PROTECTING & PRESERVING FREE SPEECH & PUBLIC SPACE

Archive for December, 2009

L.A. CITY COUNCIL CONSIDERS YEAR ROUND P-ZONE LOTTERY

The following is a report made by Therese Dietlin of VBBC to Los Angeles City Council in response to the hearing on December 15, 2009 in which the council considered the recommendation by the Dept. of Rec. and Parks to extend the P-Zone lottery on Venice boardwalk from the summer months to all year round. This would remove the last vestiges of the first-come-first-served system that has traditionally be used in the Free Speech Zone on the boardwalk. Considered by activists as a violation of First Amendment rights as the lottery system constitutes a ‘prior restraint’ on freedom of expression.

Report on Los Angeles City Council Hearing of Agenda Item 8 on 12-15-09 by Therese Dietlin

Robert Haskins reported that the lottery is needed year around in the P-Zone because of the number of applicants which exceed the number of spaces.

This is surprising for two reasons:

1 After Labor Day weekend, the P-Zone lottery applicants were sharply reduced. In the weekend lottery, there were generally only 2-3 cards left in the bin after all the spaces had been allotted. Unlike the tens of cards left prior to that time. Further, at least half of the cards in the P-Zone lottery, post Labor Day, were registered I-Zone vendos. Had they been refused their (illegal) opportunity to participate in the P-Zone lottery, there would have been many more spaces than applicants.

2 For the weekday lottery, spaces were allotted to all 50-60 applicants present and the remaining 40-50 spaces were left vacant. presumably on a first come first served basis. This was two months before the lottery was suspended in the P-Zone.

3 In informal talks with the Department of Recreation and Parks people, they made it clear that the problem on the Boardwalk was not the lottery, per se, but Deputy City Attorney, Mark Brown, who interfered with their implementation of the rules, confusing both interpretation and intent. In light of this, the fact that Robert Haskins would testify in his behalf at the city council meeting is troubling, to say the least.

Sgt. Reina testified that the lottery extension was needed because there had been assaults on the Boardwalk the previous spring, when the lottery had been suspended. He cited specifically March and April. He also testified that LAPD answered approximately 540 calls with regard to noise in a 20 month period. He did not, to my recollection, identify this 20 month period. He further stated that approximately half of them were for noise between 9pm and 9am. They involved musical instruments. He also stated that people needed to be kept from setting up in undesignated spaces because their presence hampered possible police activity. Let us address these issues:

1. Many regulars on the Boardwalk (pre-lottery) are aware of the assault issue. More to the point is to consider the type of person the lottery has attracted, who would engage in such violent activity as assault. The parties in mind were all lottery participants who would otherwise never have considered setting up in the Free Speech Zone (FSZ). These are exactly the type of “vendors” free expressionists are concerned about, and would like to see removed, permanently, from the FSZ. This is a non issue beyond that point.

2. If approximately half of the estimated 540 calls were for noise between 9pm and 9am, they are not relevant to the regular FSZ performers. That leaves approximately 270 calls to account for. Several of these can be attributed to the Dudley Court people complaining about Ibrahim and his performers, since the police show up regularly around 4:30 pm when the group is closing down. Ibrahim’s group is protected by a federal court order and only perform on weekends and holidays from 12 noon to 4:30 pm. All other times, any noise must be attributed to another source. There have been several, and they have all been silenced shortly after setting up. So, there are probably about 225 other calls to address. These the police must provide more information on in order for them to be addressed responsibly. As others have noted, Venice Beach Boardwalk is a public venue and noise is to be expected. People moving into the area need to know this. In addition, the issue of local pockets of noise leading to complaints seems to be a consequence of the lottery, suggesting if anything it is contributing to the problem, not addressing it. We are willing to work with everyone on this, but need more input and more willingness from the other contending parties. I would add further that. before the lottery and assigned spaces and micro-management, mimes would come routinely to the FSZ, set up in their one or two squares and do their spontaneous mime act – no noise, no disruption, but delight to the observers. They have been driven away by the current system.

3. The beach access issue is troubling. Huge swaths of the FSZ have already been designated as reserved for emergency access. They have removed, from public use, several feet of the FSZ that had been used by free expressionists, pre-permit/lottery. In those days, there did not appear to be a severe limitation on LAPD ability to move quickly and expeditiously from Boardwalk to beach and vice versa. In fact, in all the time that the emergency access routes have been designated, there is no reliable record of their having been needed. The police regularly move between beach and Boardwalk with no regard for those specific areas, calling into question their imminent need at all.

4. Last, Sgt. Reina’s testimony was surprising in that informal discussions with same have revealed a very real sensitivity to, and respect for, the Boardwalk as it was originally meant to be and, occasionally and in specific areas, still is. Further, as with Recreation and Parks, informal discussions with undisclosed sources have clearly indicated that at least some of LAPD Pacific Division regard Deputy City Attorney, Mark Brown, as the source of the current problems on the Boardwalk.

5. I would further add that other informal discussions with LAPD officers from the Pacific Division have led me to believe that the officers have an acute and sensitive awareness to commercial vending on the Boardwalk, and do not need the parameters spelled out to them. The current LAMC 42.15 and Mark Brown have precluded their enforcement of no commercial vending. Hence, once again, Mark Brown is the source of many of the difficulties currently in play in the FSZ on the west side of Ocean Front Walk.

I thank you for the opportunity to express these additional concerns to you. If the Venice Beach Boardwalk Coalition (VBBC) can be of any assistance in remedying the very distressing situation on the Boardwalk, please feel free to contact us. We are here to work with anyone who is willing to help restore the traditional free speech zone on the Boardwalk. It is our belief that the artists and performers will come back of their own accord when they are not being required to violate their first amendment right to free expression.

I would like this report included in comments on Agenda Item 8, 12/15/2009.

Contact: Therese Dietlin ~ email

%d bloggers like this: