only in LA would you enter a town hall event and find that there is a catered spread, corporate sponsorship and an after party. Arriving around 6:30 pm, on Thursday, April 12th, for the Impact of Silicon Beach Town Hall, it was like walking into a Trade Show or a Job’s Fair. There was plenty of time to eat good food, peruse trade booths and pick up goodies like notepads, pens and magnets, while waiting for the Venice Town Hall discussion to begin.

So many tech and/or startup companies were on display in the Westminster Elementary School Auditorium that a map of stations was provided. Twenty five companies were represented including Wemo Media, StackSocial, NextSpace, JibJab, Nexon, Demand Media, Sparkwave Media, Mogreet, G-Tech, Amplify and, of course, Google. It is worth noting that in addition to goodies and basic literature, Google’s display included two booklets aimed at addressing diversity: The Black Community at Google and The LGBT Community at Google.

Unlike a city such as Santa Monica (or pretty much any other city in the rest of the country), where the outreach would be straight to your homeowners and business people; in Venice, there was an attempt to appeal to the creative community. This was smart. The creative community may very well be the swing crowd in determining what happens to the poor and homeless over the next decade.

In the past regime of Art for Art’s Sake, you could more often count on writers, artists and musicians to align themselves with the Venice disenfranchised. It was a badge of honor to walk among transients and drug dealers. Exposure to harsh realities under the sweet California sunshine, the hustler’s culture in the midst of all the natural beauty, surfer boys, skateboarders, junkies, poets, freedom, drugs, conflict, the lost and desperate, the extremes – were why so many artists and musicians were drawn to Venice. It is real. You are not shielded from life.

Many current trends in the young Venice artistic community do not follow the same general bent. The appeal of Silicon Hollywood is great. The appeal of economic prosperity is great. The appeal of a playground of shops, galleries, restaurants and ocean is great. The appeal of fame and bumping elbows with the entertainment industry is great. The appeal of creating a world stage in Venice Beach to display all this talent and attract serious collectors and investors is great. The appeal of uniting with the tech industry to open up an exponentially larger audience is great. But is this all exclusive of the homeless and the poor?

We are at a crossroads. We stand to gain tremendous benefit in the form of money and expertise sweeping into Venice. We stand to gain jobs and better resources for our children.We must make an important and difficult decision. What we do about the homeless and the economically challenged is going to be what defines our soul as a community.

Do we put our foot down and tell the tech people we would love to have the industry here, but they will have to get themselves and their employees up to speed on how to interact with a large homeless population? Or, do we now see the homeless as too great a burden to the long term economic prosperity and stability of the community and push them aside for the greater good? What about our ever dwindling Black Community which was grossly underrepresented by the large crowd at the Town Hall? What about the threat of our Poor (where much of our true diversity lies), being property taxed and rent increased out of their homes when they have maintained decade long commitments to this neighborhood?

The moralities are complex. There is no clear battle between good and evil. There is only deciding who we are that will set our course for decades to come.

COURTSHIP

With Councilman Bill Rosendahl moderating, the discussion group was comprised of members of the new business community in Venice. The all male panel was interesting and informative, even humorous at times. Unfortunately, Councilman Rosendahl’s obvious passion to sell this influx of the tech industry, combined with a long standing, pervasive culture of individualism within the Venice public, undermined getting to the inconvenient heart of serious community concerns.

Shortly before the Town Hall began, Venice Neighborhood Council members, Chamber of Commerce people and local politicians took advantage of photo opportunities. There were lots of happy shiny, smiley faces and shaking hands up on the stage as the large crowd talked among itself.

Kicking off the meeting, the VNC President, Linda Lucks, passively attempted to wrangle the capacity crowd’s attention. Depsite her laughable and adorable timidity in this regard, the throngs were focused and the meeting began. We soon learned that “the future is now” and that several companies, from Whole Foods to Hal’s Bar and Grill, had sponsored the event. Lifestyle Furniture provided the lovely “set” to be featured in the live broadcast. There was going to be an after party, hosted by Venice Ale House. In the meantime, Ms. Lucks wanted to challenge our panel to consider the unique “fabric of our community.”

There were a few more thank yous and self congratulatory type posturing until Master of Ceremonies, Councilman Bill Rosendahl, took the control and we were off. Charismatic and energetic, he pulled in the crowd of which he noted he had never seen the like at a meeting such as this. I was grateful that his coining of the word “Venassiance” produced not only laughter, but audible groans. He took it in stride. He then informed us that the meeting was being broadcast to 750,00 people throughout LA and would be re-shown on Channel 35 several more times.

