By Gary Walker
A motion asking Los Angeles Councilman Mike Bonin to create an alcohol enforcement and compliance unit for the Venice area was soundly rejected by the Venice Neighborhood Council at its meeting last month.
The council’s Neighborhood and Land Use and Planning committees had met in a joint session earlier and approved the motion by an 8-2 vote, but when it came before the neighborhood council, it garnered only one vote from board vice president Marc Saltzberg, with 15 against and two abstentions.
In the beachside enclaves of Venice and Santa Monica, two communities that see a high rate of tourism annually, there are an equally high number of outlets that sell alcohol, according to the Westside Impact Project.
In Venice, there are 106 businesses licensed to sell liquor, beer and wine within the seaside town of 3.17 square miles, which equates to 33 outlets per square mile on average. The county average, according to Los Angeles County officials, is 16 alcohol outlets per square mile.
In addition, Venice has 32 alcohol outlets per 10,000 residents, while Council District 11, which includes Venice, Del Rey, Mar Vista, Playa del Rey and Westchester, has 21.5 per 10,000 residents.
The Westside Impact Project is a Los Angeles County campaign that is seeking to lower the number of alcohol-related problems in Santa Monica and Venice.
“The point of the motion was that someone should do inspections (of these establishments) and enforce the conditions of operations,” Saltzberg said after the vote.
Bonin’s office has received several complaints from Venice residents about the number of establishments serving alcohol.
Westside Impact Project Manager Sarah Blanch was disappointed that the local council voted against the motion by such a wide margin.
“There is a distinct disconnect between the Venice Neighborhood Committee’s vote of 8-2 in favor of this motion and the Venice Neighborhood Council’s almost unanimous rejection of it, with 15 ‘no’ votes and only one ‘yes’ vote,” Blanch said. “At the Venice Neighborhood Committee/LUPC Sept. 10 special meeting on this subject, multiple Venice residents expressed their concerns about quality of life issues related to alcohol outlets in the community, primarily in the form of littering, noise and vandalism.”
Land Use and Planning Committee Chair Jake Kaufman did not vote on the motion, but said he understands how some have grown frustrated by what they claim are establishments violating conditions of their lease and planning approvals. He himself has heard them firsthand.
“I get frequent phone calls from people who have called various city departments who say they know of (certain violations) and no one is doing anything about them,” he said.
Kaufman, who is also a member of the neighborhood council, says while he understands that Los Angeles has been mired in a budget crisis for years before the last fiscal year, he feels that Venice does not receive the kind of enforcement services, as well as attention to its local infrastructure, that it should.
“We have 16 million people that come to Venice Beach every year. With those numbers, why don’t we have the resources to take care of our beaches?” he asked.
Blanch said the Neighborhood Committee’s vote was significant and made her wonder why the full board decided to vote against the motion.
“The committee’s majority ‘yes’ vote for the motion indicates an interest from the community in putting attention and resources into better managing alcohol-related problems in Venice – yet the Venice Neighborhood Council voted it down,” she said.
Saltzberg said he was discouraged by the vote because at the joint meeting, both committees heard testimony from residents who live adjacent to the establishments that sell alcohol about some of the problems that they have encountered.
The Los Angeles Police Department Pacific division enforces and monitors all of the outlets that have been granted liquor licenses by the state Department of Alcohol Beverage Control in Venice.
Recently, the city Planning Department created a similar unit that Saltzberg called for in his motion to be headed by city engineer Roxanne Wiles.
“There has not been a designated ‘Venice’ enforcement plan to my knowledge,” said LAPD Sgt. Mark Griego of the Pacific division.
Griego said there are no venues that are currently targeted and no single restaurant, bar or store has been more of a problem than others in Venice.
“Every now and then there will be a fight or an assault, but there are no patterns pointing at any one specific ABC establishment,” he said. “If there is a problem, we contact the owner of the establishment to resolve the problem.
“To my knowledge, there are no statistics that connect crimes to drinking behavior.”
Wiles did not return calls or email inquiries for comment.
Approximately 5,000 people under the age of 21 die each year as a result of underage drinking, and 1,900 of those deaths are from automobile accidents, according to statistics from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. And approximately one in three high school students has been a passenger in a car driven by someone who had consumed alcohol.
Kaufman thinks the council should direct its focus on the enforcement of the conditions of the leases and existing planning ordinances. He believes that Mayor Eric Garcetti, Department of City Planning Director Michael LoGrande and Councilman Mike Bonin, who represents Venice, understand the current problems related to alcohol-serving establishments.
“I believe that they get what’s happening, but the community must continue to remind them that Venice should be a top priority,” he said. “We’re very fragile here and we need help.
“We need to be the shining example of what Los Angeles should be.”
Saltzberg thinks that given the anecdotal data from residents as well as the complaints regarding little or no enforcement being done, the council motion was a no-brainer.
“To my mind, the reason that it should have passed is clear and obvious,” said the neighborhood council vice president.
Blanch is hopeful that the neighborhood council will reconsider a similar motion or ask Bonin’s office to step up enforcement of those operators who have been delinquent.
“This is a topic of increasing importance for Venice residents,” she pointed out. “The Venice Neighborhood Council should make it a priority to determine better solutions for managing alcohol-related problems in the community.” Gary@ArgonautNews.com
Venice: Local council votes down motion requesting alcohol enforcement unit
By Gary Walker