By John Davis
The most fundamental resource the California Coastal Act protects is access
to the beach, day or night, by anyone, of any color, or of any income bracket. The beach is our public trust. Over twenty years ago the Los Angeles City Council passed an ordinance locking the public out at night. In 2010 former Executive Director Peter Douglas declared that the City beach curfew violated the Coastal Act, and our State Constitution. He further stated the local curfew ordinance was not legally enforceable.
At the November 15th Coastal Commission meeting Commissioner William Burke indicated the Commission might be preparing for legal action against the City. He told the CCC Chief Legal Council and the Deputy Attorney General that they “better get out the letter machine and the lawyer machine and start it rolling… because the people are being penalized.”, to the sound of applause. He also said the City was “fit to be tied” referring to the Commission’s refusal to privatize parking at the beach.
Burke is a Los Angeles resident and perhaps he did not like the idea that he too could end up behind bars if he decided to visit the beach in the evening hours. The Commissioner is known for not taking things sitting down. He wants the City to know it is the State that is in charge, not the municipal corporation residing within it.
Jack Ainsworth, Deputy Director, said that he had held several meetings with the City, and one was held between 12 and 2am at the beach. He further indicated that one issue was driving the City, the homeless issue. He said it is really complex and difficult to deal with.
The Deputy made that statement while trying to explain why the City violation had not been placed on the agenda on behalf of Charles Lester, the new Executive Director. Lester’s failure to bring the violation before the Commission for judgment has led to the arrest of ordinary people who wish to use the beach, and it has festered for over twenty years. The homeless appear to be the City’s primary target. Fortunately, the Coastal Act does not discriminate against citizens as homed or homeless. It guarantees access for everyone, discriminating against none.
Thirty-Five year Venice resident David Ewing delivered this elegant message:
“This Commission communicated to the City the curfew is illegal. I just want to ask you Commissioners, how is this protecting the Citizens of California? How is this defending the Coastal Act if the delay in enforcement allows the city to accomplish its ends despite the coastal act?”
Other public comments pointed to violations of the U.S. Constitution for prohibiting the rights of assembly, free speech, and the right to exercise religion. All are prevented by the City curfew at night. Complaints against selective enforcement, (discrimination), and unwarranted arrests abounded. One speaker pointed out that staff was suppressing evidence of over 1000 “open cases” from the Commission. That term is used by staff to disguise violations. Another concern was that the Executive Director was engaging in misconduct by refusing to place the known violation on the agenda.
Lester stated it would be impossible to enforce the Coastal Act by bringing all cases to the Commission for action, which includes the curfew violation. Contradicting his boss, Deputy Director Ainsworth described an exchange of letters “back and forth which were quite acrimonious and nasty.” He finally declared to the satisfaction of the Commissioners and people that if progress towards a Coastal Development is not made that, “we will move forward with enforcement action.”
Currently, the City may arrest, fine, and jail anyone who goes to their beach after 10pm.
Burke characterized the City’s resistance to the Coastal Act as being caused by a war between Councilman Rosendahl and the Coastal Commission because the Commission denied the parking regulation that was enforced by the City.
He indicated that Ainsworth should be talking to the decision maker, the full City Council, rather than only speaking to Councilman Rosendahl, the City Attorney, and the Parks Department. Only the full Council could make the decision to apply for the necessary Coastal Development Permit, Ainsworth responded.
Commission Staff have kept this violation away from the public and Coastal Commission since 2008. Finally, after relentless pressure by Venice residents, the Agency may soon stop the City from enforcing the archaic curfew. By passing the ordinance, the City Council believed it could override the California Coastal Act, the State, and Federal Constitutions in order to appease a handful of people who have beachfront homes. The ordinance clearly favors those few individuals at the expense of everyone else. On behalf of those homeowners, Rosendahl and the City are clearly putting the cross-hairs on impoverished persons who are exercising their right to beach access 24/7.