Abbot Kinney Boulevard, Venice’s eclectic corridor of boutiques, galleries, restaurants and bars, is quite accustomed to the parking problems plaguing the community.
With Abbot Kinney being a popular shopping and dining destination on the Westside where there are few lots and no parking garages, parking can be pretty scarce at many times throughout the week.
Add to that the continuing popularity of the First Fridays events in which businesses stay open later on the first Friday of every month, and a parking spot near the boulevard can seem virtually non-existent. Residents note that parking troubles are exacerbated during First Fridays when restaurants and bars are drawing large numbers of patrons and food trucks from throughout Los Angeles are coming to attract hungry people crowded into one location.
“First Fridays are the time when you have everybody there and all the food trucks are coming. It’s the hot-button moment,” said Jed Pauker, member of a Venice neighborhood council task force assigned to study the parking issue.
While the mobile food vendors can offer a convenient and inexpensive choice to satisfy food cravings, some say that along with them comes trash on the streets and potential safety issues with people walking in the street to avoid crowded sidewalks. Parking in an already limited area also gets impacted as some vendors try to arrive early in the day to save a space for the evening, some residents say.
In addition to the impacts associated with First Fridays, some residents in the surrounding neighborhoods claim they are feeling the parking constraints when valets from Abbot Kinney are using their streets to park. The neighborhood council, in response to the parking concerns, has created a task force to study the issue as it relates to food trucks and valets and make recommendations to help resolve the problems. The advisory council is expected to consider the recommedations for a report to the City Council next month.
Neighborhood council President Linda Lucks said a main intent of First Fridays was to increase business in the area, but what it’s become is a “street party.” She doesn’t believe the lunch trucks are the primary problem but rather the parking limitations.
“There isn’t enough parking in Venice for the people who come here,” she said. “The food trucks follow the money and they follow the crowds.”
Pauker, a task force representative, agreed that many of the problems come down to parking.
“Parking is the really big issue. We don’t have enough space around here and we’re trying to find ways to make more space,” he said. “There’s some de facto congestion that’s not currently being addressed and can’t be addressed by current regulations.”
Pauker and fellow task force member Robin Rudisil conducted research on food truck and valet parking history; met with city representatives, truck vendors and local businesses; and studied how other cities nationwide are addressing the issue in order to develop various recommendations. They also conducted surveys that found that a majority of those polled wanted the food trucks and valets removed from the area.
Among the recommendations presented to the neighborhood council Sept. 21 were to promote a consolidated valet parking program; promote continued dialogue among involved entities; promote a parking study; support implementing a business improvement district for the area; and support a county proposal for letter grading of the food trucks.
“I think they will help in a number of ways,” Pauker said of the suggestions. “I think they will resolve, or at least work toward resolving the parking situation and help people understand what’s going on.”
Matt Geller, president of the Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association, said one of the steps his group is taking to address concerns is working with the Abbot Kinney Merchants Association to devise a way for the trucks to purchase street parking for the entire First Friday event. He noted that the association is taking care of the trash problem by providing its own clean-up crew following the event.
“We’re trying to deal with the problems as they arise,” said Geller, a Venice resident. “The big trick is for the trucks and the merchants to figure out where (the trucks) can park without impacting the merchants and to try to make the whole situation less adversarial.”
Geller said he likes the task force recommendation for a business improvement district along the street and said the association is 100 percent behind the county’s proposal for trucks to have letter grades like restaurants. In regards to the mobile food vendors’ impacts in other parts of the city, Geller said the association tries to figure out what the specific problems are and discuss them with the respective neighborhood councils. For Abbot Kinney, which is more of an “evening destination” than other truck hotspots, the solution is also about working with the community, he said.
“Hopefully through a lot of dialogue we will be able to solve this problem too,” Geller said.
“Continuing dialogue is the best way for any community to go forward with this, and especially Venice. The benefit of dialogue out on the streets is immeasurable,” he said.