By Gary Walker
Traffic barriers and other safety measures planned for Venice Beach after a driver plowed through boardwalk crowds in August got an icy reception from seaside residents during a Tuesday community forum on public safety.
Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin proposed installing short, vertical posts known as bollards to block vehicles from entering Ocean Front Walk immediately following the tragedy.
On Aug. 6, 38-year-old Nathan Louis Campbell of Colorado allegedly drove onto the boardwalk and, according to witnesses, intentionally targeted pedestrians, killing 32-year-old Italian tourist Alice Gruppioni and injuring 16 others.
In addition to traffic bollards, city officials have also proposed lighting upgrades as well as a network of Los Angeles Police Dept.-monitored surveillance cameras and public address speakers along the boardwalk.
A few of the more than 100 people who gathered for the town hall at Westminster Avenue Elementary School spoke in favor of better lighting or a stronger in-person police presence, but a vast majority of speakers railed against setting up barriers and installing police cameras.
Surveillance, roadblocks — “this is not what Venice is about,” said Lisa Acock, a Venice artist.
Ira Koslow, a public school teacher and member of the Venice Neighborhood Council, was skeptical traffic bollards would be an effective deterrent. Witnesses claim Campbell drove around barriers off Dudley Avenue to enter the boardwalk, according to reports.
“If someone wants to drive onto Ocean Front Walk, they’re going to do it,” Koslow said. “None of those things are going to work.”
The neighborhood council has yet to vote on the proposals.
City officials, however, have already installed additional traffic control signs throughout the area and traffic bollards at five locations intersection Ocean Front Walk, according to a multi-agency assessment of public safety at Venice Beach.
In the report, city Dept. of Recreation and Parks officials considered traffic gates at some boardwalk entrances and decorative planters, public art and bike racks at others in addition to retractable bollards that would block traffic but allow public safety vehicles to pass.
“We struggled with this, but we thought that retractable bollards were the best solution,” said Michael Shull, an assistant director of the department.
Public safety officials spoke in support of increased security measures
“The planning concept is great and we’re moving forward with it,” said Los Angeles Fire Dept. Battalion Chief Michael Bowman. “The fire department fully supports this initiative.”
Sgt. Dan Gomez of the LAPD’s Tactical Technology Division would work with Bonin’s council office on details of the proposed surveillance and public address system.
“Although [the system] would be unique to Venice, it is not unique to Los Angeles,” said Gomez.
In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, authorities in New York have installed surveillance cameras at locations that attract tourists and large crowds, including Central Park.
Some at the meeting feared infringement on personal privacy and accused the city of advancing a broader agenda to exert control over boardwalk activity.
Bonin said the Venice boardwalk was many things to many people — “a neighborhood, a tourist destination, for others it’s a park” — but “for all of us it’s a precious resource that must be kept clean and must be kept safe.”
Venice resident Nick Antonicello, a frequent critic of city government, said officials should have met with the public earlier to discuss public safety proposals.
“This is not the end of the conversation — it’s the beginning,” Bonin said.