By Nick Antonicello
VENICE – It has been an interesting two years of political action, involvement and advocacy for Nico Ruderman, who while was a primary force behind the recall of former council member Mike Bonin, squeezed in a run for an open seat in the California legislature while serving the community as a Community Officer on the Venice Neighborhood Council.
A husband, father and homeowner whose wife is a physician, Ruderman has been “all in” politically speaking these last 24 months as he participated as an chief organizer and candidate for public office for the first time.
While the 2021 Bonin Recall effort came up short with the certification of some 95% of the signatures required, the ultimate goal of removing Bonin from office became self-evident as the shockingly high number of signatures collected at the end of the day drove Bonin from the race in January of 2022 leading the way to a new council member and the election of Venice attorney Traci Park last November, the first Venetian to serve on the LA City Council since the days of Ruth Galanter.
Once the recall ended and the race for city council commenced, Autumn Burke who had served Venice in the California Assembly resigned opening up an opportunity in the newly reapportioned 62nd AD and Ruderman took a chance and extended his involvement from grass roots advocate to a candidate for the legislature.
While the race was compacted into a short window to fill the unexpired term, Ruderman stayed true to the issues of homelessness encampments, crime and education as it was the latter that originally peeked his interest here in Venice as the father of a school-age son. Not a party operative or insider, Ruderman positioned himself as an outsider and independent voice in a race where politics, endorsements and name recognition prevailed.
A 17-year resident of Venice, Ruderman is originally from Colorado and has also lived in New York before settling on Dogtown. A graduate of the University of Colorado with a BS in Architectural Engineering, Ruderman is an independent business owner specializing in sound mixing and is also a union member.
His time on the VNC has been interesting as he positioned himself on many issues straight in the middle, a clear moderate who kept to his core concerns when it came to homelessness, crime and quality-of-life, community concerns.
We spoke with Ruderman over the phone and he was gracious enough to answer some questions regarding his race for community officer where he is running unopposed and will be a member of the VNC for a second term of office.
We extended the conversation to the issues now and moving forward as he prepares to serve Venice once again:
You have served a term as a VNC Community Officer, spearheaded the Bonin recall and ran for the state legislature since the last time we spoke. The political bug has certainly bitten you. Tell us how those three experiences impacted you and what parts were memorable and others disappointing?
The last three years have been quite eye-opening. I had the wool pulled from my eyes, and now can see better as to how the government actually functions. As we discussed the first time we spoke, my interest in involvement grew out of extreme frustration and anger at the state of things in our neighborhood, around our schools, in our city, and in our state. Under Bonin, and other failures in power, Venice was on a rapid downward spiral, each day an event worse than the day before. We were surrounded by danger, fires, and seemingly never-ending tragedy. Constant fires, crime, and chaos. Sex trafficking and drug tourism brought travelers to our front doors, constantly escalating the problem. People living and dying on the streets being used for graft and ideological political posturing, without anyone in power actually helping them. Venice made international news for all the wrong reasons, and it created an open door to people around the world that Venice is the place to live on the streets. Writing all of this, it sounds sensationalistic even to me. If you weren’t living in Venice during that time you couldn’t possibly believe or understand just how bad it got, as was evident by the op-eds written by those not living here, calling one of the most welcoming communities in the country a bunch of NIMBY’s. There were a lot of turning points during that time, RV fires, chaos and crime on Rose in East Venice, mine was meth lab RV’s by my son’s school. But I think one of the most significant events that woke up and angered this community was when the poor puppy Togo perished in a fire and our neighbor lost her home. A lot of folks in that neighborhood believe the fire was intentionally started by drug dealers living in an RV a block away.
