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Merchants of Venice Win Right to Hawk Wares

September 03, 1987|ALAN CITRON | Times Staff Writer

Marian (Crystal) Marvin, astrologer, psychic and Tarot card reader, is free to return to the beach now. So is Demetrius Tahmin, an acupressurist and reflexologist who claims he is so healthy that he "glows like a neon sign."

Both were banished from their perches on Venice's Ocean Front Walk two weeks ago when authorities cracked down on unlicensed people who solicit or accept financial contributions. Now they are being allowed to return, at least temporarily.

"I will be there with bells on," said Tahmin, 53. "You have to fight for what is right. And we are protected underneath the First Amendment."

The masseurs, psychics, mystics, faith healers, political activists and others who solicit money on the Venice beachfront claim they have every right to be there. But authorities say the groups have become increasingly troublesome.

Two Alleged Scams

Police have recently uncovered two supposed scams on the heavily traveled walk. One involved a man who allegedly collected $5 donations for a group called "Save the Pit Bulls." The other concerned a group that sold bullet-riddled T-shirts that were supposed to benefit freeway shooting victims.

Some residents have also complained that solicitors are taking over the walk.

"There certainly has been a proliferation of people hawking things on Ocean Front Walk," Steve Schlein said. "And the majority of them are just trying to make a buck. There should be some reasonable regulation."

Mary Clare Molidor, chief deputy of the Los Angeles city attorney's Westside office, said officials need to find a way to distinguish legitimate solicitors from people who collect for nonexistent charities or causes. She said that anyone can collect money on the beach under the current system.

"Fraudulent operators are our target," Molidor said. "The whole spirit of the police operation is to glean out illegal or fraudulent organizations."

An investigator from the city's Department of Social Services is inspecting the various solicitors working on the walk this weekend. Molidor said solicitor's licenses should be required for all people who work for charitable organizations, raise money for religious and political purposes and accept donations for giving massages, healing or predicting people's futures.

But critics say the solution may not be so simple. Richard Solomon, an attorney representing several of the people affected by the crackdown, said some of his clients, such as the psychics, are not granted licenses. He said others, namely the political or social activists, are already legal.

Solomon also claimed that his clients add to the atmosphere on Ocean Front Walk--a place that has a reputation for attracting unconventional people.

"The underlying political issue is that these people contribute to the diversity of the area," Solomon said. "If the city is unwilling to work out a way for them to be there it detracts from the attractiveness of the area."

One of Solomon's clients is Jerry Rubin, who heads a peace-oriented group called the Alliance for Survival. Rubin has manned a spot on the walk for eight years, collecting money for a clutch of causes. He said the authorities have no right to drive people like him off the beach.

Rubin said that he and some others who were affected by the crackdown will file a lawsuit to recoup the money they lost over the past two weekends. Rubin claimed police violated their Constitutional rights.

"People at the beach should decide for themselves if they want to drop a quarter into a donation can at any given table," Rubin said. "I like to read my own junk mail and decide what's worth keeping.

"This is public property. If we're not blocking anyone's way, we have a right to be there. They would probably like to see the healing pagoda turned into yogurt parlor."

Rubin said three distinct groups of people work on Ocean Front Walk. The largest group is the vendors, who hawk everything from T-shirts to jewelry on the tourist-laden strip that runs along the Venice beachfront. The vendors, who operate on private property, are already regulated by the city.

The second group includes entertainers such as singers, artists, guitar players, jugglers and comedians. They have not been affected by the crackdown. The third group is composed of solicitors such as Rubin and Marvin the psychic.

Marvin does most of her work inside her apartment but started coming to Ocean Front Walk about six months ago because she needed to get out and "gulp the air." The dark-haired psychic said people can contribute whatever they want for her services but added that she rarely makes more than $50 a day.

Marvin said police have no reason to hassle her. "They are just being marshmallows," she said. "They are manipulating the law. It ties in with the rise of fundamentalism. It's an effort to crack down on freedom of thought."

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