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L.A. City Council calls for boardwalk barriers in Venice

Councilman Mike Bonin, who represents the area, says temporary barriers are needed at Ocean Front Walk's most hazardous intersections until a permanent safety plan is developed.

August 06, 2013|By David Zahniser and Matt Stevens
  • Nathan Louis Campbell, 38, was charged Tuesday with three dozen felony counts, including murder. If convicted, the onetime Colorado resident could face life in prison.
Nathan Louis Campbell, 38, was charged Tuesday with three dozen felony… (Francine Orr, Los Angeles…)

Three days after a car plowed into a crowd on the Venice boardwalk, the Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday moved to install temporary traffic barriers to keep cars away from pedestrians along the offbeat beachfront promenade.

Describing the neighborhood as "shaken" by the incident that left one dead and 16 injured, Councilman Mike Bonin said the temporary barriers were needed at the boardwalk's most hazardous intersections until a permanent safety strategy could be developed.

Bonin said the city should treat Ocean Front Walk, which sees millions of visitors each year, less like a neighborhood park and more like a global tourist destination. Although there were four poles on Dudley Avenue separating cars from the boardwalk, the suspect in Saturday's crash swerved around them by driving onto the sidewalk and later into the crowd, Bonin said.

Alice Gruppioni, a 32-year-old Italian woman who was on her honeymoon, was killed in Saturday's crash. Prosecutors on Tuesday charged Nathan Louis Campbell, 38, with three dozen felony counts, including murder. If convicted, the onetime Colorado resident could face life in prison.

The council also instructed city officials to report back within 14 days on other proposals for the boardwalk, including a public address system, new signs and additional surveillance cameras.

The mechanics of adding additional barriers could be complicated. Nearly 30 streets and alleys deliver cars to Ocean Front Walk, and few have traffic barriers, Bonin said. Any barrier installed on the sidewalk must not block wheelchair access. At a few intersections, cars have to cross Ocean Front Walk to reach parking lots west of the boardwalk.

Another accident occurred three weeks ago near Muscle Beach, Bonin said.

"As many as 15 or 20 times a day, people accidentally drive onto Ocean Front Walk, putting life and property at risk," he said.

The council unanimously instructed city officials to produce a safety assessment for the boardwalk within two weeks. Bonin said he wants the city to determine whether bollards — pier-like posts of steel or concrete, possibly retractable — should be installed. Another option would be large concrete planters, he said.

Before the vote, Councilman Tom LaBonge asked public safety officials to look at other popular pedestrian spots, such as the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue.

Venice public safety blogger Alex Thompson, who goes by the Twitter handle @Venice311, voiced support for more barriers and traffic signs. But she said the council also needs to address what she described as a rampant drug problem on the boardwalk — fueled in part by people looking to buy medical marijuana.

"These are the irresponsible people who come down here and drive recklessly," she said. "It is the casual drug user that comes down here and contributes to the irresponsible behavior."

Thompson said a former Los Angeles Police Department sergeant had previously called for barriers along the boardwalk. That effort went nowhere after a series of neighborhood meetings, she said.

The idea of more barriers was greeted enthusiastically by Scott Levinsky, a vendor who was selling crafts on the boardwalk when Saturday's incident occurred.

"You have to have it clearly marked that you're not supposed to drive on the boardwalk," he said. "A lot of people come here from out of town and don't know that."

But some who were on the boardwalk this week were unsure if such drastic steps were needed.

"The immediate response is: 'We have to do something, so now we put barriers,'" said artist Shelly Gomez, 52, who set up a canvas for the public to write memorial messages to Gruppioni. "But it's just a temporary fix to make ourselves feel better. The truth is, we are safe. Look at how long the boardwalk has been here, and this has never happened."

Mar Vista resident Jeff Melczer, who went with his wife to the boardwalk Monday, said he considered Saturday's tragedy a freak accident. "If someone wants to go crazy down here, they're going to go crazy," he said.

david.zahniser@latimes.com

matt.stevens@latimes.com

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