A Venice Boardwalk vendor comments on the lottery system

To the Editor:

The growth of the Venice Boardwalk lottery has exceeded even the Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation’s expectations. When it began several years ago they advertised in print and on the radio for vendors to participate since the established boardwalk vendors chose to boycott the system. Loss of income eventually forced most of them to participate while others were locked in a lengthy lawsuit against the city.

Now the city has issued more than 4,000 permits, more than 1,000 in the last year, at $25 each for a total of over $100,000. The permits were initially issued for a lifetime, but when the new ordinance took effect in spring 2008, we were forced to sign a new agreement that now costs an additional $10 per year.

There are about 20 to 25 new vendors in the lottery each week, but, as in the past, many don’t find vending profitable and many drop out, though less than in the past since many have lost their jobs in the recession.

There are two lotteries, one for commercial and one for “free speech” which includes me, since I sell a Venice history book that I wrote, and tourist postcards, which are my photographs.

The commercial lottery has 100 spots and the “free speech” zone only 90 spots, since ten are first come/first served. Last summer there were about 110 participants for those 90 spots, but this summer there are 270 to 300 vendors hoping to win a spot in that lottery. There are perhaps 350 to 400 participants in the commercial lottery, where there were only 200 the previous summer.

Of course there are abuses in the lottery system as many participants use multiple family members or friends to win at least one spot for the weekend (weekdays are easier). Others who have multiple locations use their employees, sometimes five or six, to win the required spots.

And then there are about 40 or 50 people each week who win a spot and sell it. The police in the last two weeks are trying to crack down on this abuse by checking whether the lottery winner is working the correct spot, but spots become open after noon if the person doesn’t show up.

It was hoped that the commercial zone would attract many artists who needed to set a price for their artwork, but many (like several spray paint artists) discovered, especially in the last year, that few were buying art to hang on the wall.

This has forced many who need an income to find products that sell. Most have discovered that jewelry sells the best. Despite the admired talents of numerous Mexican and Central American immigrants that craft jewelry while you watch, most of the jewelry vendors buy their wares from wholesalers downtown who sell them cheap Chinese-made bracelets and rings for 50 cents that they can sell for $2 to $5 on the boardwalk.

The police and Parks and Recreation Department are helpless in determining which are handmade and which were bought. The solution that has been proposed is to form a committee of artisans who can test sellers in their jewelry making skills or art skills if they sell paintings. It isn’t to judge merit or quality, but rather whether the product was made by the artist. But this idea has been on the table for three years.

The police concentrate their efforts on enforcing the “free speech” zone by checking for items not mentioned specifically in the ordinance. For example, while books can be sold if they are written by the author at the table, all other books are prohibited.

As to whether the city will enforce the intent of the current ordinance that basically requires “artists” to make the items they sell, it depends on how much vendors abuse the system. They have learned what they can get away with, and others have followed. This will continue until the system completely breaks down.

While many of the real artists have signed petitions to stop the sale of commercial goods, they will never get the majority of commercial vendors to support them for it isn’t in their interest.

Jeffrey Stanton

Del Rey