Giving another shot to a Los Angeles City ordinance regulating vending and noise on the Venice Beach Boardwalk, city attorneys say that a revised version should be able to withstand legal challenge.
But many of those familiar with the Venice Beach Boardwalk — also known as Ocean Front Walk — scene see the new proposed law continuing to pose some problems there.
Los Angeles Municipal Code section 42.15, which regulates vending and the time, place and manner of public expression activities on the west side of Ocean Front Walk, was approved by the City Council in January 2006 but has since faced legal challenges related to First Amendment rights.
The City Council requested the city attorney in July to prepare an ordinance repealing certain portions of the law related to the vending of items that have “more than nominal utility apart from their communication” and noise regulation.
City attorneys say they have prepared a revised version of the ordinance that restricts vending activity on the west side of the boardwalk, with certain exemptions, and regulates noise, while protecting First Amendment rights.
Among the exemptions are performance artists, people vending items such as newspapers, leaflets, bumper stickers and buttons, and people vending expressive items created by the vendor, or items that are “inextricably intertwined” with a political, philosophical or religious message, according to the ordinance.
“We feel very confident […] that the ordinance will pass legal muster,” city attorney spokesman David Michaelson said at a town hall meeting on the revised law in Venice Thursday, February 7th.
The ordinance divides the available space on the boardwalk into areas known as “P-zones” and “I-zones.” P-zones cover areas for performance and the vending of items such as newspapers, bumper stickers and books created by the vendor. I-zones cover areas for the vending of expressive items created by the vendor, such as compact discs, paintings and sculptures, or those that are inextricably intertwined with the vendor’s message.
Permits issued by the city Department of Recreation and Parks are required to use spaces in the I-zone and in the P zone during peak season. Another change with the revised law is that the selling or exchanging of any space is subject to criminal enforcement.
Violations of the regulations will result in an infraction on the first and second offense and a misdemeanor on subsequent violations.
According to the ordinance, noise cannot exceed 75 decibels from a distance of 75 feet or 96 decibels from a distance of one foot on the boardwalk between 9 a.m. and sunset. Amplified noise on the boardwalk is prohibited between sunset and 9 a.m., according to the revised ordinance.
Federal District Court Judge Dean Pregerson has supervised a mediation process to help the city craft the compromise ordinance that regulates noise and vending while respecting First Amendment rights. Pregerson recently held a final conference on the proposed ordinance, but before the law is considered by the City Council, 11th District City Councilman Bill Rosendahl wanted to ensure that the law was fully vetted by the community.
Captain Joseph Hiltner of the Los Angeles Police Department Pacific division, which will enforce the boardwalk regulations, noted that the ordinance is still a work in progress.
“This is a working document; it’s not final,” Hiltner said.
At a town hall meeting on the revised law, people familiar with the boardwalk, including residents, performers and vendors, said they were not convinced that the new law is an improvement from the old one.
“This ordinance is not yet ready to be an ordinance,” said Bill Greenslade, who added that the law could face further litigation. “Venice needs protection and support, it doesn’t need prosecution and punishments.”
Resident Jim Smith argued that the ordinance should be crafted with the input of people who know the boardwalk scene.
“I would urge you to dump this and convene a cross-section of people to frame the ordinance the way we want it,” Smith said.
Resident Paul Carey predicted that the new ordinance would not be enforceable and added that it would destroy one of the city’s jewels.
“The boardwalk is the last place in the community where radical self expression exists,” he said.
Some offered their support for the proposal, particularly with the noise regulations, as they can hear music coming from the boardwalk throughout the day.
“The noise travels up the walkstreet and I can hear music inside my house all throughout the weekend,” said Lisa Smith, a resident who lives along a walkstreet.
“Some of the performers do not respect the residents. It’s gotten way out of hand.”
Others, such as resident Stephen Fiske, offered some suggestions for those crafting the ordinance to make it more workable. Fiske suggested adding the word “expressive” to items that inextricably intertwined with the vendor’s message.
“You should design an ordinance that is simple,” Fiske told the town hall panel.
Rosendahl acknowledged that crafting an improved vending ordinance is a “challenge,” but he is hopeful that the city will approve a law that protects First Amendment rights and preserves the spirit of Venice.
“We want to be as free and open as possible,” Rosendahl said. “The key is to listen to everyone and to try to craft something that works for everybody.”