As more people compete for space to speak their minds, distribute literature, and sell items “inextricably intertwined with the vendor’s message” in the limited space on the historically freewheeling ocean side of Ocean Front Walk in Venice, the question of whether and how to regulate the activities has been the subject of growing debate in recent years.
Over 100 people gathered and a great many voiced their opinions on a proposed new Los Angeles ordinance regulating these activities at a Town Hall meeting convened by LA Councilmember Bill Rosendahl on Thursday, February 7, at the Oakwood Recreation Center. Though some argued that any regulation “degrades what the Boardwalk is – an organic thing,” most seemed to acknowledge that “there must be some form of allocation” of the space or it would wind up being seized by only the strongest and the earliest arrivals.
The current boardwalk ordinance, approved on January 31, 2006, has been the subject of federal litigation. Federal District Court Judge Dean D. Pregerson has been supervising a mediation process designed to produce a compromise ordinance that allows the City of Los Angeles to regulate noise and commercial vending while respecting and protecting First Amendment rights.
That process produced the proposed new ordinance to be sent to the Los Angeles City Council for approval, but Rosendahl said he wanted to have the proposal “vetted by the community” prior to council consideration, and so he brought staff from the City Attorney’s office, Department of Recreation and Parks, and LAPD to the Town Hall to discuss the ordinance and listen to the public.
Under the proposed ordinance, space on the west side of the boardwalk is split into a “P Zone” for performers, advocates who are speaking or petitioning, and vendors selling items with a “pure speech” message (such as newspapers, leaflets, and buttons) and an “I Zone” for artists and vendors of expressive items created by the vendor. Each zone is divided into defined spaces, generally six to 10 feet wide, which would be allocated on a lottery basis with a few spaces reserved for first-come, first-served allocation. Amplified noise is restricted to certain areas.
Public reaction at the Town Hall was mixed, coming from merchants with stores on the east side of the boardwalk and nearby residents as well as performers, artists, and vendors, and there were even a couple of calls for Venice secession from the City of Los Angeles.