The naked truth of the matter is this: Everyone is welcome to use the beaches in Venice. But clothing is not optional. You have to wear it.
That's what Los Angeles police are telling beachgoers in a crackdown on increasing instances of nude sunbathing along the one-mile beachfront.
Sgt. Mike Mines of the Pacific Division said police have issued more than 40 warnings or citations for indecent exposure each week since the crackdown began last month. Mines said naked sunbathing is a summertime ritual in Venice that seems to be gaining popularity, especially on weekends and holidays.
"There's a feeling that it's OK," Mines said. "People tell us that they thought they could do it here (in Venice). Those people get arrested." Nude sunbathing on public beaches is prohibited by city and county laws. First-time offenders usually receive warnings, but Mines said police have issued about 20 citations to repeat offenders recently. The misdemeanor offense could earn violators a maximum of a year in jail or a $1,000 fine.
Naked sunbathing is not an organized beachfront activity like paddle tennis. But Mines said that most offenders can be found near the Venice Pavilion at the southern end of Ocean Front Walk. Both men and women have been cited for lounging on the beach without clothing, Mines added.
"Our policy is to warn the person to please cover up," Mines said. "We tell them that they are committing a violation of the law. Then we come back to make sure they have complied. And there are some cases where they don't cover up. Then they have to come to court on charges."
The number of nude sunbathers in Venice varies from day to day. But police said that partially clothed or unclothed people can usually be found somewhere along the beach. Women are most often cited for going topless, while men are most frequently warned against wearing G-string type bottoms, police said.
Venice beaches are patrolled by officers on foot, on bicycles and in special four-wheel-drive vehicles. Mines said violators are easy to spot and are often discovered while police are looking for alcohol and drugs. In some cases, he said, police respond to complaints from other beachgoers.
"There are hundreds of children running around, many of them right next to (someone nude)," Mines said. "That makes some families uncomfortable."
Mines said nude sunbathing also leads to disturbances. In one instance, he said, a group of nude women attracted more than 100 gawking men.
The problem of nude sunbathers apparently does not exist in neighboring beach areas. Santa Monica police said they have received no reports of nude sunbathing this year and do not consider it a problem. In Malibu, naked beachgoers usually are found only on sparsely populated beaches such as Pirate's Cove and Big Dume Beach, according to the sheriff's office.
Some have speculated that nude sunbathers are drawn to Venice because of its reputation as a haven for free spirits. During the 1984 Olympics, police said that dozens of foreign visitors used Venice for nude sunbathing. And about 10 years ago, more than 100 people lobbied for a nude beach in Venice. Among those arrested that time were several people wearing only tiny fig leaves.
"It was the biggest example of beach activity where people wanted to exhibit freedom of choice about whether they had to wear clothing or not wear clothing," said Ed Lange of Elysium Field, a Topanga nudist organization.
"Snorkelers have a snorkeling beach," Lange added. "Windsurfers have a windsurfing beach. So it seems appropriate that a portion of beach should be set aside for people who don't choose to wear clothing."
One person who shares Lange's point of view is Brent Brumfield. Brumfield, 27, was recently cited for exposing his buttocks on Venice Beach. Outraged, he started a petition drive in hopes of winning approval for nude sunbathing.
"I see nothing wrong with it,' said Brumfield, who is living in Venice while looking for a job. "People need to learn to appreciate beauty."
Another nude sunbathing enthusiast is Jody Pauley, a 29-year-old Westchester resident who has been going topless in Venice since she was a teen-ager. Pauley said she grew up in a household where it was "OK not to wear a top." She said she sunbathes in Venice because it is close to home.
"I don't like to wear a top," Pauley said. "I never have."
Pauley said she has only been caught by the police twice during 14 years of topless sunbathing, and the last time was six years ago. Both times, Pauley said, she just received a warning. She said she has learned to avoid detection by rolling onto her stomach when police approach.
Pauley maintained that nude sunbathing is a harmless activity. She said she would prefer to go to a private nude beach, but added that she has never been accosted or criticized by others while sunbathing topless on public beaches.
"When I take my top off, other people sometimes do it too," said Pauley, a radiologic technologist. "They seem to think it's all right."
People like Pauley, however, may soon be forced to cover up. Sgt. Tony Steinhart said police are obligated to enforce the law. And the law says that beachgoers cannot be naked, or clothed in a manner that reveals too much.
That means that policemen clad in shorts and tennis shirts, the uniform of those assigned to Venice, will be on the lookout for flesh this summer.
"It's a clear violation of the law," Steinhart said firmly. "And we don't think there's any room for that sort of behavior."