What came out of this time period was indeed both positive and disappointing experiences. I was fortunate to meet so many people along the way. I met and spoke to thousands of people across CD11 and AD62, and made quite a few new friends along the way in every part of these districts. I am thankful for the partners across CD11 who made it all possible. I am grateful that I got to know and become friends with the other candidates for the assembly race, all of whom have so much to offer. Even though Bonin wasn’t officially recalled, the recall campaign itself was a success, something which my friend Katrina and I are both extremely proud of. We worked thousands of hours, didn’t sleep, stressed about raising enough money, and dealt with lies about our campaign and character. But in the end we forced a very powerful politician who was hurting our community out of office. I do now regret not pushing forward with a challenge to the signature results, because we did in fact easily have enough signatures to put the recall on the ballot. Katrina and I spent weeks at the City Clerk’s office reviewing all of the discarded signatures, and after our audit, I can say with 100% certainty that well over 30,000 registered CD11 voters did in fact sign to fire Mike Bonin. Not only do I believe we would have prevailed in court over the technicalities used to discard, but there were a lot of signatures that were in fact wrongly thrown out even without those technicalities. At the time it seemed like the best choice for CD11 to not continue, and it allowed Traci Park , Jim Murez, and Allison Polhill (who were all strong supporters of the Recall) to stop worrying about supporting the recall or the possibility of two elections, and just focus on their own campaigns. With Bonin dropping out, it brought a lot of new candidates in. In hindsight, it may have been better to continue the recall so that there was no possibility of incoming Mayor Karen Bass appointing Bonin to anything. But I hope that our new mayor has heard the people of CD11, and keeps Bonin on the sidelines where he belongs.
This time you are running as Communications Officer unopposed. Why Communications Officer and what specific items do you want to accomplish in this new capacity?
Vicki Halliday has been our communications officer and has done an amazing job. When she told me she was running for VP I decided to run. She has always supported me which I am thankful for, and as a new VNC member she was one of the people I looked up to the most. She has worked tirelessly for this community and I definitely have some gigantic shoes to fill.
One of the best things to come out of COVID was having meetings on ZOOM. It has allowed people who may not be able to make some, or all of the meetings in person to still participate in what goes on in our neighborhood. Personally, I have been able to be more involved, attending meetings even while at or traveling for work. Because of online meetings, I have had a near perfect attendance record. At the same time, there is definitely a lot lost in translation without in person meetings. A sense of community is lost somehow. I look forward to returning to in-person, but I am hoping the state amends the Brown Act in a way that allows for hybrid meetings for Neighborhood Councils. This is a volunteer council that should be accessible to everyone in our community, regardless of health, employment status or requirements, family commitments or obligations, ability to leave ones home, or comfort being in crowds. Now that the technology exists for people to attend these meetings virtually, it is discriminatory to not offer a hybrid model. As communications officer, I plan to lobby for an inclusive hybrid model, and work to create the most effective system for us, allowing for as much active participation from all of Venice as possible. I have seen very effective hybrid meetings, including my local union meetings, and hope to model those successes.
With a new Mayor and Councilmember comes new leadership and opportunity. How has this new city leadership impacted Venice thus far and what proposals and ideas would you like to see moved forward in your new role too?
The initial impact of new administrations of both the Council District 11 and the Mayor’s Office was almost instant. Within weeks, hundreds of people living on the streets were brought in off of the streets. Those living on the streets have been housed, mostly in hotels for now I believe, and from what I understand have been provided services. Within a few days, Hampton, 3rd, and Flower were cleared, and are still clear. There is still a lot of work to do, but it has definitely started on the right course. Going forward, I would like to see our neighborhoods be preserved, and for the containment zone to be ended. I would like to see businesses be supported, they are a huge part of what makes our community thrive. I would like to see LA Recreation Center sports leagues for kids be supported and grown to pre-COVID levels. Public Rec centers have always made sports accessible to all children, now they are struggling and a lot of programs just don’t have the numbers they used to have, so some sports just aren’t happening anymore. There is a lot to do to recover from both COVID and the homelessness crisis that have both plagued Venice. Another thing I will push for is to have a count done of existing public parking in Venice so we know how much more parking needs to be added to get preferential parking. We are the only coastal community in the area that allows both oversize vehicle parking, and doesn’t have preferential parking for residents. We have a lot to do.
You know Traci Park well. How will that relationship improve things here in Venice?
