California has hundreds of beautiful beaches along its coast. But the beach is not why most of the 16 million annual visitors to Venice Beach come to the tourist spot. They come for the famed boardwalk of eccentric street performers and colorful vendors.
However, to the chagrin of some of those Venice vendors, the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to restrict the items that vendors on the west side of the boardwalk can sell.
In the video below, Councilman Bill Rosendahl explained the rationale behind the vote, "Over the years the commercial vendors had taken over the west side [of the boardwalk] and it's not fair to vendors on the east side, where people pay taxes."
While the east side of the Venice's Ocean Front Walk is home to permanent, tax-paying vendors, the west side has a daily first-come, first-serve system for reserving vendor spots. As the Los Angeles Times reports, this system has led to young people reserving spots overnight as a way to make money. But with limited spots available, Rosendahl explained, "Chaotic space fighting all the time has taken place. I was there on the beach at four in the morning and saw an incredible set of situations there that don't belong there because there's no rules or regulations."
To resolve the violence over vendor spots, the new ordinance, drafted by City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, states that no person will be allowed to reserve a spot before 9am.
But, more contentious, is the restrictions, in order to protect competition for east-side vendors, on items that vendors on the west side of the boardwalk can sell. Because a previous legislative effort to regulate boardwalk vendors was halted due to concerns of free speech violation, the new ordinance carefully restricts only merchandise that does not qualify as an expression of free speech. What will remain protected is vendors' own art, such as paintings, CDs, poetry, etc. There will also be spaces reserved for traditional speech activites, including bumper stickers, pamphlets, patches and buttons.
What will no longer be permitted on the west side are "non-expressive" items, including clothing, sunglasses, incense, candy, oils, crystals, toys, housewares, auto parts and jewelry.
Dozens of community members, some in favor of the ordinance and others opposed, came to Tuesday's meeting to make their opinions known to the city council. One woman in support of the ordinance, Venice Patch reports, said the boardwalk had become "intolerable" and "not safe," saying her and her 12-year-old daughter would get harassed when they walked their dog on the boardwalk.
Those opposed to the measure expressed concerns that free speech would be violated, that vendors would lose their livelihood or that the fine for violations would be too high. As Patch reports, some said the restriction on jewelry qualifies as a violation of free expression. Other vendors are also concerned about their livelihood. Parsi Kehanpour, 44, who sells self-made jewelry on the boardwalk's west side, told Patch about the upcoming restrictions, "It's devastating. I feed my family being here. Now I don't know what to do. I'll be homeless with my wife on the streets."
Still, Rosendahl defended the ordinance as protecting the boardwalk's visitors and vendors alike. "The City and constituents in Venice Beach have been struggling have been struggling for years to come up with a workable plan to regulate commercial vending, promote entertainers and performers, and protect residential quality of life on the boardwalk," a press release on his website states.
Before he left the meeting Tuesday, he remarked, "We believe in free speech, we believe in art, we believe in creative thinking.. This is a great day for Ocean Front Walk and for the beach community and for Venice in general."