There are myriad reasons why tourists and locals head to Venice Beach on any given day, especially during the spring and summer months. According to one resident, none of them include the desire to see more billboards or be surrounded by corporate logos.
But if the Los Angeles Parks Foundation has its way, sponsorship deals with corporations may adorn much of the eclectic boardwalk, including on and around the paddle tennis and basketball courts, Muscle Beach and the world-renowned skate park.
“This isn’t why most people come to the beach,” said Dennis Hathaway, the director of the anti-billboard group Coalition to Ban Billboard Blight. “This is public property, and this will turn the boardwalk into a gallery of private advertisements.”
The Los Angeles Parks Foundation, a private nonprofit foundation that is behind the proposal, said what it is proposing is to thank sponsors who contribute to the construction of certain facilities in city parks.
“From time to time, we receive a donation such as the new bleachers at Muscle Beach and then we can recognize the donation with appropriate recognition,” Judith Kieffer, the foundation’s executive director, told The Argonaut.
The plan would include dedicating space to donors on the city side of the boardwalk along Ocean Front Walk. Locations where logos from sponsors could be placed include backboards on the basketball courts, benches, trash receptacles, flagpoles and areas around the tennis and paddle tennis courts.
Residents who live along walk streets in Venice, or streets near the boardwalk that are only accessible on foot or bicycle, expressed alarm when informed of the proposal.
“I understand both sides of the issue,” said Linda Lucks, who lives on one of the streets near Ocean Front Walk. “The city is desperate to raise money to protect our assets.
“But if it’s going to make the boardwalk look like Times Square, that’s different,” added Lucks, who is also the president of the Venice Neighborhood Council.
Hathaway said a small logo on a sign would not trouble him very much, but he would fight against anything that resembles an advertisement. “That’s totally different than having them all over the boardwalk,” he said. “People are very concerned about how their parks are being used.”
Kieffer said the recognition of donors does not constitute outdoor signs or billboards, which are prohibited under city law.
“With generous donations from our sponsors there is an opportunity to have their name displayed” she explained.
Kieffer said approved images that might be placed in the city’s many facilities include, but are not limited to, the Recreation and Parks Department’s Aquatic Centers and Pool as well as the department’s dog parks.
“These facilities offer high visibility and a diverse demographic, reaching the entire population of Los Angeles city and beyond,” Kieffer added. “The Venice Beach Boardwalk is one of the top tourist destinations in Southern California.”
Hathaway isn’t convinced that the “recognition of sponsors” are not advertisements. He said he saw a rendering of a sign draped across a fence at a park on the foundation’s website with the athletic shoe company Nike’s corporate logo and a picture of a runner that was part of the foundation’s proposal.
“I think that anyone who has seen that does not believe that they are just thanking sponsors,” said Hathaway.
The link is no longer on the foundation’s website.
The topic of corporate sponsorship in municipal parks came to the forefront when the private foundation wanted to install logos from the Warner Bros. “Yogi Bear” movie in some of the city’s recreational facilities. Despite concerns about what city officials considered could be interpreted as advertisements, the foundation’s board approved the installation of the logos.
The approval was later rescinded after City Councilman Paul Koretz introduced a motion that would have allowed a council committee to override the board’s vote.
Currently there are advertisements on the city side of the boardwalk on some buildings, but they are on private property. And Lucks pointed out that on the county side – closer to the beach – advertisements have been placed on lifeguard towers.
Asked if the plan was designed in part to raise much needed revenue for the city’s coffers, Kieffer replied, “Obviously, anything L.A. Parks Foundation can do to help our parks like the library or police foundations do for those city departments, is a benefit to our city.
“However (the parks foundation) raises funds for the ‘above and beyond,’ like shade structures, court renovations, etc., that are simply not in the department’s budget.”
City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Venice, said he understands how additional revenue can assist with programs that can potentially benefit the city and especially Venice.
“The real question is will this compliment the beauty and the energy of Venice Beach or will it distract from it?” the councilman asked. “What percentage of any (sponsorship opportunity) will go back to Venice?”
Under what is known as governance speech, government entities are allowed to erect signs that thank a donor for an altruistic endeavor. But there are stringent regulations for this provision, including that the government entity control how the sign is erected, as well as its design and what is placed on the sign.
In addition, they must not include anything that resembles advertisements.
“Any sponsorship representations such as logos, designs, etc. are in accordance with all city ordinances and would be approved by the Board of Commissioners that governs our city parks,” Kieffer said.
She said there are currently no sponsors and the foundation does not know how much revenue could be generated through the use of corporate sponsors.
“We have no sponsorships pending. Therefore, no figures available. Typically, sponsors give the amount of the enhancement; i.e., cost of new bleachers,” the foundation’s director explained.
Before anything is agreed upon, Rosendahl said he will insist that the Recreation and Parks Department and the foundation meet with Hathaway and the Venice Neighborhood Council’s Ocean Front Walk Committee to get their input.
“If they want any kind of partnership, they have to go through them,” the councilman said.
Based on what he has seen, Hathaway reiterated his disbelief that anyone would call what the foundation is proposing anything but advertisements.
“If it looks, acts and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck,” Hathaway concluded.