VENICE - The Office of the Los Angeles City Attorney has instructed that the Land Use & Planning Committee of the Venice Neighborhood Council (www.venicenc.org) refrain from meeting until a review of potential conflicts of interest be completed.
The same directive has also been given to the newly formed Ad Hoc Committee on land use matters as well.
Michael Jensen, the chairman of this standing committee that addresses issues of land use and zoning was instructed by VNC President Brian Averill in an email dated Wednesday, November 1st (see below).
Jensen, the ranking member of LUPC and the only directly-elected member by the community was victorious last March after being appointed to fill an unexpired term of office.
A local attorney, I asked Chairman Jensen several questions regarding the status of this committee as well as an update on the 30,000 square foot proposal for a second, open air pier to be located at the bottom of Rose here in Venice.
Below is my Q&A with the LUPC Chair unedited:
The Standing Committee known as The Land Use & Planning Committee of the Venice Neighborhood Council has apparently been asked not to meet pending a review by the LA City Attorney’s Office. Can you confirm the Committee’s current status and when were you notified?
On November 1, the VNC President emailed the entire VNC Board and instructed us that the City Attorney’s office advised that LUPC and the recently approved ad hoc committee relating to the CP/LCP not meet until it completed review of possible conflict of interest issues. Additionally, I understand that the VNC cannot take up any recommendations from either committee.
Were you notified directly by LA City officials?
Were you offered any reasons why this action has been taken?
I have only the email from VNC President (see attached).
Also, the recently constituted Ad Hoc Committee regarding land use issues was apparently asked not to meet as well. Is that the case? Are the issues similar or contrasting as to why neither body can currently meet?
Yes, that is what the VNC President’s email stated. I am unclear as to whether the ad hoc committee exists yet. The VNC Board approved a mission statement at its October meeting, but the selection of the chair is made by the President per our By-laws. That chair then selects committee members. I assume there are overlapping conflict of interest issues since both committees were instructed to suspend meetings.
Why was this action taken by the City of Los Angeles?
I would be speculating to answer.
Was a timeline established for how long LUPC cannot formally meet?
You currently serve as chairman and have so for the last two years after being appointed and then elected last March. Is there a fundamental disagreement between you and member(s) of the committee on how to determine how those applications that come before LUPC are adjudicated? Is there a public policy difference of opinion?
Yes, and anyone who attended the last meeting would probably agree.
My philosophy is to follow applicable law, starting with our Venice Coastal Zone Specific Plan and our Bylaws and Standing Rules. In contrast, some members of the committee disagree that cases compliant with the Specific Plan should be processed pursuant to the VNC’s Standing Rules. In fact, some of them have stated that the Specific Plan is irrelevant and meaningless in context of development guidelines.
LUPC historically is the most technical of standing committees and your calendar and agenda can become quite long. By being unable to meet, what impact will this have on the committee’s work and case load?
Having meetings suspended will undoubtedly create a backlog. However, most cases filed in Venice are small projects that comply with the Specific Plan standards, meaning that those cases are supposed to be placed on consent directly at the VNC Board. In its last term, we were operating in conformity with this process and shifted focus to broader planning issues, such as the CP/LCP updates.
If LUPC were not able to meet for any extended period of time, how will this impact Venetians?
This will decrease the contact Venetians have with the VNC and, in turn, our city.
Can you confirm that an ethics complaint has been filed against a member of LUPC?
I cannot speak to any ethics complaint. Among several other VNC Board Members, I have raised concerns with the VNC and DONE about members of Citizens Preserving Venice voting for fellow members to be appointed to official positions, including LUPC and ad hoc committees.
Regarding the proposal to construct a 30,000 square foot pier at the foot of Rose was heard by LUPC. Do you believe there is consensus on supporting that project among board members at this time?
I think there was support and questions among LUPC. At this stage of a concept, I think it’s premature to evaluate technicalities that do not exist. Rather, the point now is to determine whether the community wants this in concept and, if so, what are the various agencies and resources that must be marshalled to refine the concept into a real project.
This is a volunteer standing committee that requires the time, knowledge and energy to serve. Have you notified the other members of its current status and have you been asked to speak with city officials regarding the committee’s current status?
Promptly following the VNC President’s directive to cancel future meetings until further notice, I contacted each of the committee members to notify them of the situation. City officials have not contacted me to discuss the situation.
Do you recall anything like this happening in the past where the action of the committee has been suspended?
I have been involved with the VNC since 2016 and do not recall anything like this happening.
(Nick Antonicello is a thirty-year resident of Venice and extensively covers the actions and deliberations of the Venice Neighborhood Council. The author exclusively covered the 2023 March elections of the VNC and currently serves as a member of the Outreach and Oceanfront Walk Committees in a volunteer capacity. Have a take or a tip on all things Venice? Contact him via e-mail at [email protected])