A federal judge refused to issue a temporary restraining order Friday that would have stopped police from enforcing city laws that prohibit unlicensed Venice Boardwalk vendors from selling their wares.
Police recently have cracked down, issuing citations and warnings to boardwalk vendors for taking "donations" for everything from palm readings to limited-production compact discs, said plaintiff Harry Perry, a longtime denizen of the popular tourist spot.
Los Angeles city code prohibits selling anything on public beaches and boardwalks except newspapers and periodicals. The unlicensed vendors maintain they do not sell wares but solicit donations for their work. Nonprofit organizations are exempt from the ordinance.
Perry's attorney, James Fosbinder, argued that Perry's practice of selling cassettes and compact discs of his own music is protected under the 1st Amendment and should be allowed. Perry appeared in Federal District Court wearing his signature white turban and carrying an electric guitar and well-worn Rollerblades, which security officers had asked him to remove.
But U.S. District Judge A. Andrew Hauk ruled that the case did not meet the test for the issuing of a temporary restraining order, which requires proof that the plaintiff would suffer irreparable harm if it were not granted.
After the hearing, co-plaintiff Jerry Rubin, founder of Save the Healers, Artists, Politicos and Entertainers (SHAPE), said street vendors would suffer if they were not allowed to accept money.
"These people need to put food on their tables," he said.
The request for the restraining order was the latest salvo in a battle between licensed merchants on the east side of the boardwalk and the free-lance musicians, political activists and artists that occupy the western half.
The licensed merchants, who work out of stores and stalls, complain that the vendors operate unfairly, taking away business without having to pay the overhead of taxes, permits and retail space.
Although Fosbinder was rebuffed on the restraining order, he said his clients won a partial victory Friday.
The city retracted a requirement, outlined in a three-page newsletter distributed by police two weeks ago, that unlicensed vendors carry a card from the Department of Social Services to prove their nonprofit status.
Getting nonprofit status is difficult, Fosbinder said, because vendors must meet complex Internal Revenue Service requirements.
Many boardwalk vendors at the hearing characterized their treatment by police as harassment. Artist Duncan Roseme wrote in a legal declaration that police took a beach painting from him as he worked on it last Sunday.
"The officer started laughing and told me he was going to keep the painting for himself," he wrote.
Police are also stepping up enforcement of a law that prohibits unlicensed vendors from advertising. Anti-meat-eating activist Robert (Jingles) Newman said police forced him to remove signs that read "Meat is murder," and "Love animals, don't eat them."
"I felt really intimidated," said the vegetarian.