The Los Angeles City Council is considering repealing specific sections of a city ordinance that is being challenged in federal court that regulates vending and the time, place and manner of public expression activities on Ocean Front Walk in Venice.

The City Council voted 14-0 Tuesday, July 3rd, to approve a motion presented by City Councilman Bill Rosendahl requesting the city attorney to prepare an ordinance repealing certain portions of Los Angeles Municipal Code section 42.15, also known as the Venice Boardwalk Vending Law.

The specific sections that the council is considering repealing prohibit the vending of items that have more than nominal utility apart from their communication and relate to the regulation of noise on the Boardwalk.

As part of the motion, the council requested that the city attorney’s office work with Rosendahl’s 11th District office, the city Department of Recreation and Parks and the Los Angeles Police Department to create new and revised sections of the vending law.

The new ordinance should create additional or enhanced zones for performers, provide additional and more stringent restrictions on commercial vending and restore restrictions on noise in a “constitutionally compliant” manner, according to the council motion.

Mike Bonin, chief of staff for Rosendahl, said council representatives are still discussing exactly how the new ordinance will be different.

“We’re still engaged in the settlement talks,” Bonin said.

Under the current ordinance, which went into effect on the Boardwalk in March last year, vending activity — defined as selling, offering for sale, soliciting offers to purchase or bartering — on the west side of the Boardwalk is prohibited.

The provisions do not apply to certain exemptions, such as performance artists, people vending newspapers and items created by the vendor, or any other item that is “inherently communicative and has nominal utility” apart from its communication.

According to the ordinance, examples of items that have “more than nominal utility” and may not be sold include housewares, appliances, articles of clothing, lotions and jewelry.

Another provision of the law is that noise generated on the Boardwalk must be limited to a distance of 50 feet from the source.

Persons engaging in the exempted activities must hold a valid public expression permit issued by the city Department of Recreation and Parks, with spaces allocated in a lottery system.

Several months after the ordinance went into effect, two lawsuits were filed challenging the constitutionality of the law.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court by attorney Carol Sobel, the plaintiffs, including Boardwalk activists, alleged that the ordinance violates both the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. The plaintiffs specifically challenged the sections dealing with the definition of nominal utility and the 50-foot noise restriction.

In a separate action, plaintiffs Michael Hunt and Matthew Dowd, both Boardwalk vendors, filed a preliminary injunction, also challenging the constitutionality of the ordinance.

Hunt, who sells shea butter, a product from West Africa, claimed that he should be permitted to vend because the product is “inextricably intertwined” with a political or religious message. Dowd, who sells incense, also claimed that his product has religious significance.

Federal court Judge Dean Pregerson has not made an official ruling regarding the lawsuits but has indicated to city officials that the ordinance sections dealing with nominal utility and noise restrictions are questionable, Bonin said.

“We’re very happy to have the judge’s assistance in the settlement process,” Bonin said.

Based on the judge’s input regarding the two sections and in an effort to “better position the city in the litigation,” the two ordinance provisions should be repealed, according to the City Council motion.

The city wants to ensure that the ordinance is “enforceable,” as well as that it protects free expression, restricts commercial activity and protects neighbors from excessive noise, the motion states.

Linda Lucks, chair of the Venice Neighborhood Council Ocean Front Walk Committee, said the City Council was taking a “proactive move” in considering to repeal parts of the ordinance.

“I’m looking forward to some final resolution on this,” Lucks said.

Plaintiffs Hunt and Dowd, who have expressed their frustration with the vending law at numerous City Council meetings, said they were pleased to see that the council agrees that changes should be made, particularly regarding nominal utility.

“It’s long overdue,” Hunt said of the council vote July 3rd.

At Argonaut press time, Sobel, who filed the lawsuit in federal court, had not returned phone calls seeking comment.

When Sobel’s lawsuit was filed last year, city attorneys said the ordinance specifically defines what items are allowed and not allowed to be vended on the Boardwalk.

City attorney spokesman Jonathan Diamond said the city attorney’s office “felt strongly” about how the ordinance was crafted.

But now that the City Council has requested an ordinance repealing portions of Municipal Code section 42.15, city attorneys will work on preparing a new and revised version of the law, Diamond said.

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