A Brief History of the Permit/Lottery System on Venice Boardwalk
Following the 2000 census, the LA City Council mandated the generation of a redistricting plan to accommodate shifts in population. A committee chaired by Eric Garcetti was established for this purpose. The committee chose to combine all ocean front property within the city into a single district, CD11. It further chose, over vociferous objections of Venice, West LA, and Westchester, to appoint Cindy Miscikowski of Pacific Palisades as the Councilmember representing the newly created CD11. The objections to Ms. Miscikowski arose from her pro-development and pro–business history and her marriage to Doug Ring (now deceased), one of the biggest political influence peddlers in Los Angeles County.
Shortly after Ms. Miscikowski assumed her position as CD11’s representative, word began circulating on the Boardwalk about increasing incidences of violence and disturbance of the peace by persons seeking to set up displays on the west side of Ocean Front Walk. Commercial vending had traditionally been forbidden in this traditional Free Speech Zone (FSZ) but enforcement now became somewhat lax. Conflicts occurred with greater frequency and people vying for spaces began to show up at 3 or 4 in the morning to secure a spot at 9 am. Residents complained of noise from these early birds and from ensuing conflicts.
In the summer of 2002, a person from the west side of the Boardwalk came down its length one Sunday, querying people about the desire of establishing a permit and/or lottery to regulate activities on the Boardwalk. He cited increasing violence as the reason for the need to institute such regulation.
In October 2002, LAPD, the local representative of Ms. Miscikowski and others held a meeting at the Venice Library to discuss the possible implementation of a lottery system.
Although the legitimate First Amendment people were opposed to it, a permit system was instituted in 2003. The Department of Recreation and Parks marked off “designated spaces,” and required people to purchase a $25 life time permit to set up in the FSZ on the Boardwalk. A list of rules and regulations accompanied the permit. It being decided that this was inadequate, in May 2005, a lottery was initiated to allocate the permit spaces.
A lawsuit (Venice Food Not Bombs v. City of Los Angeles) in July, 2005, by Carol Sobel of the National Lawyers’ Guild led to a revised ordinance in March, 2006, defining more explicitly what could be considered legitimate activity on the Boardwalk.
In January 2006, Bill Rosendahl replaced the termed out Miscikowski who retired from public office, but still maintained her ties to the city. Mr. Rosendahl was supported by the Boardwalk community on his promise to get rid of the hated permit/lottery system. On February 13, 2006 Rosendahl made this Motion before the City council containing the following declaration:
“Venice Beach’s Ocean Front Walk, from the Santa Monica border to 17th Street, to be officially recognized “Free Speech and Expression Zone”.
Instead, following two new lawsuits filed in 2006 (Venice Food Not Bombs v. City of Los Angeles and Hunt and Dowd v. City of Los Angeles), a new ordinance was crafted, during 2007, purportedly under the direction and advisement of Federal Judge Dean Pregerson, and implemented in May, 2008. It led to the following zones on the Boardwalk: the I-Zone, the P-Zone, the 10 black spaces for true free speechers – 2 to be saved for food giveaway. The staggered lottery for the P-Zone, the complicated enforcement rules that insured no one would ever be removed for First Amendment violations also arose at this time.
Prior to the new 2008 ordinance’s implementation, Mr. Rosendahl held several town hall meetings, at which large numbers of opponents to the permit/lottery in any guise spoke out against the proposed changes and the system in general. In every case, Mr. Rosendahl went back to city council and promoted the controversial and unacceptable law.
The Boardwalk became rampant with illegal commercial vendors. Most artists, performers and free speechers disappeared. Most of the people on the Boardwalk, at that time, were drawn there because of the permit/lottery system and its blatant encouragement of flea market people to sell their wares. In fact, following passage of the 2008 version of the ordinance, announcements went out on all local radio and tv stations inviting those who wished to sell their goods to come to the Pacific Division of the Department of Recreation and Parks and get a permit and join the lottery. The last change also included a $10 annual fee to enter the lottery in addition to the $25 lifetime permit.
The Boardwalk became a second rate flea market, a criminal enterprise, a system rampant with uncontrollable corruption. The Permit/Lottery System is to the FSZ what Prohibition was to the country in the 1920s.
In October, 2010 Judge Pregerson struck down the permit/lottery as unconstitutional (see L.A. Times article) and the City of Los Angeles was forced to close it down.
Therese Dietlin, for VBBC