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Snapchat Is Pulling Out of Venice, and Gentrification Activists Are Overjoyed

11:28 AM PST on March 7, 2018

    Snap Inc., the $28-billion parent company of the disappearing messaging app Snapchat, is pulling up stakes in Venice, and some inhabitants of the free-spirited beach town say they are delighted.

    The tech company, founded in Venice in 2011, is vacating a large chunk of its Venice network of office space for a location in a corporate office park in Santa Monica.

    Snap’s years of expansion in Venice, at a time when the neighborhood is swiftly gentrifying, has angered a group of local activists who say the company has driven out local businesses and long-time residents. These activists argue that Snap added too much vanilla to the funky mix of people and cultures Venice is famous for.  

    As Costar first reported in late February, the company has put 14 of its Venice Beach office locations totaling 163,000 square feet up for sublease. More than half of the sublet space, about 93,000 square feet, is on the Venice Boardwalk.

    'Now even the gentrifiers are getting gentrified.'

    Venice Dogz: An Alliance for the Preservation of Venice, a foe of Snap’s expansion in the community, issued a statement on March 2nd which said its members are “delighted to hear” of Snap Inc.’s departure from Venice.

    “We hope they continue to move out of their remaining locations,” the statement informs.

    On March 2, 2017, the day of Snapchat’s $33-billion initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange, Venice Dogz staged a lively protest near the company’s headquarters on Main Street. The protesters’ carried signs like “Snap Killed Mom and Pop.”

    The following month, when the Venice Beach Freakshow was forced to close after a decade of entertaining crowds on the boardwalk, the group summoned hundreds to protest what they and the Freakshow’s owner say was Snap’s hidden hand behind the new landlord's hardball tactics — a claim which Snap has repeatedly denied.

    Mark Rago, a founder of Venice Dogz and 18-year resident of the beach community, said the group’s chief complaint against Snap is that it treats the neighborhood as if it were a corporate campus. “Nothing was being done about it and nothing was being enforced,” he said.  

    A map of unconfirmed Snap employee pick-up and drop-off spots created by local activists

    Venice Dogz has a laundry list of complaints against Snap. From installing offices in lofts that are zoned as live/work spaces and snatching up parking from residents to clogging traffic on Venice’s narrow streets with employee shuttles, and deploying a private security force that stands guard outside the opaque windows of former storefronts that now house Snap offices.

    Mike Bravo, a former member of the Venice Neighborhood Council whose family has lived in the same Venice house since the 1930s, called Snap “a hyper example of the gluttonous gentrification that’s been going on in the neighborhood.” Bravo blamed the city council, which he says has been lax in regulating the rapid expansion of tech companies’ in the hub of Silicon Beach. “Now even the gentrifiers are getting gentrified,” he said.

    Local activists monitoring the company's dramatic expansion in Venice made a map of 23 properties they say Snap Inc. either leases or owns in Venice, as well as several "suspected locations" — as yet unconfirmed — where they say Snap Inc. shuttles drop off and pick up employees. (A Snapchat spokesperson called the map “inaccurate.”)

    Snap Inc. controls about 605,000 square feet along the L.A. County coastline from Santa Monica to Marina Del Rey.

    Activists have pressed Los Angeles city officials to more strictly enforced zoning laws and filed a complaint last year with the California Coastal Commission that accused Snap of hogging up parking set aside specifically for residents, prompting an investigation.

    Snap Inc. controls about 605,000 square feet along the L.A. County coastline from Santa Monica to Marina Del Rey, according to a corporate prospectus filed in March and news reports.

    The tech upstart which began in a beachfront bungalow on the boardwalk has expanded in six years to employ a workforce of some 3,000 and haul in $3.4-billion from last year’s initial public offering.

    Snap has previously said that it intends to focus its future expansion outside of Venice, where the company’s operations are spread out in a network of office buildings. But though a year ago the company leased some 300,000 square feet in a Santa Monica business park, with the option to lease an additional 100,000 more, locals in Venice remained skeptical.

    The company’s founder Evan Spiegel and his team of executives reportedly intend to have more employees in Santa Monica than in Venice by the middle of the year...

    “I’m still in disbelief,” said Barbara Lonsdale, a 31-year resident of Venice and member of Venice Dogz. “The [Snapchat-owned] Spectacles [camera glasses] shop on the boardwalk, it’s gone. I don’t have to yell at them anymore, so that’s nice.”

    The business press has interpreted the move as a matter of Snapchat’s outgrowing Venice. The company implied as much in a statement issued last week. "While we are looking forward to bringing teams closer together in Santa Monica,” the company said, “Venice is a magical place and we're so grateful to have started and grown our company here."

    Lonsdale said it’s possible the high rents for space on the boardwalk could also have influenced the decision. Snap has seen a recent dip in the number of Snapchat views. Lonsdale pointed to a tweet from TV star Kylie Jenner dissing the app’s redesign, which reportedly wiped out $1.3 billion of Snap's market value in an afternoon.

    “It could just be they’re moving out of Venice because that boardwalk property was really expensive,” Lonsdale said. “I would hope that we have something to do with it.”

    The company’s founder Evan Spiegel and his team of executives reportedly intend to have more employees in Santa Monica than in Venice by the middle of the year -- though they intend to always keep some office space in Venice.

    Rago of Venice Dogz said he welcomes the decision as a reprieve for residents and small business owners feeling the pinch of rising rents. But the rise in the cost of living and doing business, he said, especially along the Venice boardwalk, may be irreversible. “We don’t expect thrift stores to take their place,” he said. “I’m sure they’re still going to get top dollar for all these properties they’re subleasing.”

    “Are they still going to utilize all their shuttles, all their security guards? We’re still watching.”

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