I have gotten to know Traci over this time period. I consider her a friend, have supported her since the beginning, think very highly of her, and still have a Traci Park sign up in my yard. After Bonin doxed us, and Katrina’s house was attacked, she called to offer up her home to us. When months later my house was attacked, she again offered, because that’s the kind of person she is. She started her little engine that could campaign at the same time Katrina and I started the Recall. Nobody believed either campaign would actually succeed, probably including the three of us, but in the end they both were wildly successful, merging into a simultaneous movement to save CD-11.
In the very beginning,Traci was strongly encouraged by those around her at the time not to support us or the recall, but she didn’t listen to that advice. Every single event she held, she put in a word for the recall and gathered signatures. Erin Darling claimed she ran the “Right-Wing Recall” any chance he got, which was laughable. She didn’t have time because she was running her own campaign 24-hrs a day. During this time period, Traci and I spent hundreds of hours talking, commiserating, and encouraging each other. It is a time period I will always look fondly on, and also hope to never repeat. Traci built her campaign on extensive outreach to the community, transparency, and a promise to listen and do what’s right. She attended a lot of neighborhood and community council meetings across the district, and rarely missed a VNC meeting. Venice definitely deserves way better than it has gotten from the city in recent years. My hope both personally, and as a VNC Board Member, is to continue to foster that relationship, and work with the Council Office to keep Venice on the right path, and to obtain the resources that we need.
Do you have any plans to run for higher office again?
I never had plans to run in the first place. My political ambitions grew out of frustration and opportunity. If the right opportunity came I would consider running again, but I am not seeking it out.
Who are you supporting for President of the VNC and why?
This has been an interesting race. I consider both candidates to be friends of mine, and I respect them both a lot. I have been saddened by Venice dividing again after a period of coming together with nasty attacks on both candidates. I am happy to weigh in on any other race, but this one I may not even vote in personally. We have two people with some stark differences ideologically, but at the end of the day, I feel like either one would be a great leader who keeps the entire Venice community in their hearts. I know that statement will anger people in both camps, but it is honestly how I feel.
Does Venice have an image problem and what can you do to improve the community’s overall brand?
Yes. Bad news has been the only news about Venice worldwide for the last few years. It is unfortunate because Venice is a worldwide tourist destination. Unfortunately it has become a containment zone, by design, which has had a huge negative impact. Now that things are starting to get better here, I hope the city spends some money on PR to repair the image that was destroyed by past city administrations.
What can be done to influence the future of Bridge Housing and Median projects? Do you think the City of LA and the CCC listen to community concerns?
That’s the million dollar question at the moment. So far since the facility opened, neither the city nor Metro has not listened to community concerns at all, which is why we are in the situation we are in. All input fell on deaf ears under the Bonin/Garcetti era. My hope is that community impact and input become the heaviest factor in weighing these decisions going forward. All we can do is to keep pushing Metro, the City, and CCC to take the community into account, and to listen to us. I am a big proponent for local community input and control over development, something that Venice has not had recently.
Quality of life remains a high concern by most. What can the VNC do to make our overall community quality of life better?
Engagement. There is a lot of work that is done through committees that have made and continue to make a huge impact. Look at what the Arbor Committee has done for example. They have groups of volunteers out every weekend planting trees and native plants throughout Venice beautifying the neighborhood, and working to restore our urban canopy one tree at a time. The best thing that the VNC can do to improve quality of life is to have a council that both engages and informs the community.
What is your vision for Venice at Oceanfront Walk? What can be done to bring back commerce, tourism and visitation?
I would like to see Oceanfront Walk have a renaissance, and become the amazing venue that it has the potential to be. We need more events to draw people in. Concerts, sporting events, the Olympics, etc. While I hope Venice is able to maintain what is left of it’s grit, artistic expression, and edginess, it also needs to be a safe place to walk 24 hrs a day. I’d love to be able to enjoy the nightlife of the Boardwalk with friends without the fear for my safety. I’d love to see local businesses survive and thrive. Let’s make the “Venice of America” that Abbott Kinney envisioned.
Nick Antonicello is a longtime Venetian covering the March 26th VNC election to be held at the Oakwood Recreation Center where in-person voting will take place. For more information about the election, e-mail Elections@VeniceNC.org. Have a take or tip on all things Venice? E-mail Antonicello at email@example.com