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VENICE : Skate Dancers, Police Reach Truce on Boardwalk Access

July 07, 1994|ADRIAN MAHER

For 20 years skaters have congregated at their favorite pathway just north of the Venice Beach Pavilion to dance and twirl to funk, rap and rock 'n' roll. Now they fear their recreation, which is also a top tourist attraction, may be in jeopardy.

On two occasions recently, police say, patrol cars responding to emergency radio calls were hindered from reaching the beach because of skaters on the pathway, an extension of Market Street. Police say they use the pathway, which leads to the beach, as an emergency access road.

After the first incident, on June 24, the skaters were temporarily banned from the spot. A core group of about 30 regulars then formed the Skate Dancers Assn. of Venice and took their concerns to Councilwoman Ruth Galanter's office.

They were allowed back on the site after a meeting last Friday involving police, city recreation and parks officials and Niki Tennant, a deputy to Galanter. Skaters agreed in the meeting to keep the path clear in emergency situations in return for a lifting of the ban.

The skaters say their longtime venue is ideal because of its smooth, flat, wide surface and the ample space for spectators on a grassy area nearby.

"At our Friday meeting, we all agreed that the skate dancers are an integral part of Venice Beach," Tennant said. "But the police are concerned about emergency access issues and liability issues. On some Sundays there are huge crowds, and police sometimes have three to four emergency access calls a day beyond the boardwalk."

Tennant also said the city attorney's office has rendered an opinion that a skating ban at that particular spot was legally unenforceable.

Some skaters who witnessed the June 24 incident said the patrol car was delayed for only a few seconds. Two skaters who were in the way quickly left the pathway once the car's siren sounded, they said. Skaters also deny the Police Department's contention that skaters blocked a patrol car again last Sunday. They charge that police have lost sight of public safety priorities.

"There are so many more important problems for the police to concentrate on in this area, such as crime, gangs and illegal vending," said Gerry Clark, a member of Skate Dancers Assn. of Venice.

Despite the goodwill exhibited in Friday's meeting, many skaters say that, since then, they have come under increased scrutiny from the police. The police disagree.

Said Capt. Dave Powers of the Los Angeles Police Department: "We put on extra patrols because of the Fourth of July holiday. It wasn't in response to what the skaters were doing."

The Venice Boardwalk is one of the largest tourist attractions in Los Angeles County, with millions of visitors each year, and the skate dancers put on one of the most popular events. Over the weekend, skaters collected more than 1,500 signatures from residents, tourists, business owners and other skaters on a petition to designate the Market Street pathway as a special skate dancing area.

Powers said city Recreation and Parks officials are looking for alternative sites in an effort to find a solution. "We feel we have been fair and impartial in enforcing the law," Powers said. "Skaters are a part of the Venice ecosystem."

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