By Gary Walker
Acting on a number of public safety improvements proposed by city officials in the wake of August’s deadly vehicular attack on Ocean Front Walk pedestrians, the Venice Neighborhood Council came out strongly against installing new traffic barriers but fumbled over the idea of rolling out more security cameras.
The local advisory board to the Los Angeles City Council voted on Dec. 2 to oppose traffic controls that included installing automatic gates and additional removable traffic bollards on streets that intersect the Venice Beach boardwalk.
A motion to formally oppose installation of security cameras operated by the Los Angeles Police Department got more support than not, but ultimately failed due to numerous abstentions by council members — enough to outnumber the yea and nay camps.
A bid to formally support the cameras met a similar fate, also due to abstentions. Both times, seven of 16 board members declined to take a position.
Proposals that did win board approval included more LAPD foot patrols on the boardwalk and lighting upgrades.
A special committee of the Los Angeles Dept. of Parks and Recreation proposed increased public safety measures after a young Italian tourist died and 16 others were injured by a car speeding on the boardwalk, which is off-limits to all but public safety vehicles.
The driver who allegedly targeted pedestrians during the Aug. 3 incident has pleaded not guilty to a murder charge, 16 counts of assault with a deadly weapon and 17 charges of felony hit-and-run.
According to neighborhood council reports, locking gates and traffic bollards at boardwalk intersections could cost $1.5 million or more.
Thomas Elliot, who chairs the neighborhood council’s Ocean Front Walk Committee, said the price tag was an important factor in that committee’s recommendation that the neighborhood council take a formal stand against installing the barriers.
Neighborhood council member Matt Kline said he favored a gate and bollard system on the boardwalk, saying he felt many Venice residents were demanding increased security.
“What cost do we say a human life is worth?” Kline countered. “I’m concerned that we’re saying no for the wrong reasons.”
At a town hall meeting in September, however, many residents had voiced opposition to bollards, cameras and most other public safety measures, preferring to leave the boardwalk as it is in order to preserve a sense of openness and personal freedom.
Kline cited Santa Monica’s decision to place similar traffic blockades at Arizona Avenue and Third Street after a 93-year-old motorist killed 10 pedestrians and injured 63 others attending a farmers market on the Third Street Promenade in 2003.
Neighborhood council member Ira Koslow, who has been outspoken in his belief that the traffic barriers would not act as an effective deterrent, countered that the driver charged with attacking pedestrians on Venice Beach entered and left the boardwalk through intersections where similar traffic bollards had already existed.
Others council members complained the barriers were unsightly and noted that some had already been broken.
While some said an increased rollout of police surveillance cameras would deter criminal behavior, others voiced privacy and civil liberties concerns.
Elliot said security cameras currently operating on the boardwalk are maintained by local home and business owners, while others installed by police were not functioning.
Ron Kramer, an Ocean Front Walk resident who installed security cameras at his home, said “since we’ve put them up, crime has nearly ceased to exist” on and around his property.
Neighborhood Council member Sevan Gerard, a member of the council’s public safety committee, disagreed.
“Maybe I’m too traditional, but I don’t think that a government agency should be monitoring the public’s behavior,” said Gerard, who is a Los Angeles city firefighter.
The vast majority of residents who spoke at the September town hall also opposed more security cameras, many citing concerns about civil liberties.
Installation of surveillance cameras by cities around the globe “is a very contentious issue and it has opened a Pandora’s Box,” added Gerard, also a security consultant.
The neighborhood council’s votes go to Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin, who called for more traffic barriers in the wake of the boardwalk tragedy, for review pending formal action by the city council.