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Los Angeles law would limit selling on Venice boardwalk

Items with more than 'nominal utility' beyond protected speech, such as clothing, would be barred. Merchants say some vendors harass and assault others to secure locations among 205 selling slots.

December 13, 2011|By Martha Groves, Los Angeles Times
  • The Venice boardwalk draws about 16 million visitors annually.
The Venice boardwalk draws about 16 million visitors annually. (Ricardo DeAratanha / Los…)

The Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved an ordinance to limit commercial selling on Venice Beach's famed Ocean Front Walk.

The ordinance is the latest in a series of efforts to tame the popular but unruly attraction, which draws about 16 million visitors annually but has lately seen more than the usual number of transients and violent crimes.

The city's earlier attempt to impose a lottery and permitting system for the western side of the boardwalk was blocked in October 2010 by a federal court on the grounds that it violated the 1st Amendment.

Since then, residents and merchants say, a "survival of the fittest" mentality has prevailed, with some vendors harassing and assaulting others to secure locations among 205 selling slots.

"People have been beaten over spaces," said Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents the area.

Young transients have descended on the area to earn money by saving spaces for vendors. Meanwhile, some merchants on the boardwalk's eastern side, who pay taxes and rent, said they can't compete with vendors selling similar merchandise in the unregulated market.

Under the ordinance, which amends Los Angeles Municipal Code 42.15, performers and artists will be allowed to sell paintings, photos or sculptures as well as audio or video of their work. Free-speech advocates will be allowed to offer bumper stickers, leaflets, patches, buttons and books. Henna painting will also be allowed.

But merchandise with more than "nominal utility" beyond protected speech would be prohibited. Banned items would include clothing, sunglasses, incense, perfume, lotions, candy, toys, housewares, auto parts, crystals and jewelry.

"This is a public safety issue," said Los Angeles Police Capt. Jon F. Peters, commanding officer for the Pacific area. Since October 2010, he said, the area has experienced "a general sense of lawlessness," with aggravated assaults up by 16%.

A cast of colorful characters, many of them longtime boardwalk denizens, testified for and against the measure in council chambers. A few speakers vowed to take the city to court, but Assistant City Atty. Valerie Flores said the ordinance incorporates definitions and standards that have held up against challenges.

martha.groves@latimes.com

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