Get to Know MIKE BONIN, LA’s Silicon Beach-area Councilman

Mar Vista resident Mike Bonin has been an Angeleno for nearly 25 years — a transplant, like millions that have come before and after, with dreams to fulfill and a unique story to tell. And in that time, Bonin has seen a lot of change — and yet the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Bonin arrived in 1991, after spending three months traveling cross-country on a Greyhound — then ran out of money by the time he hit LA! Says Bonin, “I thought I’d crash with some friends, maybe move to San Diego or San Francisco, maybe someday move back home to Massachusetts. I fell in love with LA pretty quickly,” despite arriving in a time marked by riots and earthquakes.

“I remember sending a letter to a friend of mine, saying ‘This is the city of the future, you can see the future of America right here in this city, right now.’ For me, it was about the international flavor of the city, the diversity, and that’s the trend line of this country. The questions that Los Angeles is struggling with, with growth and social change — then, as well as now — are the questions the country is going to deal with. And if we can deal these questions first and set a good example, then that’s good for the whole country.”

Mike Bonin is Councilman for LA’s 11th District, a large swath that covers almost all of LA west of the 405 (minus Santa Monica, which is its own city), from LAX to Mulholland.

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Bonin has seen the city grow in fits and starts, and is helping its neighborhoods maintain their unique identities even as the city is on the verge of one of its biggest economic growth spurts ever.

“Los Angeles has deliberately tried to make itself a more inviting home for the tech community — we have better weather, a creative element that doesn’t exist in other cities, and great educational institutions here. We’ve also seen venture capitalists more willing to invest in this area and BEING in this area. All those things come together for a very fertile environment.”

Helping all these interconnected neighborhoods retain their community vibe is no small task, but having lived through numerous changes to the city’s social makeup, Bonin is prepared to help the area he serves smooth over the inevitable bumps that come with such rapid growth.

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Take for instance Venice and Playa Vista.

Bonin saw Venice’s original transition in the 90s away from a largely black / Latino / surf / artist community as more yuppies and celebrities built high fences as they moved in.

It was not uncommon to see celebrities like Anjelica Huston and Dennis Hopper hanging at local house parties along the beach; in fact it was Venice’s funky DNA that drew millionaires and bohemians alike to the area (and still does to this day).

Fast forward a couple decades, and you see tensions rise as a new breed of neighbor comes in, whether it be homegrown tech talent taking over business districts block by block, or deep-pocketed newbies with the means to convert a million-dollar teardown into a two-story mid-century modern.

Venice’s fortunes have risen as property values rebounded after the 2008 bottom, in parallel with LA’s emergence as a bona fide tech hub — first initiated by Google’s consolidation at Rose & Main, and continuing as businesses like Snapchat take over the area block by block.

And even though the rise in real estate values cannot be totally blamed on the rise of the tech community, the twin emergence of tech businesses and real estate prices has put a strain on the area’s affordable housing.

Bonin notes that tech companies could do a better job in telling their stories via community outreach, and forging stronger ties with the neighborhoods in which they work.

Says Bonin, “There’s plenty of room for exciting investment and partnership, ingenuity and brain power investments that the tech community could make, in Venice in particular, in homelessness and transportation.”

To address these very issues, Bonin is working on a public / private neighborhood bus system to run throughout Venice, since its work / shop / play destinations are myriad, yet its area public transit options are light.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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As Venice’s tech scene bursts at the seams, Playa Vista has been able to absorb a good portion of businesses looking to put roots in LA.

Originally designed as a Master Plan project built out in two phases (the first in the 90s, the second in 2005), Playa Vista was always a home to businesses looking to set up shop in LA.

Since Playa Vista was built as a Master Planned community, it has been very easy for businesses to claim their space and get the permits they need in order get quickly up & running (in fact, a good portion of Yahoo’s Santa Monica employees have moved into a stunning set of Playa Vista offices built in less than a year).

Being close to the airport, close to the ocean, and close to the 405, Playa Vista has attracted the likes of YouTube, Google, Facebook, Fullscreen, Honest, and Belkin, as well as Microsoft, Verizon, Electronic Arts, Tom’s and a number of ad agencies north of Jefferson.

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And with this hypergrowth of area business, families have followed — which was not totally anticipated. In fact, Playa Vista was originally demographically modeled after Marina del Rey, known to many as the perfect place for older divorcees.

But with some of the best parks in town and a young workforce who have the desire (and means) to live close to work, this has created a whole new set of challenges for LAUSD and charter schools to accommodate this rapidly growing population.

Which leads us to another area of deep focus for the Councilman: public transportation.

Councilman Bonin is looking at an enhanced public transportation system to serve the Jefferson corridor, since the population around Playa Vista is projected to triple (from 7,000 to 20,000) in the coming years — but notes that to do so will require a transit measure on the 2016 ballot.

As the Chair of the Transportation Committee, Chair of the Construction Authority, the Mayor’s appointee to the LA Metro County Board, and with LAX and a the latest addition to the Metro line in his district, Bonin is doing everything he can to remind people that despite its size, Los Angeles is made up of dozens of neighborhoods, each with its own distinct identity — a fact that often gets lost as LA’s car culture keeps us locked in our single-occupancy vehicles at longer stretches per year.

Bonin notes that the roadway systems built in the 40’s and 50’s need to be rethought, to allow for multi-modal transportation, whether it be by foot, board, bike, rideshare, rail, bus, or car — “We have forced people into cars because we haven’t given them other options. It’s not that we’re trying to force them out of their cars, we’re trying to give them a menu of options.

“We have folks under 35, particularly in the tech community, that want to walk, to bike, skateboard to work, and we need to make that opportunity available. A growing number of seniors don’t want to drive or don’t feel safe driving anymore, and don’t want to be homebound, and want to live in neighborhoods that are livable, walkable, so they can go to a movie, go to a store, to dinner, without having to get into a car, and we can build that.”

“Los Angeles is a city of neighborhoods. There are so many different neighborhoods — ethnic neighborhoods, economic neighborhoods — you can go to different cities while being in Los Angeles. The promise of a better public transit system is that more people will have the ability to check out other neighborhoods and experiences just by going places. If you travel on public transit, you will have the opportunity to encounter people from other parts of the city that you don’t when you’re in this car.”

Bonin says that even cities like Boston and New York are far more culturally integrated because its residents do not solely rely on their own cars to get around town, adding that LA today is, “Even more exciting now because downtown LA is an urban core. You can walk around downtown LA on a Friday and Saturday night, and it feels like you’re in New York.”

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In addition to maintaining a neighborhood quality to the bustling area, Bonin is also working on how to best address homelessness in the area (Venice in particular), arming firefighters with live data to best control a blaze, boosting citywide wi-fi so that those in Districts that are not as fortunate as his do not fall behind the digital divide, as well as making LA’s business tax code more friendly to companies looking to set up shop in LA.

And more than anything, one of the most important things that Councilman Bonin does on a regular basis is simple courtship and outreach: “In this building [City Hall], we forget that folks appreciate a call from a Councilmember, but someone from another city knowing that the government is going to be on their side makes a difference.”

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Scott Perry -- LA Tech Digest founder

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