Structures known as street furniture that are located in the coastal zone of the 11th Council District are required to have permits from the California Coastal Commission, says a commission planner, and it appears that no permits for them have been filed.
“The Coastal Act requires that these structures have permits,” Charles Posner, who works at the South Coast office of the commission, which includes Venice, told The Argonaut.
“We have not seen any Coastal Commission permits to date.”
The coastal zone for the Venice—Playa del Rey area is located west of Lincoln Boulevard, extends to the coastline, and continues south along Vista Del Mar.
Street furniture, which is comprised of equipment installed on streets and roads for various purposes, such as benches, bus and public amenity kiosks, public restrooms and waste receptacles, has been a point of contention in Venice for a number of years.
Because the pieces are considered to be development, they are required to be regulated.
“Permanent physical structures qualify as development under the Coastal Act,” said Sara Christie, the legislative liaison for the commission in Sacramento.
Los Angeles generates large sums of money through the advertisements that are displayed on the sides of bus shelters and kiosks, but many Venice residents complain that the structures are blight on the community and exist largely for advertising purposes.
CBS Outdoors/JCDecaux, an outdoor advertising agency, is in its eighth year of a 20-year contract that grants it the exclusive right to install and maintain its street furniture in exchange for the right to sell and display advertising throughout the 11th Council District, according to the city Bureau of Street Services.
But Gail Rogers, a Venice Beach resident who has spearheaded the campaign against excessive street furniture, would like to see them taken out of her neighborhood.
“The CBS/Decaux transit shelters on Main Street at Westminster (Avenue) should be removed because they present obstacles to pedestrian traffic, endanger the public safety through blocking vision down the sidewalk and intrude advertising into the public sidewalk space,” Rogers, who has lived in Venice for 36 years, asserts.
She was the driving force behind a proposal that was adopted by the Venice Neighborhood Council in February that asked that no more street furniture by CBS/Decaux be installed, that any street furniture associated with the outdoor advertising firm be removed and that the current contract with CBS/Decaux be nullified, along with any other contract under the “Coordinated Street Furniture Program” in any location.
While she remains adamant about having many of the structures removed, Rogers now concedes that that the contract cannot be broken.
“As far as rescinding the contract, we cannot do that,” she acknowledged. “The city has already signed a contract with CBS Outdoors/JCDecaux.”
City officials say that they are currently working with the Coastal Commission to craft a permitting policy for the street furniture.
“There has not been a permitting process in place for street furniture west of Lincoln Boulevard,” said Michelle Vargas, a spokeswoman with the city Department of Public Works.
Vargas said that recent comments from Venice residents to the commission brought the matter to the attention of city officials, and they are now working with the commission to craft specific guidelines on how to obtain documentation from the coastal authority.
Posner says that his agency granted Los Angeles the authority to issue the necessary documentation for these structures several years ago.
“We have delegated the city the authority to obtain coastal permits for street furniture, and we are expecting the city to process these permits,” Posner stated.
Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Venice, praised residents like Rogers who have been monitoring the installation of street furniture in their neighborhood.
“Hats off to my constituents for being watchdogs on this issue,” Rosendahl said. “What this means is now our city agencies will have to let us know what we have to do to get in compliance with these structures.”
Posner also pointed out that city officials are aware of the permit requirement, and that he was unaware of any new discussions that might be in the works.
“There is already a permitting procedure in place,” he noted.
Rogers, who is a teacher with the Los Angeles Unified School District, has long held the view that the structures need permits.
“When we contacted the commission (last year), it was suggested that we write to the commissioners of the Department of Public Works and ask for a full public hearing for a local coastal permit,” she said. “We are now in the process of following through on this.”
Not everyone feels that all street furniture, especially the enclosed bus shelters, are eyesores.
“While I have reservations about automated toilets and the abuses they invite, bus shelters are a necessity for transit riders,” Westchester resident Matthew Hetz wrote in a recent letter to the editor of The Argonaut. “They protect the transit rider from rain, wind, fog and the searing sun. While I oppose the proliferation of billboards in the city, I will fight against any effort to remove bus shelters for transit riders.”
J.Francios Nion, executive vice-president of CBS/Decaux, said that his company will adhere to any new policies that city officials designate in order to comply with the existing law.
“We will do whatever is necessary to continue in good standing,” Nion said.
Nion said that his company has relied on city officials to provide guidance to them regarding what were the necessary procedures needed for compliance.
But Posner said that a representative from CBS/Decaux was present at a February meeting that included representatives from the Coastal Commission and various city departments.
“It would be hard to believe that all the interested parties are not aware what permits they need for these structures,” Posner said.
CBS/Decaux has secured all of the necessary city permits that the company is required to have, Vargas said. Regarding the coastal permits, she said that it has not been a matter of intentional noncompliance with the regulatory process.
“It has never been something that we ignored, because it was something that we never implemented,” she explained. “At this point, the city is working with the Coastal Commission to work out the permitting issue.”
Posner said that Los Angeles officials could apply for permits retroactively for the street furniture, and unless they are appealed or found to violate the Coastal Act, the furniture would likely be granted permits.
“But we have had situations in the past where unpermitted development was appealed and taken down,” the commission planner added. Posner mentioned that a billboard on Washington and Lincoln Boulevards on private property was removed after it was discovered that the proper documentation had been not been secured.
Dion said that thus far, his company is happy with its current association with the city and the street furniture program.
“It’s working well, but implementation of the full program has been challenging because of the permitting process,” the advertising executive added.
Rosendahl said that residents and city departments now have an opportunity to get a much clearer understanding of how the permitting process regarding street furniture works.
“I personally welcome this,” he said. “Historically, there hasn’t been much of a relationship between my constituents and the Coastal Commission, and it shows that they have very strong feelings, as do I, about street furniture.”