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Judge blocks Venice boardwalk permit system

The jurist says the lottery system for performers and sellers violates the 1st Amendment. He also strikes down a rule barring the use of musical instruments or amplified sound between 9 a.m. and sunset in designated areas.

October 27, 2010|By Andrew Blankstein and Abby Sewell, Los Angeles Times

A federal judge has blocked portions of a Los Angeles ordinance designed to regulate performers and vendors along the Venice Beach boardwalk.

U.S. District Judge Dean D. Pregerson issued the preliminary injunction last week, effectively stating that the city's permitting and lottery system for boardwalk performers and sellers violates the 1st Amendment.

The ruling involved a 2008 ordinance that required performers and vendors to seek permits to sing, dance and sell items along the boardwalk through a lottery system held between Memorial Day and Nov. 1.

In blocking the ordinance, Pregerson noted that the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that a similar permitting system in Seattle was unconstitutionally broad and only marginally regulated vendors, which the appeals court said could be achieved through "less intrusive means."

"There is no explanation as to why this system manages conflicting claims to limited space any more effectively than a simple first-come-first-served rule," Pregerson wrote in his 27-page ruling.

The judge also struck down a Los Angeles City Council rule barring the use of musical instruments or amplified sound between 9 a.m. and sunset in designated areas.

Street performer David "Zuma Dogg" Saltsburg, one of the plaintiffs in the challenge to the law, said Tuesday that the city was arrogant in refusing to tweak the ordinance to address their concerns.

"You have to pay a permit fee for free speech, and that's wrong," he said.

Saltsburg also took issue with confining amplified music to one condensed area.

The ordinance grew out of complaints by residents and business owners that unregulated vending affected the character, safety and economic vitality of the boardwalk.

Esquire Jauchem, who produces the annual Carnevale! Venice Beach festival and lives by the boardwalk, said the daily scuffles by vendors trying to stake out spots used to verge on anarchy.

"You can't have basically open warfare every Saturday morning over who's going to get the spot," he said.

Still, some who initially supported the ordinance said it had not worked as planned.

Andy Layman, past president of the Venice Chamber of Commerce and owner of the Venice Beach Suites & Hotel, said that since the lottery system began, vendors of manufactured goods have taken spots from the craftsmen and entertainers who give Venice Beach its unique character.

But some vendors have embraced the ordinance. Jewelry maker Luis "Lucho" Pacheco, 42, said Tuesday that he was initially wary of the permitting system but is now apprehensive about selling without the rules.

"It was kind of organized," he said. "Now it's going to be chaos."

The judge's ruling pertained to 2008 and 2009 revisions of sections of the municipal code governing the boardwalk. Those policies were challenged by street performers who earned money on the beach by dancing, singing, painting, unicycling and playing music, as well as accepting donations for items related to their performances and causes.

andrew.blankstein@latimes.com

abby.sewell@latimes.com

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