Venice Beach boardwalk street performers have been a fixture of the Ocean Front Walk scene for decades, but some longtime performers say the future of their shows may now be threatened with a new proposal to cut their allotted performance space in half.
A recently enforced city lottery program has required all performers, vendors and artists on the west side of Ocean Front Walk to pay a one-time permit fee of $25 and participate in a weekly lottery for space on the boardwalk.
Since the lottery went into effect March 1st, street performers, who used to have few space restrictions, now have to limit their shows to a 20-foot-wide by eight-foot-deep marked area.
But that space may be even more restricted as the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks, which operates the weekly lottery, is now proposing to cut all performance spaces on the boardwalk to ten feet wide by eight feet deep.
The proposed narrowing of performance space has some street performers concerned about whether they can keep their shows afloat.
“I can’t do it with ten feet because I have big crowds and I do fires,” said Tony Vera, who has performed on the beach for 18 years and is known as Fire Man. “There’s no way in the world I can do it.”
While Vera said that the 20 feet of space “is not great,” he was still able to make money and keep his fire show going, but with the new proposal to cut the space in half, it will most likely be the end of his show.
“If that happens, I’ll have to put the show down after 18 years because I can no longer do it,” Vera said.
Lydia Ritzman, Los Angeles City Department of Recreation and Parks principle recreational supervisor, said the proposal to resize the boardwalk performance spaces from 20 feet to ten feet is based on standardizing spaces so that street performance spaces and general public expression spaces are the same size.
Designated spaces for general public expression are currently ten by eight feet.
“To be able to provide as many spaces as possible we deemed it necessary to do this,” Ritzman said.
There are currently 154 spaces on the Venice Beach boardwalk, but under the new proposal, a total of 200 ten-foot-wide spaces would be created, she said.
Of the 200 spaces, 160 would be for general public expression and 40 for street performers, which is an increase of four performance spaces, she said.
Although street performers would get a minor increase in the number of spaces, it’s the drop in the size of space that has performers concerned.
“The city wants to do it as soon as possible, but now we have a petition and we plan to fight it,” Vera said.
A petition has been signed by 18 boardwalk performers who want to inform the city of their opposition to resizing the spaces.
The plan to resize boardwalk spaces was first proposed in the beginning of the month, Ritzman said.
The Ocean Front Walk has seen strong interest from people wanting a space, and there are currently 600 permit holders registered, she said.
Since conducting a lottery for space, the City Recreation and Parks Department has noticed an “inordinate” number of people interested in general public expression spaces, but the performance spaces were not filling as fast, Ritzman said.
“We want to be able to maximize the space out there,” she said. “We felt that we would make all the spaces the same size to accommodate more people.”
Some performers, such as singer Starla Hawkins, admit that they don’t need 20 feet to perform because their shows don’t involve as many acts as others.
“I don’t need a large space, but if they left 20 feet for me, I could share it with another act and we can alternate,” Hawkins said.
There are currently about 18 street performers with different types of shows on the boardwalk but, according to a performer known as Mr. Animation, there are only four “original” performers from the 1980s left who still generate large-size crowds.
“In 2005, there are only four of us original acts left,” said Mr. Animation, a 20-year performer with a comedy and dance show. “We need the big spaces.
“The other performers don’t need 20 feet because they don’t get the massive crowds.”
The performers with smaller-scale shows could have smaller spaces, but “large-circle” performers need at least 20 feet, said Tim Eric, an escape artist performer.
Mr. Animation also said the large-scale performers need more space because their large crowds are blocking vendor spaces and causing vendors to complain.
“They need to separate the performers from the vendors,” he said.
Sang Chang, a vendor who sells artwork next to Mr. Animation’s space, said he was given the space through the lottery and his business has since been affected during Mr. Animation’s performances.
“Every time he performs, I’m losing money,” Chang said. “The lottery was a big mistake.
“I keep moving around, so now my customers don’t know where I am.”
Ritzman said that while the Department of Recreation and Parks wants to allow for uniform spaces, the department understands that there are a variety of performers with different needs and she encourages performers to express their concerns.
“We are not insensitive to what the performers need, but we’re trying to accommodate the most amount of space,” Ritzman said. “If the performers are concerned, there are a lot of different avenues to make their concerns known.”
Performers can attend an ad hoc committee meeting of recreation and parks or a City Department of Recreation and Parks Board of Commissioners meeting to voice their concerns.
A Board of Commissioners meeting is scheduled to be held at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, July 13th, at the Garland Building, 1200 W. Seventh St., Los Angeles, to address potential changes to the Ocean Front Walk lottery program.
“We’re not able to make everyone happy but we try to do the best that we can,” Ritzman said.