AirTalk for June 21, 2012

Here comes Google (to Venice), there goes the neighborhood

chickpokipsi/Flickr/Creative Commons

Will Venice Beach lose its character?

Venice Beach may be Southern California’s most iconic neighborhood.

Of course there’s the boardwalk, full of skaters, body builders, tourists and transients. Further in, Abbot Kinney and a rapidly gentrifying stretch of high-end stores and film and technology companies. Now add Google to the mix.

The search giant recently took over the Binoculars Building, which was designed by Frank Gehry and later made iconic with a huge pair of binoculars designed by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. Also, Google has secured a lease on the building that currently houses Gold’s Gym. An article in the New York Times this week captures the neighborhood’s shift: even former Governor and former Mister Universe Arnold Schwarzenegger himself has converted his old body building gym into high-end office space.

Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl has welcomed Google with open arms. He's been talking closely with company executives about what social resources they have to offer.

"What Google sees itself doing is working closely with the community on all kinds of issues: the Venice Artwalk, the silent auction, computers for kids in the neighborhood, office spaces, and now we're in discussions about homeless issues," he said.

According to Rosendahl, Google is a catalyst for synergy, new energy and growth in Venice, and they aren't looking to change Venice's vibe because it helps them think creatively.

"Ideas from young people happen walking the beach and seeing eclectic stuff. They go back to work, they help create new technologies," he said. "It's a work in progress, but it's a new energy added to the already energy there, and they want to be part of the community."

Linda Lucks, president of the Venice Neighborhood Council, said neighborhood residents feel both excitement and trepidation about Google's move because they can't predict its impact in the long run. She added that they're not afraid of change, but what the change will be.

"It's not as if Venice isn't changing anyway. I think the concern for those of us who have lived here a long time is that whoever comes in fits into the fabric of the community and doesn't try to change it without understanding who's been there, what the history there is, and the diversity and the need to keep Venice, Venice," she explained. "To come in with a mindset of sitting in and giving back is what I think most residents are looking for, and not taking it over like a company town and controlling everything."

Lucks said she's optimistic about Google so far.

"They are really trying to understand the community. They are really delving in, studying homelessness, finding out what they can to do help as opposed to just chasing people away. I think their attitude is exactly what we want in a good neighbor and a new neighbor," she continued.

With rents on the rise, is the shift toward big pocketed neighbors like Google inevitable? And will the presence of big companies bring more money and jobs to the neighborhood? Or will Venice lose its funky vibe?

From the phones:

Mark, who has lived in Venice for 23 years, said he's noticed a gradual evolution in the residents, and with that a change in expectations.

"There are a lot of new people living here, a lot of them in the entertainment industry, a lot of young families, a lot of folks that have an expectation that the place works, that you can find a parking space and in particular, that it's safe," he said, agreeing with Lucks that change will come to Venice. "My family moved back to Santa Monica in 1961 ... It went from extreme, right wing small town to being one of the most liberal cities in California. It's inevitable that that kind of evolution is going to take place next door in Venice."

He added that he welcomes a culture shift, but concluded that it's going to take a long time before Venice gets there.

Venice resident Mike's concerns about Google are two-fold: Mike said he doesn't want to compete with Google or rely on Google to fix the city's problems.

"I'm pretty concerned about the housing prices in Venice. I'm a renter and I've been looking to buy, and I worry that Google is going to price me out and it's going to price a lot of other people out," he said. " I worry when I hear the councilman speaking that there's not even a hint of skepticism in his voice, or an acknowledgement of some of the concerns. We've got to work on fixing [issues], and not just invite more companies in and let them fix it."

Diane moved to Venice 15 years ago because she couldn't afford housing in Santa Monica. She said that many residents are looking forward to improvements to problems like homelessness and parking spaces, and cleaning up the area won't affect Venice's one-of-a-kind culture.

"Although Venice is funky and bohemian, bohemian doesn't have to mean violence. When I was first here there was a lot of it. I wish people wouldn't associate bohemian with poor, dirty and violent," she said.

Guests:

Councilman Bill Rosendahl, 11th District of Los Angeles, including Venice and West LA

Linda Lucks, President of the Venice Neighborhood Council


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