The Los Angeles city attorney’s office has proposed to amend certain parts of the Venice Beach Boardwalk ordinance regulating vending on the west side of the Ocean Front Walk, as a result of a civil rights lawsuit filed by vendors opposed to the ordinance regulations.
City attorney representatives discussed the proposed ordinance changes at a town hall meeting led by 11th District Los Angeles Councilman Bill Rosendahl Thursday, August 18th, at the Oakwood Recreation Center.
Officials from the City Department of Recreation and Parks and the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) also attended the meeting to answer questions from the public.
This first of three scheduled town hall meetings was held after the City Council voted to repeal parts of the ordinance at the urging of the city attorney.
The City Council action occurred just weeks after a civil rights lawsuit was filed against the city by plaintiffs, Venice Food Not Bombs, Woody Mulligan and Robert “Jingles” Newman.
The lawsuit plaintiffs claim that Los Angeles Municipal Code Section 42.15 “Peddling, Hawking and Vending in Beach Areas” and parts of Section 63.44 “Regulations Affecting Park and Recreation Areas” violate the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
City attorney staff had advised City Council members that parts of the boardwalk ordinance were “constitutionally infirm” and needed to be repealed immediately.
City attorneys said that the ordinance provisions forbidding commercial sales on the west side of the Venice Beach Boardwalk were “too vague and ambiguous.”
“Tonight we’re here to tell you that parts of the ordinance crafted have been thrown out because of unconstitutionality,” Rosendahl told the town hall audience August 18th.
Rosendahl said a recurring controversial issue in the 11th District is the way the city tries to regulate vending and protect free speech and artistic expression at Venice Beach.
The purpose of the town hall meetings is to bring members of the community together to try to develop a program that will protect free speech and artistic expression, ban commercial vending and protect neighbors from undue noise and disruption at the boardwalk, Rosendahl said.
Under the city ordinance, Venice Boardwalk artists, performers and vendors are required to purchase a lifetime permit for $25 and enter a weekly lottery to obtain a boardwalk space.
Michael Nagle of the city attorney’s office said parts of the boardwalk ordinance, primarily in relation to commercial vending regulations, were too vague.
Dave Michaelson of the city attorney’s office said city attorneys have proposed to remove the parts of the ordinance that define commercial vending and amend the ordinance to include a specific definition.
“The phrase ‘commercial vending’ is causing the most problems,” Michaelson said.
One of the ordinance changes proposed by the city attorney’s office is to remove the statement, “No person shall hawk, peddle, vend or sell, or request or solicit donationsÖ upon any public beach lands or beach properties.”
Many Venice Boardwalk performers and artists appeared at the town hall meeting to voice their opposition to commercial vending.
The boardwalk ordinance has “opened the floodgates for commercial vendors,” said performer Allan Wright.
Tony Vera, an 18-year street performer on the Ocean Front Walk, agreed that commercial vending is a major problem on the boardwalk.
“There are more commercial vendors out there than ever,” Vera told the town hall panel.
“You need to get rid of commercial vending and take care of the street performers because it’s (street performance) a dying art,” Vera said.
Civil rights lawsuit plaintiff Newman, an animal rights activist, also spoke at the town hall meeting regarding the ordinance.
According to the lawsuit, Newman was issued a citation because a girl gave him some money in exchange for flyers he wrote that carried political messages.
“I’m here to revitalize the boardwalk by getting rid of chaos and confusion,” Newman said.
While some ordinance changes will be made, all other ordinance provisions that regulate the allocation of space, prohibit setting up stands before noon and restrict noise will remain in place, city attorneys said.
One regulation that will remain in effect states that after noon daily, a “walk-on” permit holder may use any single unoccupied space for the remainder of the day if the permit holder to whom the space is assigned by the lottery is not present.
But if the assigned permit holder arrives at any time, the “walk-on” permit holder must immediately relinquish the space.
“If someone does not make the effort to get there by noon then they should forfeit the space for the whole day because all it does is cause chaos and confusion,” Wright said.
Rosendahl said city attorneys will work on a replacement boardwalk ordinance with a “constitutionally defensible” definition of commercial activity and present the new ordinance to the public within a few weeks.
“We will work on something that allows the artists and performers to have space and keeps commercial vending out,” Nagle said.
A second town hall meeting regarding the boardwalk ordinance changes is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, September 8th, at a location yet to be determined.
After the ordinance changes are presented to the public, a final ordinance will be prepared and presented to City Council for approval, Rosendahl said.
“We don’t want to see the spirit of Venice in any way destroyed,” Rosendahl said.