Less than two months after the California Coastal Commission chose not to issue permits for overnight parking restrictions in five areas of Venice, a community residents group has filed a lawsuit challenging the state agency’s jurisdiction to approve such permits.

In its lawsuit filed against the Coastal Commission and City of Los Angeles in Los Angeles Superior Court Monday, August 10th, the Venice Stakeholders Association alleges that the commission failed to follow the California Coastal Act when it voted in June to deny coastal development permits for overnight parking districts (OPDs) on Venice streets.

The stakeholders association is seeking a writ of mandate to invalidate the commission’s denial of the permits and a declaration that the coastal agency lacks jurisdiction in regards to OPDs and coastal development permits in the city. The complaint claims that both the commission and city wrongly believe that the commission has jurisdiction over the establishment of OPDs.

The city had sought development permits to create districts restricting parking between 2 and 6 a.m. in five Venice areas and asked commission staff if the agency has jurisdiction for such districts in the city. Commission staff replied that because the districts could restrict access to the ocean, the agency would have jurisdiction, but the lawsuit claims that the commission lacked authority on the issue.

The city Department of Transportation did not challenge the decision and proceeded to apply for the permits, the complaint states.

“The city didn’t need to consult the commission in the first place and they certainly didn’t need to file an application for a permit,” said John Henning, the attorney representing the Venice Stakeholders Association.

When denying the parking permits, coastal commissioners indicated that they felt they were being tasked with handling a social issue rather than a coastal access issue.

The issue has been a contentious one in Venice, where residents have complained of a nuisance impact with the presence of recreational vehicles and argued that they should have the same rights as other parts of the city to vote for parking limits. Many who have fought the OPDs say that they would displace people who are forced to live in their vehicles and would affect access to the beach in the early morning hours.

Stakeholders association member Mark Ryavec said that the commission’s primary responsibility is to determine if there is an impact on coastal access, but in its vote against OPDs, the commission did not find that an impact existed.

“They have the requirement to protect coastal resources, including the ocean, and they did not do that,” he said. “They completely walked away from their responsibilities under the Coastal Act.”

Ryavec said that sewage from the RVs can drain directly to the ocean and the vehicles should be in proper campgrounds, not on residential streets. The Coastal Act requires that public access to the coast be balanced with the rights of property owners, but the commission did not fulfill that balance, he said.

Representatives of the Coastal Commission could not be reached for comment on the lawsuit as of Argonaut press time.

Venice Neighborhood Council vice president Linda Lucks, who has opposed the OPDs saying they would take away the use of parking spaces for residents in the beach impact zone, says she was not surprised that a lawsuit was filed against the commission. The issue before the commission was the coastal access impact,, she said.

“I think the premise to the lawsuit is incorrect,” Lucks said.

“(The association) misinterpreted what the Coastal Commission did. No issue of coastal access was brought up as a problem.”

In rejecting the proposal, the commission did not heed the recommendation of its staff, which suggested approval after finding that the OPDs would not affect the public’s ability to access the beach, Ryavec noted. The agency’s decision also opposed the position of the Venice Neighborhood Council and a special election vote of residents who supported the parking districts, he said.

The lawsuit also contends that the city is not obligated to obtain coastal development permits to establish OPDs, referring to other cities along the coast that have implemented the districts without permits.

Ryavec compared the effort to try to overturn the commission decision to “David versus Goliath,” but he believes it’s the right thing to do.

“We think the law is on our side. If we didn’t think that we would not have gone down this road,” he said.

City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who has supported the right of residents to vote for parking restrictions, said he too was not surprised at the lawsuit, considering the contentious issue in Venice. While the councilman said he could not comment directly on the complaint, he said he will continue working on finding designated areas where people can park their vehicles to sleep overnight. He noted that a current city law effectively criminalizes sleeping in one’s vehicle and he will seek to modify the law to allow for the lots.

“My hope is that we can move this forward and get the council to approve it,” Rosendahl said. “The real solution is finding places where the people living in their cars and campers can go.”

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