Venice residents who favor having the right to establish overnight parking districts (OPDs) in various neighborhoods in the seaside city saw their position confirmed in a special election held by the Venice Neighborhood Council February 21st.

Initiative B, which affirms the right to request special parking districts for Venice residents, topped Initiative A with 891 votes to 634, a margin of 257 votes.

The dueling proposals pitted residents of Venice, a community with a long history of grassroots activism, on two sides of a highly-charged issue that has captured national attention.

Supporters of Initiative B believe that they should have the right to establish the parking districts in certain neighborhoods due to the proliferation of recreational vehicles on city streets. The opposition, which backed Initiative A, contends that these parking districts discriminate against the homeless and that only certain neighborhoods actually want the OPDs.

Mark Ryavec, who championed the winning initiative, called the vote “very encouraging.”

“It puts to rest the idea that the residents of Venice don’t want OPDs,” he said.

Ryavec has been at the forefront of the charge to create the restricted parking districts, and like those who side with him, he feels that RV users have become a blight on the coastal community’s eclectic landscape.

“We’re in a parking-starved environment,” said Ryavec, who serves on the Neighborhood Council’s Homelessness and Vehicular Living Committee.

Mark Lipman, the author of the opposing initiative, believes that the vote indicates that those who favor the right to implement OPDs were wrong to cast the election as a referendum on people living in their vehicles.

“What this election does say, however, is that a minimum of 634 recognized Venice residents (compared to 868) do not want to pay for permit parking,” Lipman wrote in an e-mail response.

“This vote completely undermines the opposition’s argument that the issue is about people living in vehicles — as they didn’t even vote in this election. In that respect, this is a great victory for those who oppose permit parking in Venice.”

The Venice Neighborhood Council, which had previously supported a position similar to Initiative B, will now take the winning proposal as its official stand on the overnight parking districts.

“There are obviously people on both sides of this issue that feel very, very strongly,” Mike Newhouse, the president of the Venice Neighborhood Council, told The Argonaut on the day that the ballots were cast. Newhouse believes that both views are valid, and reiterated that his board would take the position of the winning proposal.

“The result of the election will be a strong indication of where our community stands on the issue, and of course that will be taken into account by Councilman (Bill) Rosendahl and the rest of the City Council and by the California Coastal Commission, if they decide to allow this to happen,” he said.

Rosendahl called attention to the importance that his constituents place on OPDs and their opposition to them in a previous interview.

“The issue of people living in their campers and cars is a real issue,” the councilman noted. “This is a work in progress and it’s not a short-term situation.”

Homeowners and renters, property owners and those who work in Venice waited for hours to vote as the line of voters snaked around the library. Cookie Takara waited nearly an hour before she had an opportunity to cast her ballot.

“This is something that I really care about,” she said.

Takara, who favors Initiative B, thought that having the voting take place at the library was too small a venue and that holding the election on a Saturday did not allow those who were at work the opportunity to vote on an issue that has stimulated a great deal of passion.

“I think that it also disenfranchises the elderly and handicapped, who can’t get here and stand in line,” she said.

Resident Stephen Fiske favored the opposite initiative.

“I’m a big believer in the saying ‘There but for fortune go you or I,'” he said, quoting a line from a song by folk singer Tim Harden.

Challis Macpherson, who chairs the Land Use and Planning Committee on the Venice Neighborhood Council, noted that there was a good deal of support for OPDs in the Oxford Triangle, where she lives.

“There are people here in Venice that are so upset about what we call the ‘motor homeless’ parking in front of their houses, and some of them are not very good neighbors,” said Macpherson, referring to homeless persons who live in their vehicles. “They abuse the privilege of using our streets by leaving trash and defecating on our streets.”

Fiske hoped that the vote would not alter the identity of what he and others believe is a part of the community’s history.

“Venice has always been a place that has supported people, their freedom of movement and choice, and my own personal view is that Venice should remain free and open, because that’s the kind of place that it’s always been, and I don’t want to see that change,” Fiske said.

Newhouse said that seeing so many people come out to vote was a victory for grassroots democracy, and Takara agrees.

“I’m pleased and thankful to everyone who took time out of their Saturday to vote,” she said.

The California Coastal Commission is slated to make a decision on the OPDs at its June meeting.

Ryavec feels that no matter what decision the commission makes, there are ways to have the parking districts implemented in the neighborhoods that want them.

“The city could use an exemption in the Coastal Act for a public nuisance,” said Ryavec, a former legislative analyst in Los Angeles. “What more of a public nuisance are these folks who live in their RVs?”

Macpherson recognizes that OPDs remain a highly charged and very complex topic of discussion.

“It’s a hydra-headed issue,” she noted. “And we haven’t started chopping the heads off yet.”

Newhouse said that it is one of the most polarizing issues that he has seen in Venice.

“Along with fence heights, these two have definitely been the most galvanizing issues in Venice,” the Neighborhood Council president said. “One of the beautiful things about Venice is we are never at a loss for a good debate.”