They are stationed throughout the city like sentries — tall, erect and sturdy. For those who use the variety of bus lines that crisscross the 11th Council District, they can offer a place to sit and rest in between bus transfers and in some cases, sanctuary from inclement weather.
But to others, they are visual eyesores, often dotted with graffiti and dominated by advertising that promotes a culture of excess, violence and commercialism.
In Venice, a town known for its perpetual quest to maintain what longtime residents call its esthetic charm and anti-commercial ambience, a move to remove street furniture from its sidewalks is underway.
Proponents of the anti-street furniture campaign took tentative steps toward their goal in March when their neighborhood council voted overwhelmingly to oppose any new structures and to request their removal from Venice, as well as to “oppose any subsequent pressures to permit the installation of street furniture and associated advertising.”
The motion asks that Councilman Bill Rosendahl seek to invalidate the current contract that the city has with CBS Outdoors/JC Decaux, an outdoor advertising firm.
Street furniture is a term used to describe objects and pieces of equipment installed on streets and roads for various purposes, such as benches, bus kiosks, public rest-rooms and waste receptacles.
Gail Rogers, a teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District who has lived on Park Avenue two blocks from the Venice Boardwalk since 1973, crafted the motion that the neighborhood council approved and is committed to seeing the structures taken out of Venice.
The fact that CBS/Decaux has a contract with the city government to place its signs on much of the street furniture throughout the 11th District is not an impediment to her cause, she says.
“When I hear people talk about contracts or say ‘that’s the law,’ I get excited,” Rogers, who came of age during the civil rights and women’s movement, said with a smile. “That doesn’t deter me.”
CBS/Decaux is in its eighth year of a 20-year deal with the city, but Rogers and others believe that there may be grounds to have it overturned.
“When this contract was signed, the city government was not acting to protect its citizenry,” Sherie Scheer, Rogers’ neighbor, asserted.
Homeowners on Park Avenue have a history battling unwanted street furniture. In 2008, they beat back an attempt to install four automatic public toilets on the Venice Boardwalk, including one at the end of Rogers’ street near Ocean Front Walk.
“I opposed them because they duplicated a bathroom that was already there and was much more in tune with the architecture of Venice,” said Rogers. “It was kind of a no-brainier for me.”
After a letter writing campaign led by Rogers to the Department of Public Works and Rosendahl, who represents Venice, the proposal was canceled.
J.Francios Nion, executive vice-president of CBS/Decaux, noted that his company has a contract with the city and only seeks to provide entertainment and information to the public.
“We are a media company that provides the city with a service,” Nion told The Argonaut. “(Blight) is always a question of taste and color.”
Rosendahl shares the view of his constituents regarding street furniture, but is unsure on how the legal agreement with CBS/Decaux can be abrogated.
“I’ve been against this deal since the very beginning when I came onto the council,” Rosendahl, a former Venice resident who was elected in 2005, asserted. “But since the advertising company has a contract, I’m not sure that we can get them out of Venice or other parts of my district.”
Linda Lucks, vice president of the Venice Neighborhood Council, proposed an alternate suggestion to Rogers’ motion at the March meeting that would allow a portion of the revenue generated from the outdoor advertising to pay for beautification and other improvements in Venice.
“I think that it was a good proposal,” said Lucks, who co-authored the recommendation with resident Dennis Hathaway.
Lucks, who has known Rogers for several years, does not think that asking the city to rescind the advertising contract is feasible.
“It’s like the ‘Just Say No’ anti-drug campaign in the 1980s and 1990s,” she argued.
Rogers disputes the notion that money derived from advertising sales should be used for community projects.
“There’s too much irony involved,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine (making Venice uglier) in order to beautify it.”
“The easiest way to beautify Venice is to remove the street furniture,” Scheer added. “I’m not saying that all of Los Angeles cannot benefit from street furniture; I’m saying that we cannot in Venice.”
Jay Handal, the chair of the West Los Angeles Neighborhood Council, told the Venice council last year that his board was able to obtain money from the street furniture contract to purchase new trees for his district. Rogers rejects that proposition, arguing that Handal’s district and Venice are culturally and esthetically dissimilar.
“We do not have the commercial corridors with high-rise buildings as we see in West Los Angeles,” she countered. “This assault on our senses is visually and culturally out of place in historic Venice, it intrudes into pedestrian space and is plain ugly.
“At the risk of wanting revenue and more funds for our community, we could become morally bankrupt.”
Rogers also questions whether the structures require permits from the California Coastal Commission since a good deal of the street furniture is located west of Lincoln Boulevard.
“Permanent physical structures qualify as development under the Coastal Act,” said Sara Christie, the legislative liaison for the commission in Sacramento.
However, it is unclear if permits are required for street furniture.
Lucks said that there are many things that might be illegal in the coastal zone but are not enforced.
“Many parking signs aren’t legal, but there’s nobody minding the store,” she lamented.
Nion said that his company is responsible for maintaining the bus shelters where its advertising is posted, including graffiti removal.
“Some of the revenue from the city also provides community benefits for Venice,” he stated.
Rogers met with Rosendahl earlier this month and said she feels that the councilman was receptive to what she offered regarding street furniture.
“I think that he’s more aware of how many of us feel about the proliferation of street furniture in Venice,” she said.
Rosendahl reiterated his opposition to the outdoor structures, but reminded his constituents that CBS/Decaux has an agreement with the city.
“The law does not seem to be on our side,” said the councilman.
Calls to the South Coast District office of the Coastal Commission, which includes Venice, were not returned as The Argonaut went to press.