Then our panel was introduced: Tom Williamson from Google, James Citron with Mogreet, Jeff Solomon representing Amplify, and JJ Aguhob from Viddy.

Transitioning into the panel discussion, we got a brief reminder of the wonders of technology and how social media played such an important role from the Arab Spring to the Occupy Movement. That certainly gives lip service to the community’s political activism and sympathy for revolution in general. James Citron was also excited to inform us that, wherever there was an insertion of a 10% increase in cell phones into a developing market, the GDP raised 3%. That is impressive. There was also an implication to hire local in the opening remarks, though not a promise. Although in the case of security and hiring caterers, some were already doing this to a small extent. Also, it is important to note that a number of these new companies, specifically Google, offer portions of their facilities for public use.

Even during the introductory phase, the unabashed wooing of the artistic community was underway. We were told how creative and wonderful and unique we are. Unique Unique Unique. We know. We know. We know. We celebrate uniqueness ad nauseum. But yes, do that dance, blow smoke up our asses and let’s get on with it. That said, money does not partner where it does not genuinely see a benefit. So, I think we can assume, though laid on thick, the idea was sincere. There is genuine belief in the high level and quantity of creative talent in this community.

Specifically, our fabulousness as a community allowed the panel to hit some general themes regarding why each had chosen Venice as the location of their company: 1) Ready and available talent; 2) Venice is a cultural icon and known throughout the world. Essentially it is a brand in and of itself; 3) They want an enjoyable environment for both themselves and their employees in which to live and work; and, 4) The proximity to the Entertainment Industry, which was explained as having to do with premium internet content production.

Once we got through how great Venice and all its people are, we learned how important bike paths are to tech folks. Apparently, bike paths are more important than indoor toilets to those cyber wizards. I bike for my job and think they are great too, but it also makes for easy political posturing. Papa Rosendahl did his little proud dance and all but admitted that he became determined to get more bike paths [CORRECTION: lanes] on Main Street, when he learned how many Google employees bike to work.

Rosendahl also took the opportunity to pat himself on the back regarding the Venice Post Office protests. Though not terribly personal to me, I know the potential closing of our local post office is extremely important to much of the community. Of course, I understand the historical significance of the Biberman Work. May I just quickly point out, however, that a mural to your life is not your life. Be careful…

As the discussion continued and we moved to more substantive issues, some key divides within the panel emerged. These divides seemed to fall along the lines of Old v. Young, which is a divide we are going to find mirrored throughout the community. The two main issues were the value of the Entertainment Industry and an understanding of the Free Venice Culture.

Your three young startup guys – Citron, Solomon and Aguhob – are all hungry for Hollywood to merge with Tech. There was talk of premium content, bringing in your experienced filmmakers, camera guys, etc. to produce a high level product for the internet as they would have previously done for TV or Film. That kind of production would be centered in Venice Beach where, theoretically, almost all the resources already exist from eclectic scenic backgrounds to top level talent to the latest technology to hip locations.

Tom Williamson from Google inserted himself into this discussion with a different point of view. He maintained that most of the top viewed internet content was generated by average users. He didn’t feel the need to marry Tech and the Entertainment Industry. In fact, he seemed as though he didn’t much care for the notion.

I felt a little tension in the crowd as the idea of preserving the Old Venice Culture was briefly skated upon when Bill Rosendahl asked about the loss of diversity. Of the young guys, Citron and Solomon in particular, attempted to appear accepting. They basically said, sure, if someone wants to “be weird” they didn’t mind. They welcomed the strange guy walking down the street in the big “pink hat.”

That is an oversimplified and condescending characterization of the Free Venice Movement to say the least. But these are young entrepreneurs that are further removed from the 60s. If you could’ve seen the look in James Citron’s eyes when he said, “when you see a 3 or 4 year old pick up an iPhone for the first time…” it was like he was talking about a child’s first words or watching a toddler boogie to Led Zeppilin for the first time. This aspect of the younger generation doesn’t have a connection to the ideas of discovering your body and doing what you wanted to do with your body, because it was not only a cosmic principal, it is a right guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States of America. It is about freedom of expression, not about “being weird.”

