For many who have frequented its walkway over the years to pick up distinctive wares or watch the street performers, the Venice Boardwalk may have an undiscovered designation: city park.
While some may have thought they were simply coming to the second largest tourist attraction in Southern California or an often crowded street, Los Angeles officials have confirmed they are actually visiting a city park, the Venice Beach recreation area.
As such, Ocean Front Walk is subject to a city curfew ordinance that prohibits people from being in the park between midnight and 5 a.m. The law has been in effect since January 1989.
A recent announcement by police to the Venice Neighborhood Council that the city intends to renew enforcement of the curfew law along with the separate boardwalk vending law came as a surprise to many, particularly the classification that the boardwalk has historically been part of the park.
“The new enforcement of the park closure and inclusion of Ocean Front Walk as part of the park came as not just a surprise but a shock to just about everyone in Venice,” Venice Neighborhood Council Vice President Marc Saltzberg said following the meeting.
Along with the boardwalk ordinance that restricts commercial vending on the west side of Ocean Front Walk, city officials say the curfew law is expected to curb problems including a recent influx of homeless encampments and late night loitering. The vending law took effect Jan. 20 and signs notifying the public of the curfew have also been installed, although police plan to allow for a learning period and are passing out informational flyers to people on the boardwalk.
But many residents living along the boardwalk were curious about the park closure’s impact on their ability to get to their front doors, walk home from restaurants and bars, or walk their dogs along the lit street.
To help answer some of those questions, the Neighborhood Committee of the Venice Neighborhood Council invited Lt. Paola Kreeft of the Los Angeles Police Department Pacific division and Arturo Pina from City Councilman Bill Rosendahl’s office to provide feedback to community members at a meeting Jan. 23.
“I have a focus on my committee and we are concerned with the impact on the residents who live (on the boardwalk),” Saltzberg, the committee’s chair, said prior to the committee meeting.
Kreeft noted that while the curfew is not a new law, police are beginning to target enforcement because they only recently learned that the boardwalk itself is part of the park after receiving confirmation from the city attorney. The enforcement is primarily for addressing a public safety issue, as the police department does not have enough officers to patrol the boardwalk at all hours of the night, she said.
In regards to resident concerns about being prevented from entering the front of their homes, Kreeft said police will use discretion to distinguish those trying to get home from those who want to loiter or stay overnight.
“It’s the whole lingering and loitering in the park area that’s not allowed,” she told the audience, adding that activities like dog walking will also be prohibited after hours.
It was uncertain if the beach bicycle path was included as part of the closure. Noting that the closure could force people to use Speedway instead, some residents expressed safety concerns with the use of a darker street where vehicles drive down. Pina said that additional officers deployed in the area in the summer could help mitigate such safety concerns.
Rosendahl told The Argonaut that he is very happy to see the city move forward with the enforcement to help address a situation that many residents feel has become out of control.
“It’s been clear to me for some time now that without the curfew it’s gotten totally out of hand on the beach,” said Rosendahl, noting that he saw a variety of disturbing situations during a recent early morning walk with police.
He said the signs clearly define who can be in the park and when, and the law gives police another tool to help with enforcement of the criminal behavior.
A majority of the audience members at the Jan. 23 meeting indicated they were in favor of the curfew law to help improve the problems that have been occurring on the boardwalk overnight.
Some residents spoke of how the level of boardwalk homelessness in recent years is far worse than in the past, and something needs to be done to ensure the area continues to thrive. Neighborhood council President Linda Lucks says she believes a majority of residents are ready to have some solutions and are fed up with the effects on the boardwalk.
“This needs to be taken care of. This is not the homeless of Venice; this is the homeless of California and the United States that we’ve been given the responsibility for,” neighborhood council member Ira Koslow said.
Business owner Daniel Samakow said, “Ocean Front Walk is a treasure and we have to keep preserving it as that.”
Referring to the impacts on the community, resident Brad Neal said it has not been the same Venice he loves, and although the law is not perfect, “it’s all we got.”
Mark Ryavec, Venice Stakeholders Association president, said the law has been needed for months, explaining how many residents don’t feel comfortable exposing their children to the problems seen on the boardwalk.
“This whole atmosphere is driven by a lot of lawlessness, a lot of disregard and disrespect that fosters the kind of behavior seen down there,” he said. “We’re just about to the point where we will see some actual enforcement of a law that’s been on the books for years to solve problems being experienced by residents throughout Venice.”
Some speakers at the meeting argued that the city should have better communicated the new regulations to the community, while others pointed to concerns about the homeless who will be forced to leave the area. Officials noted that a ruling in the Jones v. the city of Los Angeles case, which allows for people to sleep on sidewalks when there are no available shelters, has been narrowed only to Skid Row.
Rosendahl noted that efforts have been in place to provide resources to those who want help, including extending the winter shelter program.
“We’ve put an effort together to have a place where people could go so as the enforcement comes forward, there is an alternative to that enforcement,” the councilman said.
Some have also questioned if the city’s curfew law could pose a challenge to the California Coastal Commission regarding impacts to coastal access. The city has had an ongoing conflict with the commission with its beach curfew law, but city attorneys have said the law allows for the exercise of police powers reserved to local governments by the California Coastal Act.