Businesses along Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice are planning to keep the shopping and restaurant corridor free of parked vehicles during the popular First Fridays events at least through early spring.
After experimenting with “no parking” restrictions for all vehicles, particularly food trucks, at this month’s First Friday, the Abbot Kinney Merchants Committee of the Venice Chamber of Commerce voted Dec. 7 to extend the restrictions between 4 and 11:30 p.m. at the events through March. During First Fridays, which were initiated in 2007, many Abbot Kinney businesses stay open later into the night and bars and restaurants can be seen filled with patrons.
As the events have grown in popularity among visitors from throughout Los Angeles, an increasing number of food truck vendors has descended on the boulevard. While the mobile vendors are frequented for offering convenient and inexpensive food options, merchants and community members have expressed concerns of safety issues with pedestrians traveling onto the streets to avoid crowded sidewalks.
Complaints are additionally centered on impacts to parking in an area where it is already limited, with some vendors reportedly taking spaces early in the day to reserve a spot for First Friday. In response to the concerns and resulting effects on the area establishments, businesses paid to have the city Department of Transportation post “no parking” signs for the Dec. 3 event.
“I’m sure there are people who have other motivations for supporting it, but really the bottom line is about keeping our neighborhood safe,” said Carol Tantau, Abbot Kinney Merchants Committee chair.
Tantau said safety has been the primary issue as sidewalks have become congested with people due to as many as 40 to 50 food trucks lining the street in recent months.
“We want to continue the great success that First Friday has and safety is our number one priority,” Venice Chamber of Commerce President Alex Rosales said. “Safety comes before money.”
Following the most recent event in which no vehicles were allowed to park on the boulevard, a number of businesses reported at the merchants committee meeting that they were pleased with the results, Tantau said. Many said they noticed a quieter, safer atmosphere similar to the way First Friday was in its early months, she said.
The committee then voted to have the parking restrictions extended through March. Valet parking services will operate at Lemonade and at Navarre Court, and public parking will be available in public lots at Irving Tabor Court, which runs parallel to Electric Avenue, according to the committee.
Rosales, who attended this month’s function, said some food trucks were able to park at the Brig lot and though some visitors were curious where many of the trucks went, he saw a noticeable difference compared with previous events.
“It did prove to be a more enjoyable, pleasant experience,” he said.
Matt Geller, president of the Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association, said he noticed some improvements such as pedestrians being able to move easier on sidewalks, but noted the event didn’t appear to be as well attended as in past months.
Though he acknowledges that there were too many mobile vendors parking on the street, he said he is disappointed that a decision was not made to allow some of the trucks to park in spaces closer to Venice Boulevard and Westminster Avenue, where the crowds could be spread out.
“I’m disappointed that we couldn’t come to some agreement, but I also understand that the committee has a duty to the merchants on the street,” Geller said. “We want control just like they want control and for the streets to be safe.”
With the restrictions on Abbot Kinney, many of the food trucks have been influenced to find other festivities with large crowds, such as a similar First Friday in Westchester, he said. The vendors that stopped at the Westchester event are looking forward to returning next month, he added.
“This kind of hiccup spurred the food trucks into action to find other events,” Geller said. “We have some great opportunities to create other First Friday or ‘rolling Friday’ events.”
Rosales doesn’t believe the parking restrictions will cause the food trucks to not want to return to Abbot Kinney but rather to search for other areas where they can boost their profits. He called the restrictions a “work in progress” and said the businesses will continue working to address the situation in a way that is fair to everyone involved.
While the merchants are “very mindful of people with an entrepreneurial spirit” like the food vendors, they proposed the parking limits because there didn’t seem to be another way of controlling the number of trucks, Tantau said.
“It’s a very tough situation,” she admitted.
Choosing to have the “no parking” signs can be an expensive solution, she said, and the Abbot Kinney shop owners are looking at other creative methods that can benefit both commercial and community interests.