Venice gives way under power of tech-companies

The progressive infrastructure of America makes the intersection of business, technology and culture a common occurrence, but the economic and cultural impact on American communities is often overlooked.

In Southern California, the expansion of Snapchat in Venice has added an extra layer to gentrification –not only are small businesses and lower-class residents being displaced, but so is part of the vibe that was uniquely Venice Beach.

Longtime residents of the community have observed the gradual progression of various tech companies throughout this coastal hub and not all of them are happy.

“I lived on Oceanfront Walk a block from where they started," said Ira Koslow, a 42-year resident of the community. “They got very successful, became rich and bought a lot of land and rented space.”

Although Google also occupies space in Venice Beach, an article published by The Social Times declared Snapchat the fastest growing social network. The company, which is valued at $16 billion, has supplemented the city's income, but its expansion has not paid off for several residents who occupy prime real estate near the ocean. Some have been forced to move because of escalating rents--including a lot of small businesses, which have had to move when landlords booted them out after making more profitable deals with the companies.

One such tenant is Eric Czar, a software developer who shared offices with prominent entertainment attorney Phil Rosen. “It seems to me that if they’re going to own all the office space in Venice it’s certainly going to homogenize Venice and I don’t know if that’s good or bad but we’ll let time tell,” said Czar.

Most recently The Los Angeles Times reported that Snapchat has leased a 40,000 square foot building that has caused even more angst among residents.

“Many of my favorite restaurants have closed down because of high overhead costs,” said Ellen Lewis, a business owner in Venice.

Zillow Home Value Index reported home values in Venice raised 8.1 percent within the past year and is expected to grow an additional 2.1 percent. Realtor Assaf Raz said prices aren’t going up as a direct result of Snapchat, but Venice has hit a tipping point with the development of Silicon Valley. “People who cannot afford to buy the property but can afford the high rent are moving in causing the rent to go up,” said Raz.

Perhaps one of the most significant blows to the community is the threat against Venice’s cultural atmosphere. Artists are in the mixture of residents and business owners being asked to leave as Snapchat expands. Sudad Shahin, who has rented his Venice studio for 20 years, has watched many of his colleagues leave the area.

“Most of my fellow artists have left town due to rising costs,” said Shahin.

James Brown, an artist from Cincinnati, added: “That would really hurt Venice,” when asked his opinion on Snapchat’s expansion. “It would hurt the art scene."

Residents have also observed how reconstruction of neighborhood buildings has given the city a different vibe. “The nature of Venice has always been different. You go down the street and see different houses. Now, you see the same monolithic structures,” said Koslow.

Although there has been an overwhelming amount of criticism of the “hyper gentrification” that is taking place in Venice, William Attaway, an artist who has spent 35 years in Venice, danced, sang and chatted away as he prepared to bid farewell to the studio he put his life’s work into Aug. 15.

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“Many people are angry,” Attaway exclaimed, “but I’m not.” The artist, like many others, received an eviction notice from his landlord citing he would soon have to vacate the premises, but his spirit never faltered. “The owner has been very good to me. This place is worth $3,500 but I’ve only had to pay $600 since I have been here."

City workers, too, have had no trouble regarding the tech giant’s migration through the community. “Snapchat hasn’t had a negative effect on us,” said officer Haskell, LAPD. “We haven’t even noticed it was here.”

As changes continually happen, some residents feel that the Venice Neighbor Council should step in and take action. When contacted, a Council rep released this statement: “The Council is not taking an official stance on the matter because Snapchat is not solely to blame for the changes occurring in Venice.”

Snapchat representative Shannon Kelly said the company "is not participating in interviews at this time," but she did have this to say: "We are here in Venice because we love its unique culture, and we strive to be great neighbors within the community where we live and work." Kelly said:

"We are active within the community and currently supporting a variety of initiatives and organizations, such as Venice Forward, Safe Place for Youth, St. Joseph's Center and P.S. Arts among others. Additionally, the company has arrangements with five local restaurants, giving employees the option to grab food outside of our cafeteria and get out and about in the neighborhood.

Ultimately, residents want to ensure a mutualistic relationship is being established between the community and the tech-companies that are moving in. “I don’t have a problem with Snapchat,” said Victor Blue, but “Snapchat has a responsibility to preserve the Venice culture.”

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The beaches of Los Angeles carry individualistic personalities; Venice is diverse. (Click here if video doesn't work.)