What city officials intended to be an informational session to inform Venice Ocean Front Walk performers, artists, craftsmen and any other “public expressionists” how to apply for an “application for public expression” erupted into a protest fueled by irate members of the audience.
The meeting, or what quickly evolved into a protest, was held Wednesday, January 12th, at the Westminster Senior Center in Venice.
City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks superintendent Kevin Reagan led the meeting, which was abruptly interrupted and ended almost before it really began.
As soon as Reagan began to speak, he was interrupted by several members in the audience, including local activist Jerry “Peace Activist” Rubin.
“Sir, with all respect, why do you think we owe you the respect to listen to you?” Rubin asked.
Reagan began to discuss the monthly lottery system that will designate who gets which spaces for the west side of the boardwalk.
Within seconds, chants of “No Lottery” from those against the lottery system filled the room.
Reagan said that the lottery will take place on January 26th.
Again, chants of “No Lottery” intermixed with “We are the people,” “No applications,” and “Free Venice Beach,” resonated throughout the room.
The protest escalated and some audience members jumped out of their seats and some confronted Reagan.
One man — Michael Hunt who regularly sells crafts on the west side of the boardwalk — began ripping in half one of the applications for public expression in front of Reagan’s face.
Los Angeles Police Department officers attempted to quiet the uprising, but were unsuccessful and the meeting was prematurely adjourned by city officials.
After the room had cleared, Rubin and about 30 performers, artists, musicians, and craftspeople assembled in front of the senior center.
“There’s no way that we should support the fee, the lottery, or anything else,” said Rubin.
Rubin suggested that city officials bring in mediators to begin talking with those who make their living and express themselves on the west side of the boardwalk.
“If we don’t fight for the free spirit of Venice, it will be lost,” Rubin shouted. “We have to stand up and protect our first amendment rights.”
Rubin said he was glad the protest had commenced.
“Abbot Kinney, the founder of Venice, is smiling in his grave right now,” Rubin said.
Rubin and the other protesters are upset about a city ordinance unanimously voted for by the Los Angeles City Council in October.
The Grass Root Venice Neighborhood Council — an advisory board to the City of Los Angeles — voted unanimously to oppose the city ordinance before the city voted in favor of it.
The ordinance establishing the permit program contains the following provisions supported by the Los Angeles City Department of Recreation and Parks Board of Commissioners:
n Persons wishing to conduct public expression activities on the west side of the Venice Beach Boardwalk will have to apply for and be issued a “public expression permit,” valid for life, unless revoked, with a one-time charge of $25.
The permit will be nontransferable and will be required to obtain use of a designated location on the boardwalk.
n Designated spaces will be marked and numbered on the boardwalk, with ten-by-eight-foot spaces for general public expression and 20-by-eight-foot spaces for persons expressing themselves through performance.
There will be 62 public expression spaces and 44 performance spaces.
Anyone wishing to use space on the boardwalk for public expression will have to be in an assigned and designated space with a permit in their possession.
n A lottery will be held at the end of each month to assign spaces for general expression or performance for the coming month.
In the case of more permit holders in the lottery than spaces, those not receiving an assigned space after all the spaces are assigned will not be allowed to make space for themselves on the boardwalk and will have to wait until the next lottery.
n There will be no set-up or activity on the boardwalk between dusk and 9 a.m.
n No structures, furniture, canopies, tents or umbrellas over four feet or with more than two sides will be allowed.
n Department of Recreation and Parks staff will manage the program, which will include set-up, day-end, and periodic inspections to ensure compliance with the regulations.
For the first violation of one of the regulations, a violator will receive a warning.
A second violation will warrant a suspension of the permit.
For a series or third violation, the permit could be revoked for a one-year period before re-application would be permitted.
Mr. Animation — a performer on the Venice boardwalk — attempted to calm the audience when the chanting and protest began.
“Listen to the man (Reagan) speak, he’s going to ask us questions, we’re going to get our chance,” he said.
When his attempt proved to be fruitless, Mr. Animation said, “I think I am going to go back to Santa Monica” to perform.
One Venice resident is supportive of the lottery system.
“Frankly, it’s gotten downright Darwinian on the boardwalk, complete with protection rackets, intimidation and extortion,” she said. “The lottery might ultimately fail, but if it does, perhaps someone will learn from the experience and get a bright idea for another solution.
“I’m willing to wait to see what happens.”
Cecil McGee says he has been involved in a family operation on the west side the boardwalk for more than 20 years and that the lottery system will “rip the guts out of relationships” he has established with customers.
“If the city feels there needs to be some sort of bureaucratic regulation, let it be minimal,” said McGee.
McGee says he agrees with the section in the ordinance limiting space, but adds that the monthly moving of locations will hurt his business.
“The City Council is supposed to support the people, there have not been any mediation attempts,” McGee says.
Another attempt by the Department of Recreation and Parks to explain the “public expression permit system” to the public is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, January 20th, at the Westminster Senior Center, 1234 Pacific Ave., Venice.