The ongoing situation of vehicles being parked for extended periods on Venice streets and how best to address their effects has been an issue that has bewildered average citizens to Los Angeles city leaders.
For years members of the community have suggested varying proposals to attend to the vehicles and those impacted by the issue, but there has been no clear-cut solution favored by all.
The California Coastal Commission was the latest examiner to tackle the contentious issue and it too, found the situation to be complex.
After seeing firsthand that the issue goes beyond parking problems and impacts real people of differing backgrounds, the commission voted Thursday, June 11th to deny coastal development permits for overnight parking districts (OPDs) in five areas of Venice.
The commissioners heard from over 100 people who packed the meeting room in Marina del Rey to offer accounts ranging from those that are artists who can only afford to live in their RVs on the street to those who can not find parking in their neighborhood and must witness sewage being dumped into the street.
“This is a very difficult decision for this commission, but there are real people on both sides of this issue,” commission Vice Chair Dr. William Burke said prior to the vote. “There are too many people’s lives on both sides of this issue that are impacted.”
The commission considered continuing the matter to a later date but ultimately felt that it was being tasked with handling a social issue rather than a coastal access issue and decided to deny the overnight parking restriction approval, bringing cheers from many carrying blue “NOPD” signs in the audience.
Commissioners indicated that the public comments given at the meeting revealed that there is a larger social issue underlying the proposal than just whether there is a challenge to the California Coastal Act.
“This is a serious social issue,” Commissioner Sara Wan said. “But serious social issues are not Coastal Act issues.”
During the discussion prior to the vote, Commissioner Mary Shallenberger said, “We heard a lot of heart-wrenching testimony today about serious, troubling social issues. The problems are real and my heart goes out to the people of Venice on all sides of the issue.”
In rejecting the proposal, the commission did not heed the recommendation of its staff, which suggested approval after finding that the restrictions would not affect the public’s ability to access the beach between the hours of 2 and 6 a.m.
The City of Los Angeles had applied to the Coastal Commission for OPDs in areas west of Lincoln Boulevard, including East Venice, West Venice, Presidents Row, Oxford Triangle and Villa Marina, which if approved by two-thirds of the neighborhood, would have restricted parking between 2 and 6 a.m., except by permit.
The proposal has received support from community leaders, as the Venice Neighborhood Council offered an endorsement. A special election earlier this year pitted initiatives opposing and supporting OPDs against each other, but in the end the council’s vote was reaffirmed, as the initiative in favor of the restrictions was the victor.
City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Venice in the 11th District, has also backed the effort, saying while he has been challenged by the issue, he believes residents living west of Lincoln should have the same rights as other areas in the city to vote for parking restrictions. The parking districts would have provided “another tool” for the city in dealing with parking problems, the councilman said.
“This is just basically a choice issue and a fairness issue that I think people in west Venice should have,” Rosendahl told the commission. “Residents of Venice are asking for the same type of protection afforded to residents of other coastal communities.”
But many who have fought the OPDs argue that they would displace people who are forced to live in their vehicles and would affect access to the beach in the early morning hours.
“We have the obligation to make this resource available not just for the residentsÖ but for everyone,” Venice Community Housing Corporation executive director Steve Clare told the commission.
Resident Robin Rudisil said that seeing signs restricting overnight parking would make her feel that she is not welcome to the beach.
“The proposal affects access to the beach area, there’s no doubt about it,” she said.
Others pointed to the impact on the people who must sleep in their vehicles and would no longer have a place to go.
“Many of the people are veterans who have fought for our country,” Venice artist Emily Winters said.
Many of those in support of OPDs have referred to impacts such as parking spaces being depleted, sewage from vehicles being left in the street, and neighborhoods looking like campgrounds, and they say residents should be able to vote for restrictions.
Venice Stakeholders Association member Mark Ryavec, who has been a strong advocate for the districts, called the commission’s decision to deny the permits “one of the most bizarre abuses of discretion by a public body that I’ve ever seen.” He said it was very rare that the commission did not follow through on its staff recommendation.
“It appeared that the commission did not make the decision on the basis of the underlying law, they made it on the basis of some political agenda,” Ryavec said.
But resident Linda Lucks, who opposed the plan saying it would take away the use of parking spaces for residents in the beach impact zone, believes the commission made the right decision. She explained that none of the people who spoke in favor of OPDs testified that they would have problems getting to the beach under the restrictions.
“I think they ruled correctly based on what their mandate is,” said Lucks, the neighborhood council’s vice president.
Following the commission vote, Rosendahl said the action will force city leaders to explore other measures.
“The challenge is again one for us to deal with,” the councilman said.
Rosendahl said he intends to pursue other proposals such as an ordinance restricting overnight parking of certain oversize vehicles and programs similar to one in Eugene, Oregon where people can park in designated lots to sleep overnight. He said he also wants to meet with leaders of groups who opposed OPDs and hear what solutions they may have.