Greta Cobar

Curfew May Be Illegal Restriction of Access

By Greta Cobar

The city of Los Angeles has adopted a beach and Ocean Front Walk (OFW) curfew without getting approval from or even consulting with the California Coastal Commission (CCC).

“The city does not have any approval from the CCC to implement the ordinance,” said Charles Posner, Coastal Program Analyst with the CCC, when referring to LAMC63.44.B.14(b).

In a phone conversation with the Beachhead he went on to say that under the Coastal Act the city needs a permit for “any sort of curfews or restrictive ordinances that have such a negative impact on coastal access.” According to him, the CCC is negotiating with the city, trying to get them to submit to the permitting process and to work out a solution that “does not keep people from getting in the water.”

The curfew is in clear violation of the Coastal Act of 1976, according to which “the public should have 24 hour access to the beaches.” Ordinance 63.44 itself is not only not approved by the CCC, but it was considered to “constitute a violation of law exposing the responsible agency to possible enforcement actions” by Andrew Willis, District Enforcement Analyst for the CCC, in an August 26, 2010 letter directed to Mark Mariscal, the Superintendent of the Pacific Region of the Department of Recreation and Parks (http://www.freevenice.org/Beachhead/CCC-curfew-ltr.pdf)

The signs currently posted on OFW, supposed to announce the implementation of ordinance 42.15 regarding vending, start out by mentioning LAMC 63.44.B.14(b), which states that “no person shall enter, remain, stay or loiter in any park which consists of an ocean area, beach, or pier between the hours of 12:00 midnight and 5:00 o’clock a.m. of the following day.”

However, OFW is not a park, but Venice’s busiest street instead. It is a street according to the U.S. Postal Service, the Venice Specific Plan, and every city map.

The Venice Neighborhood Council (VNC) Neighborhood Committee held a meeting on January 23 regarding the curfew. At that meeting Arturo Pina, Council District 11 Deputy, said that according to Venice’s annexation documents of 1924 the beach and OFW are part of a park. When asked to produce those documents, he was at a loss. Incidentally, his job is to protect the rule of law and to represent the city in court, not to produce new legislation.

Similarly, Lieutenant Paola Kreefft blatantly misinformed the public that the Jones settlement, allowing people to lie on the sidewalk between 9pm and 6am, is valid only on Skid Row as a result of a recent re-interpretation by a judge. Neither she nor Pina was able to provide further details as to what case, when and where. Yet another law broken, another right denied in order to make sure that the people chased out of OFW will not move onto the neighboring side-streets.

Since OFW is not a park, but a major thoroughfare instead, numerous residents have in and out access of their houses solely onto OFW. When asked whether these people would be locked down in their houses during the hours of the curfew, Lt. Kreefft stated that the residents “will not be harassed.” Selective enforcement is not new to Venice, but a lieutenant publicly making provisions for it might just be.

A civil action lawsuit is sure to follow, depleting the city of the funds it constantly complaints of lacking. Wouldn’t those funds be better spent helping the poor as opposed to financing another big law firm? The answer is that the city, under the rule of Carmen Trutanich, Los Angeles City Attorney, and approval of Bill Rosendahl, District Councilperson, is launching an effort to rid OFW of the homeless population. Even the price tag of the lawsuit, which is guaranteed to follow, does not deter their prospects. By the time their tactics are thrown out by a court of law, the “undesirables” will be gone and the politicians’ mission of pleasing the rich, gentrifying population of Venice will be accomplished.

The fact is that the police have allowed night-time drinking, drug use, prostitution, loud noise and unleashed pets on OFW for the past two years. When asked why the existing laws against the illegal aforementioned activities have not been enforced, lack of resources and fear of lawsuits were mentioned. When asked what the plans are for enforcing the curfew, no answers were provided.

An informal straw poll was taken at the January 23 meeting with 63 people supporting the curfew, 18 opposing it and 18 not having enough information to cast a vote at the time. Although the poll is not scientific and is invalid because it was not announced, it also surveyed the wrong section of the population. At the same time that the non-binding show of hands was taking place there were over 100 people sleeping on OFW. But then again, the votes of the “undesirables” are not desired.

The meeting ended with the Neighborhood Board unanimously (7-0) passing a motion asking the VNC Board to request that the city take emergency action to improve lightning on Speedway and on the walk streets between Speedway and Pacific. Lightning does not equal safety, however, and pushing the OFW homeless population onto Speedway is likely to create more problems, especially for the residents.

Another unfortunate effect of the curfew will be inaccessibility to the bike path in a very bike-dependent community. If one needs to ride a bike from Venice to Santa Monica without access to the bike path, the available choices are scant and unsafe. Riding down Speedway would be going the wrong way and could result in a ticket. The next closest option is Pacific, which would be extremely unsafe. Further east, but only north of the Windward circle, there is Main Street, and new bike lanes have suspiciously just been painted, but it is still significantly more dangerous than the bike path. And if we wanted to ride our bikes down a street, we might choose not to live in Venice.

Bottom line is, the curfew was not mentioned at all until the signs concerning the new vending ordinance somehow lost focus and started out by mentioning the ordinance establishing the curfew first. Enforcement followed suit, with police chasing the homeless population off the beach, the recreation area and OFW every night while the vending ordinance, set to take effect January 20, has not been enforced at all. While only hand-made articles are supposed to be sold, the swamp-meet atmosphere continues unabated. The only changes implemented are that they re-painted the assigned spaces, limited each vendor to just one spot, and stopped allowing people to sell or perform out of assigned spaces.

Although the ultimate goal of the curfew is to prevent people from sleeping on OFW, its immediate effect on all of us is a further hindrance on our freedom and basic human rights spelled out in the Constitution, the Coastal Act and the Jones settlement. And just because the police are too lazy to stop the illegal activities that have been transpiring on OFW every night for the past two years does not mean that our elected officials should illegally suppress our liberties.

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