approved by Los Angeles City Council

BY VINCE ECHAVARIA

The Venice Beach Boardwalk will once again be subject to vending and noise regulations.

The Los Angeles City Council voted Wednesday, April 9th, to approve an amended version of Los Angeles Municipal Code section 42.15, which regulates vending and the time, place and manner of public expression activities on the west side of Ocean Front Walk, also known as the Venice Boardwalk.

The ordinance, which was approved by the City Council in January 2006, has since faced legal challenges related to First Amendment rights. In response to the challenges, the City Council repealed certain portions of the law related to the vending of items that have “more than nominal utility apart from their communication” and noise regulation.

Los Angeles city attorneys have said they believe that the revised version should be able to withstand further legal challenge. City Councilman Bill Rosendahl also expressed confidence in the new law, noting that Federal District Court Judge Dean Pregerson supervised a mediation process to help the city craft a compromise ordinance that regulates noise and vending while respecting First Amendment rights.

“During the process a new ordinance was crafted that had the judge’s [Pregerson’s] support that it can pass constitutional muster, so I’m hopeful that on that level it will work,” said Rosendahl, who represents Venice in the 11th Council District.

Under the ordinance, vending activity on the west side of the boardwalk is prohibited, with certain exemptions. Among the exemptions are performance artists, people vending items such as newspapers, leaflets, bumper stickers and buttons, and people vending “expressive items” created by the vendor, or items that are “inextricably intertwined” with a political, philosophical or religious message.

The ordinance divides the available space on the boardwalk into areas known as “P-zones” and “I-zones.”

The 105 P-zone spaces cover areas for performance and the vending of items such as newspapers and books created by the vendor. The 100 I-zone spaces are areas for the vending of expressive items created by the vendor, such as compact discs, paintings and sculptures, or those that are inextricably intertwined with the vendor’s message.

A permit issued by the city Department of Recreation and Parks is required to use a space in the I-zone throughout the year and in the P-zone during peak season — Memorial Day weekend through November 1st.

Venice Neighborhood Council vice president Linda Lucks said she was pleased to learn that amended vending and noise regulations will be in effect on the boardwalk at Venice Beach, which she calls “the face of Los Angeles.”

“I’m delighted that there will be some rules back in place on the boardwalk,” said Lucks, a former chair of the Neighborhood Council Ocean Front Walk Committee.

“I think it’s definitely long overdue and it will be welcomed in the community.”

While Lucks said she is hopeful that the new law will be workable, she acknowledged that she is concerned that it receive proper funding and equal enforcement on both the east and west sides. She is also concerned about the impact of noise on nearby residents.

According to the ordinance, noise cannot exceed 75 decibels from a distance of 25 feet from the source or 96 decibels from a distance of one foot between 9 a.m. and sunset.

Rosendahl, who said that noise has been one of the biggest issues related to the ordinance, also noted that having proper enforcement will be a key to ensuring that the law is effective.

“The key is how to explain it to everyone and how do we enforce it,” Rosendahl said.

The councilman said he is pushing to have signs explaining the rules posted on the boardwalk and added that the Los Angeles Police Department plans to train officers assigned to the area on the various rules.

But some people familiar with the Venice Beach Boardwalk scene see the new regulations continuing to pose some problems there and say that the ordinance could face further legal challenges.

“I think whatever happens, some problem is going to come around again,” said Venice resident and musician Stephen Fiske.

Fiske said the boardwalk is “a place where free speech really can thrive” and the ordinance needs to be simple.

“I think it’s confusing and very complicated,” Fiske said of the amended law.

A main problem is that police are the ones who will need to decide what is allowed to be sold, Fiske said. Instead, he proposes that “third party” mediators be put in place on the boardwalk to work with the vendors.

David Weiss, a vendor who sells photography and artwork, said he objects primarily to the ordinance placing performers in one area of the boardwalk and the vendors in another. Having the crowds of all the street performers in one area will create congestion and “mass confusion,” Weiss said.

Rosendahl, who is pushing to have the ordinance in place by Memorial Day weekend, said he would consider calling for changes if the law is found to need a revision in the future.

“Over time, if it needs fine-tuning or tweaking, I’m open to that,” the councilman said.

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