Street performers have needed to face a variety of changes in recent years to continue their acts along the famous Venice Beach Boardwalk, from entering a lottery system for spaces to having different sizes and designations of those spaces.
The performers may soon have to comply with even more changes as Los Angeles city officials are looking to amend certain portions of the ordinance regulating public expression activities on the west side of Ocean Front Walk and address complaints of nearby neighbors regarding noise.
The City Council voted December 15th to direct city attorneys to prepare amendments to Municipal Code Section 42.15, including halting amplified sound and the use of musical instruments after sunset until 9 a.m. and ensuring that all large-act performers rotate spaces in a timely manner to allow others to use the spaces. Another proposed change is the option to hold a year-round lottery for boardwalk spaces for both “P-zones” and “I-zones.”
When the ordinance regulating vending and public expression was enacted last year, P-zones and I-zones were established to divide the available space on the boardwalk. The P-zone spaces cover areas for performance and the vending of items such as newspapers and books created by the vendor. The I-zone spaces are 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.
Currently, a permit issued by the city Department of Recreation and Parks through the lottery is required to use a space in the I-zone throughout the year and in the P-zone during peak season — Memorial Day weekend through November 1st.
City officials say that the proposed amendments are a way to respond to concerns of residents living near the boardwalk who say that noise coming from the popular area has disrupted the quality of life in their homes. City staff note that the changes are intended to ensure that visitors and residents are able to visit a boardwalk that is safe and enjoyable for all.
“The bottom line is that there are complaints of amplified noise coming from the boardwalk after sunset,” City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Venice in the 11th District, said. “We are fine-tuning the noise issue and we will rotate some of (the performers) around, which could be more effective.”
The city is additionally proposing to ensure that there is an adequate pathway between the beach and boardwalk for emergency and non-emergency vehicles by prohibiting obstruction of access areas between designated spaces.
Some Venice residents and longtime performers said they didn’t see any problems with stopping the music and amplified noise after dark.
“I’m personally all for trying to get it right,” said Venice Neighborhood Council Vice President Linda Lucks, who supports rotating the spaces to allow for different acts. “No one should have to hear the same music all the time. I’m for fair regulations and for making it fair for everyone.”
Longtime musician Stephen Fiske also did not take issue with the noise regulation but called the new amendments “stop-gap measures,” saying there are more significant problems on the boardwalk such as commercial vending. Some have claimed that lottery participants have had friends and family also take part to improve their chances for a space, and Fiske said making the lottery year-round would only make it worse.
Former street performer Tony Vera, who put on his “Fireman” show for 23 years, said some of the changes already seem to be in place, as noise is currently limited after sunset and the large-act performers rotate between two main spots. He said performers have already been competing against each other for the limited spaces and a year-round lottery could make the situation worse.
“It’s so bad down there, I wouldn’t go back if I could,” said Vera, who no longer performs due to an injury.
Some residents who have called for the changes say that the proposals do not adequately resolve the noise issue. Eric Bostrom, who lives in an apartment about 100 yards from the boardwalk on Dudley Avenue, says for years he has heard music from boardwalk performers during the day, which disturbs him from doing things in his home.
“The sound echoes off the building into apartments that are out of sight of the musicians,” Bostrom said. “I never expected it to be quiet but this is a totally different level where there is no relief.”
He said the city continues to try to fix the ordinance by addressing the issues on the boardwalk and not looking at what’s happening in the adjacent neighborhood. Bostrom suggested that officials could prevent “captive listening” — a situation where residents are forced to listen to music in their homes — by relocating performers to other spots without infringing on their rights.
“All we want is to relocate the musicians so this doesn’t happen,” he said.
Fiske said the laws that have been put in place on the boardwalk over the last few years have not gotten rid of commercial vending, which creates a “swap meet” environment.
“For five years, these ordinances that have been rewritten and amended due to lawsuits have not worked,” Fiske claimed.
He says he is planning to develop a third-party management group involving boardwalk representatives and community members to work with the city to deal with specific issues like commercialization, a plan Rosendahl also says he is reviewing.