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Venice Boardwalk Can’t Be Bored-Walk:

People, we have a funk shortage. We lost some on Abbott-Kinney, where the funk got squeezed out and in its place we got Japanese ice cream shops and simulated hip clothing boutiques with $65 tank tops. As with the level of mold in certain cheeses, there’s always a question of how much funk is enough. But you need it for flavor, and once it’s gone you can’t reintroduce it. Ask any artist: They push you out of your funky loft and remodel it so that it appeals to more people and the rents can go up… to a level where no artist can afford to live in the “Artist’s Lofts.” You cannot re-funk that loft.

This possibly brings us to the complications of the Venice boardwalk. There should always be something authentic down there, even if we disagree on the parameters of “authentic.” This may seem contradictory when aligned with previous columns in this space that have argued for a level of consolidating the performance efforts on the Third Street Promenade. But with the Promenade, the battle is over. The Promenade and its companion the newly remodeled Santa Monica Place are modern retail arteries. Shiny is good, Jetson architecture is now, and here are your $300 blue jeans. Hoping to keep something offbeat alive on the Promenade by means of having the Psychic Cat and the Bubble Man work out there is hopeful at best, regardless of how much I love both acts.

The Venice boardwalk still has a few boho heartbeats pounding in it, and we shouldn’t be in a rush to flatten it out in any effort to make it work better for all. Yet at a certain point you have to administrate for safety and protect “speech”, hopefully preserving the funky ambience so that it doesn’t become Universal CityWalk with sand nearby.

Last week a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction stating that the Los Angeles ordinance for a system of permits and a lottery for boardwalk sellers and performers violated the First Amendment. Sure, right on, power to the people. Except that if there isn’t some kind of system relating to who sets up shop on the boardwalk, what will we have there? Protecting street artists and folk art trades people matters, but I’m also concerned that things would change such that those who want to exercise “speech” as it pertains to promoting energy drinks or mobile phone service will get unfettered access to the area… and to a public gathered for the very non-corporate experience that is Venice Beach.

Before the just-stricken down system was in place, vendors would scuffle for locations on the boardwalk. An LA Times article on last week’s ruling quoted a jewelry maker as indicating those battles for turf would now return, saying “It was kind of organized, now it’s going to be chaos.”

I have a modest proposal, but I’m not sure it will read well on this page. Any idea that introduces the notion of establishing guidelines based on evaluations risks failing those who might not be found to be up to standards. And while I’m not sure “standards” always has an inherently negative connotation in these types of situations, I can see how some might feel that way. All that said; let me run something past you.

Santa Monica’s Bergamot Station has been a tremendous success in terms of bringing a defined concept to an area/facility and creating an identity that translates into visitors and full occupancy at the facility. I’m not suggesting that there is any textural parity between the Venice Beach boardwalk and Bergamot Station except that they are both destinations with specific characteristics of appeal. And in the case of Bergamot, a keen eye for what the zone is about and what it can do has brought success.

Venice Beach is also a zone, although it’s a wild and crazy one. But that energy is real and it should neither be left totally unfettered to decay into mediocrity and chaos, nor should it become yet another used-to-be-real place that devolves into a platform for selling athletic shoes and branding beer. Could and should there be a stand-alone oversight group separate from the Venice Chamber of Commerce, one dedicated solely to the Boardwalk? A committee that embraces the value and history of the Boardwalk and recognizes that the fate of the zone is dangerously in flux.

And what determinations would they make? That any practice proven to be hokum by modern science has no place there? Goodbye tarot card readings. That those musicians who aren’t technically proficient won’t get a spot to make some tips? That would negatively impact the funk. No, I think such an oversight group would look to maintain that which is the Venice boardwalk and resist the improper exploitation of the zone, regardless of how one specifically perceives “exploitation.” I’m not crazy about shops that vend “Free Moustache Ride” t-shirts, but you can’t shut down that form of expression and then let Verizon hawk FiOS in the nutty gumbo of the Boardwalk. Let’s see if we can keep the funk and not let it become the Bored-walk… all the while protecting the destiny of a beautifully crazy public gathering space.

in Opinion
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