Tom Williamson, who also is about ten to fifteen years older than the others, jumped in and redirected the issue more respectfully. “They [tech industry] didn’t move to San Francisco necessarily because they wanted to appreciate San Francisco for what it was. I’m not saying that’s what’s happening here now. But, they moved to change it into something they liked or something they wanted. So, I think we have to be careful about the things that make Venice special here and that the people we hire respect those things and want them to preserve.” To be honest, I came in with a little hostility about Google and left with a lot of respect for Tom Williamson.

In all this talk, there was not, however, any discussion about the racial divide in the community and the history of racial tensions that possibly contributed to the, already mentioned, low black turn out at the Town Hall. I wondered, although the event was publicized pretty well on the internet, were posters or information sent to the local churches and community centers? I saw something in the Beachhead, but I don’t know what kinds of outreach were done.

More notably, we somehow got around the issue of what happens when wealth sweeps into a community, bumping up property taxes and the cost of living for that community; thereby, the poor and middle class begin to find themselves property taxed out of homes and rent increased out of apartments.

Again, with the youthful disconnect, Jeff Solomon aligned himself with the middle class pointing out that startup company owners are not rich guys. He didn’t want to see rents go up himself. But it is not as if he were an elderly person on a fixed income, or someone collecting recycling everyday to help make rent. An increase in rents and property values would be a burden, but it would not push him out of the neighborhood, as it would other more marginal folks.

To sell themselves, some of our panelists appealed to the legendary Venetian Acceptance. Supposedly, we are a community who welcomes anyone and anything. They pointed out that they are just a new thing coming into the community like so many new things have come in over the years. They were simply one more face of Venice in an eclectic sea of faces. They made this claim as a panel of all men – four white and three young.

Q&A: CULTURE OF INDIVIDUALISM VS. COMMUNITY

There was not a single person who stepped up to the microphone during the Q&A who put their community issue before himself or herself. In many cases, there was no community issue at all. Several of the community members never bothered to ask a question, using the time to pontificate about some personal philosophy. Rosendahl requested before the Q&A began, to please ask questions and not just go up to the microphone to talk. He anticipated some typical Venice Beach behavior and he got it. This narrow minded individualism provided a way for him to skirt around important issues.

Reading between the lines, underneath all the self promotion or narrow and misguided agendas, there were a number of self centered questions that moderator, Bill Rosendahl, could’ve translated into a community issue, but did not. In a couple of those cases, I think that choice was active, as we were broaching uncomfortable topics. That is the problem when your moderator is NOT objective. THIS CANNOT HAPPEN AGAIN! We need a third party moderator at these things, who has no stake in the outcome. That should have been obvious and protested weeks in advance.

Instead of opening the mic to anyone and everyone who was willing to run up faster than anyone else to ask their questions, we should have had some local organizers, maybe the Beachhead, formulate intelligent, focused, community based questions in advance so there is no excuse to dismiss uneasy subjects. The free for all, borderline freak show, filled with long winded pitches was not helpful.

Following are some examples of what we got from the community as far as concerns. These are not necessarily in the order in which the citizens appeared before the mic.

A Guy came up who wanted to put SIRUS discs around Venice for better free wi-fi access to all. He had one in tow as a prop. Jeff Solomon, I believe, said he’d put one up. There was no real question, but free wi-fi for all would be nice.

Some Kiss Ass who worked for one of the panel guys got up and did some ass kissing. He asked no question.

Representing a Non Profit, a lovely middle aged woman inquired about what resources the panel could give back to the community. I think this is what she was asking anyway. Again, she spent more time telling us about who she is and what she did than getting to her inquiry.

A semi-Confrontational Lady took the opportunity to challenge Google on censorship, but only very specifically as it related to her friend’s blog. The response was of a customer service nature explaining security settings that are controlled by the end user. She tried to shame Google about something wholly personal and got a short lecture on filters.

A Musician pressed the panel on hiring local and pointed how he and so many other Venice musicians were out of work. He was basically introducing himself and asking for a job. Perhaps he should have asked if they had any ideas for how local musicians could make themselves the most marketable to this influx of production that may be heading our way? Thinking forward, what if local musicians come together and approach some of these startups about creating a database, specifically designed to interface local talent with production companies looking to staff projects? What is the plan for marrying our local creative talent with the work?

There was another Man, who flat out asked for a job. I can’t remember what field he was in.

