What is Up on the Venice Beach Boardwalk??

They’re at it again – the “People Who Know Best” – the folks who know better than you and I how to live our lives – this time in my own backyard here in Venice Beach, California, a part of the great City of Los Angeles.
Although I go to the beach almost daily I hadn’t paid much attention to various petitions and signs regarding proposed ordinances that would over-regulate the assortment of artists, vendors, and oddball displays along the famous Venice Boardwalk. That is, until someone sent me an email over the weekend noting that the new rules would be voted on at the City Council on the 28th.
I’ve taken a look at the proposed changes, and while there is always room for improvement in the conditions of any public space, I don’t see how the new rules are really going to help.
You can read more about the proposed rules in one of the many local papers here and in the LA Times as well.
For views from those opposing the change, you can read this statement from the local Neighborhood Council as well. You know that there’s trouble if even a raucous, and often times loud group like the Venice Neighborhood Council can come together and agree on something important like this.
To better educate myself, I spoke with Sandy Kievman, a representative of my City Councilmember, on the proposed rules. It was an interesting conversation. I politely inquired about the proposed rules and how they’d work, and she was kind enough to give me a rundown of the program as planned.
(Oddly enough, when I asked why the Councilmember and her staff were taking the lead on this issue, she said unequivocally that “we don’t create this kind of thing, we respond” to the requests of the community. But the LA Times story said she was someone “who has helped lead the ordinance effort.” Hmm.)
What became clear is that while there may be some good intentions with the ordinance – the idea being that the area should be reserved for “true artists” and not just people selling “crap” – it’s also becoming clear that there’s really no way for these good intentions to be effectively carried out under the proposed system.
For example, Ms. Kievman made a point of repeating several times that “free speech does not give you the right to run a business or sell things” in asserting why it was necessary to add additional rules and permits to the Boardwalk. The point of the ordinance, she said, was to ensure that artists with City permits would have access to the Boardwalk.
That’s a nice thing to say, but of course, under this system is also not true. “Artists” and others won’t have guaranteed access to the Boardwalk – they’ll have to enter into a lottery to determine if they get to have space or not. That’s a key point, one which can’t be ignored. If something’s being sold to people as “guaranteed” when it is “not,” that’s a problem.
She also indicated that anyone who wanted to “sell things” should be pay ingrent and taxes and operate in a regular store like other stores in the area. But when I asked how the Parks & Rec department would distinguish between an artist, who’s selling their artwork, and a vendor, things got a bit murky.
Also, the definition of “art” was never really answered. Could one make artwork that’s wearable? Would that be allowed under the rules? What is “art” in a society where we commodify everything, including art, speech, and dissent? Who decides? And how does one appeal any decision made? Questions, questions.
You can see where this is going. Good Intentions, meet Road to Hell.
But there’s a bigger problem with the proposal as is – the fact that it is not fiscally responsible. Under this plan people wanting to sell (oops I mean share) their “art” will pay a onetime permit fee of $25 (for now) to have a permit for life to allow them participation in a lottery to determine if they’re going to be allowed on the Boardwalk in a given month.
Let’s assume that 200 people apply for these one time permits. The City of Los Angeles would get a whopping $5000, once, from the people who presumably would be participating over several years. Now let’s assume that for every year, an additional 100 people apply for permits. That means the city would get around $2500 in subsequent years.
Now let’s factor in the staff time to administer this program. Does anyone honestly believe, in an era when we cut budgets every year, that such a small amount of money would even begin to cover the costs of running this bureaucratized system? Raise your hand if you think that a few thousand a year can pay for this proposal. Hmm…I see no hands.
And what happens when we need to axe 30% from the Parks budget in the future, and we need to cut out some of these folks off the payroll? How smoothly will the “system” work then? (If you don’t think we won’t be taking a big piece out of the budget in the future, please, please, put down the pipe for a while!)
More to the point, what guarantee exists that the would not drive up the cost of permits in the future to say, $250? $500? $1000? Tell me with a straight face that the city, in future budget scrambles, won’t see this as Yet Another “Non Tax Revenue Stream” to jack up, after promising they won’t. Don’t believe me? How much are your parking tickets these days? You know, the ones with the $2/ticket tax the State of California levies on tickets now? What, you dont’ remember that Good Intention from the Pete Wilson era? Oh but I digress.
Put simply, the plan is one to make the process so unpredictable, and so difficult for most smalltime folks we find there every day, that they’ll give up and leave. What bothers me the most about these kinds of “rules” is that they don’t seem to be designed for the benefit of those who live here. The Good Intentions get left by the wayside in a program that doesn’t work, and nobody wins in the end.
I don’t pretend to be an expert of all things all the time, but what I do know is that there’s not a lot of reasons to come to Venice Beach, except for the beach, the oddball Boardwalk, and the unusual assortment of shops, artists, vendors and assorted folks by the beach.
People don’t come to Venice Beach to hang out at the Pottery Barn or Barnes and Noble – they can do that in Santa Monica, and frankly Santa Monica does it a hell of a lot better than Venice ever will. At a time when rapid gentrification is quickly making one of the last semi-affordable beach communities another overpriced burg with $3000/month rents, this is the kind of issue that can really stir up a hornet’s nest, and make it harder for other, positive changes, to happen in public policy.
I spoke with City Council Candidate Bill Rosendahl, who actually used to live not far from my place here in Venice, for his thoughts. He was kind enough to send me a short note which I’ll reprint here:
Dear Greg…Jerry Ruben just called me …I suggested he and the group meet with the Councilwomen tomorrow and see if they can continue the item for more discussion … there needs to be more roon for compromise where all sides win…as Venice approaches its 100th anniversary ..harmony among all groups is critical…Cindy has a reputation for finding consensus and I am confident there can be one on this issue…regards Bill Rosendahl

I tried to get a quote from others but they were not available as of press time.
For now, I think it’d be wise if our City Council took a nice deep breath and put this aside for a while. There is no need to rush into this right now – with the winter chill and all the rain out there, it’s not like there’s going to be a lot of folks out there soiling the beach with their presence right now anyway. Instead, let’s get some more creative thinking going on this one, and come up with something a little less Big Brother, and a little more realistic, in its place.
Los Angeles residents can reach their City Councilmember via the city’s website at www.lacity.org and let them know what they think of this, or any other issue. Word is that many Venice residents will be traveling to City Hall early in the morning for a demonstration at 8:30am – I’d attend but pressing obligations don’t allow me to do so.
UPDATE: Not much coverage of the vote or the proceedings, but at least we know that the LA City Council voted unanimously to support this brilliant idea.
Watch how fast I support any of these folks in the near future.
© 2003-2006 Greg Dewar | All Rights Reserved | Originally Published at www.schadelmann.com

Leave a Reply