Maintaining its position from a year ago on impacts to coastal access, the California Coastal Commission has again rejected overnight parking restrictions as a solution to curbing RVs from lining public streets in Venice.

The Coastal Commission voted 6-3 at its June 11th meeting in Marina del Rey to deny requests by the City of Los Angeles for coastal development permits that would allow for parking to be restricted, except by permit, in early morning hours in three sections of Venice. In rejecting its staff recommendation, the commission repeated its decision from June last year, when it also denied the staff’s recommended approval of the permits.

Some commissioners said they continue to believe that such parking restrictions in the coastal zone would negatively affect the public’s ability to access the beach in the early morning.

“What we are being asked of is to approve a restriction in the Venice area. That restriction, in my view, does in fact limit access and I’m not convinced we need to do that at this point,” Coastal Commissioner Mark Stone said.

Referring to the commission’s vote one year earlier, Commissioner Sara Wan said the state board denied the parking permits because of public access impacts and not due to social issues related to people living in their vehicles.

“The city seems to be under some misunderstanding that the streets in these areas should be restricted to residents,” Wan said. “I believe that this particular plan will adversely affect the public’s ability to get to the beach.”

The commission’s vote additionally nullified a proposed lawsuit settlement between the commission, City of Los Angeles and Venice Stakeholders Association regarding the commission’s denial of overnight parking permits at last year’s meeting. The tentative agreement proposed that the city would need to have oversize vehicle parking restrictions in place for at least six months, along with other mitigation measures such as allowing additional parking in beach lots, before overnight parking districts (OPDs) could take effect between 2 and 6 a.m. The OPDs would only be established when they receive the support of a two-thirds majority of residents on a certain block.

While the commission was voting to authorize the permits for the OPDs at the June 11th meeting, the zones could not be established unless the city submitted a report finding that the oversize restrictions for vehicles taller than seven feet were ineffective in curbing the RV problem.

Mark Ryavec, president of the stakeholders association that filed the lawsuit against the Coastal Commission, said the settlement would have resulted in a compromise plan to allow Venice residents to finally have control of overnight parking on their blocks while assuring adequate beach access. He expressed anger at the commission vote, which he claimed was based “entirely on ideological and political grounds.”

The city offered significant compromises under the agreement including making early morning parking more available for beach visitors and first testing out the oversize vehicle limits, but the commission did not follow through on the deal, he said. As part of the proposal, state Assemblyman Ted Lieu also agreed to drop a bill that would have allowed the city to implement coastal parking districts without Coastal Commission authority.

“The commission at its hearing (June 11th) reneged on the agreement and scuttled the permits they had promised Venice residents,” Ryavec said.

“This ‘bait and switch’ trick is reprehensible in a public body,” he continued. “Throughout this long process the commission and its staff have acted dishonorably, first saying some years ago that no coastal development permit would be required for overnight parking between 2 and 6 a.m. since state law had preempted this time period, then later reversing themselves and requiring a permit.”

But those who have fought the parking restrictions, saying that they would block access to the beach for non-residents and leave people who are forced to live in their vehicles with no place to go, cheered the commission’s decision to once again reject permit parking in the Venice coastal zone.

“I am thrilled that the rights of Venice residents to keep their streets free to the public have again been affirmed by the Coastal Commission,” said Karen Wolfe, member of the group Venice Action Alliance. “Many of us residents take it as a responsibility to be stewards of one of the largest tourist destinations in California to balance our own selfish interests with the rights of the public.”

Fellow alliance member Chris Plourde told the commission prior to its vote that the goal of the plan was to “rid Venice of RVs” and the city was looking to restrict parking block by block without the state board’s oversight.

“The Coastal Commission once again recognized and carried out its mandate to protect coastal access against attempts to make the beach less available to the general public,” Plourde said.

Throughout the public hearing, the commission was again faced with extensive testimony from people on both sides of the contentious issue. Some opposed to parking districts criticized the commission’s need to reconsider the matter following its denial last year, and urged the board to protect beach access for everyone.

“Access to the coastal zone under the Coastal Act means access for all, no matter how rich or how poor,” longtime Venice resident Jim Smith told the commission.

Resident David Ewing of the Venice Action Alliance described the approval of OPDs before oversize vehicle restrictions take effect as “the cart before the horse.” By taking such an action, the commission would be “washing your hands” of any ability to prevent the parking districts from being created in the future, Ewing warned the board.

Prior to the vote, Coastal Commissioner Richard Bloom, one of three members to support the settlement conditions, explained that the motion did not presume that permit parking would occur if approved, but rather the implementation of the oversize vehicle ordinance. Bloom, also a Santa Monica City Council member, noted that vehicular camping is not a problem in that city where an oversize vehicle parking law is routinely enforced.

Speakers in favor of the parking limits said Venice should have the same rights to establish overnight permit parking as other areas across the state.

“It’s totally unfair to the residents, and we don’t have a fair representation under the law,” said resident Stewart Oscars, referring to other areas that have enacted the restrictions. “It’s about fairness and safety for the residents of Venice, and it protects the environment because of cleaner streets.”

John Henning, attorney for the Venice Stakeholders Association, said the proposal called for restrictions at a time when few people seek to use the beach and told the board that social issues related to people living in vehicles need to be dealt with by the City of Los Angeles, not the commission. Following the settlement’s denial, Ryavec said the association will continue to press its lawsuit against the commission.

Opponents to OPDs say they hope the city will move forward on alternative solutions to the RV parking problem, including an oversize vehicle ordinance and a safe parking program modeled after one in Santa Barbara where those who require help could park their vehicles overnight on designated lots and have access to services.

“In order to really address the problems association with homelessness, the city first needs to bring online a safe parking program and oversize vehicle parking restrictions, which are both endorsed by the LAPD,” said Plourde of the action alliance group.

City Councilman Bill Rosendahl said he was very disappointed in the commission’s vote to reject the settlement conditions, calling it “terribly unfair” that Venice has not been given the same right to regulate street parking as other coastal communities. Though he was “flabbergasted” by the decision, Rosendahl said he now wants to focus his energy on implementing an oversize vehicle law, which the council’s transportation committee has already approved, as well as the safe parking program.

“Solving this problem and striking the right balance with a carrot and stick approach will be difficult and will require patience and good will,” the councilman said. “Working together, I am confident we can accomplish that.”

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