A Spiritual Woman took the microphone and talked of Venice being about love and harmony with the earth. She had no question.  Perhaps, she should have sought out and aligned with other spiritual leaders and inquired of the panel about their ethics and honor in business. Is your office green? What is your carbon footprint? Will any of you be joining a church or other spiritual community in Venice?

There was a Woman Property Owner who got tripped up by both her own meandering and the entrance of Betsy Butler. It was a shame, because she was trying to ask a question about our loss of diversity and how increasing property values will adversely affect our cultural makeup. Rosendahl used her inability to clearly phrase her question and the distraction of a state politician’s arrival to avoid dealing with the issue. An unbiased moderator could’ve easily translated this one.

For shits and giggles, a question that was not asked: How do you feel about the pervasive 420 culture in Venice Beach? With the prevalence of the medical marijuana industry, are you concerned about yourself and your employees being absorbed in this aspect of our community? Will you treat medical marijuana consumption as a private health matter or as recreational drug use?

Semi-joking aside, the most serious question that was almost asked came from a Young Woman who was a musician and volunteer with the homeless. She talked too much about herself and who she was, like everyone did. And then, she got so caught up in trying to shame Rosendahl about the recent “cleanup” of 3rd Street that she failed to ask a clear question. Rosendahl used her meandering and overly emotional, muddy way of delivering her message as an opportunity to brush through an answer that did not even begin to address the real issue, though he knows what it is…

If only she had simply said: Recently there has been a hard push to remove the Homeless from Ocean Front Walk and 3rd Street. There is the perception by the community that this is being done in order to make Venice more appealing to the tech industry, specifically Google. Councilman Rosendahl, are you in fact trying to drive away the homeless for the sake of this new wealth? And to the tech panel, how do you feel about that? How do you deal with the perception that our homeless are being abused and run off in your honor?

My request to each member of the community going forward is to sit down and think hard about just three ideas or aspects of COMMUNITY that you absolutely must see exist in Venice going forward. Find people who share one, two or all three of your priorities. Work together on those priorities and DO NOT TALK ABOUT ANYTHING ELSE! Of course, talk about your day, your family, the weather, but don’t allow less important, personal agendas to create divides and to muddy your message.

Venice has a long history of celebrating the individual that can make it very difficult to tap into a True Spirit of Unity. Having said that, I agree with the panel: THE FUTURE IS NOW. We must come together.

THE HOMELESS: A COMMUNITY MUST DECIDE

Even though there was a substantial amount of time devoted to the homeless issue, the panelists rightly concluded that it was not their problem to solve. They can be a part of the solution, of course, but they are not the solution. To his credit, Rosendahl expressed genuine frustration when initially broaching the subject. I believe he is truly challenged, but has been tempted to take the low road. Homelessness is very complicated, especially within the Culture of Venice Beach.

Some of the panel, particularly Google, would be willing to assist with the problem, but only through established organizations that specialize in dealing with the homeless. Of course, the panel offered resources to those who want to transition out of homelessness. That will help some, but not the homeless by choice; or, good luck trying to get a mentally ill or drug addicted vagabond to sit down and check his e-mail. Let’s not kid ourselves. We are not going to solve the homeless problem or the low income problem by hiring everyone into tech jobs. Just because we are about to have a boom of the tech industry in our community, does not mean we all have to work in that industry in order to be valid members of the community. That standard applies to the poor and homeless as well.

I also don’t think that the panel may have clearly understood the true demographic of our homeless population. Sure, we have the old bums who have wondered our streets for decades, but so many of our homeless are young. Venice Beach is a great attractor of the nation’s transient youth for the same reason it is attractive to our youthful startups: In addition to the great weather, you are surrounded by creativity, natural beauty and outrageousness; at the same time, you are so near the dream of Hollywood. As it turns out, kids are kids…

I believe it is a bit condescending to the tech industry to systematically remove the homeless in order for the industry to invest in our community. Of course, it is a great thing to present a community where our most economically challenged are at least in homes. That is a lovely vision, but it has to be done right.

If the community wants to save this aspect of its heritage, it must work together. The COMMUNITY must provide well thought out solutions to Bill Rosendahl and, more importantly, long term commitments to those solutions. To many Venetians, sweeping the homeless out of our communities is karmic blood we do not want on our hands. With that in mind, go to this new money, the tech industry, who claims that they have come here because there is no where else in the world like Venice Beach; and, convince them that our homeless are essential to the Venice Beach Brand. They are as much a part of it as music, art, surfing and breath. They are the opportunity everyday to choose soul.

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