On a recent morning, strolling to a convenient Starbucks, I took a route around the back side of the Costco/Albertson Compound (which actually lies on a strange little tract of land Venice apparently annexed to Culver City). Along the way, I spotted this kind of rickshaw-wagon bicycle parked on the side of the road. It was filled with food and blankets, a lot of stuff I couldn’t see in the dark, with a baby guitar strapped to the top. There was a man asleep inside. A hand scrawled sign hung on the back of the pedal powered mobile home, “Do Not Disturb.”
Though present all over Venice, Ocean Front Walk is a particular haven for the homeless. Why not? It is beautiful; and, the constant flow of tourists give them some prime scavenging territory at the very least. Even for the Boardwalk, however, the transient population has become rather dense in the last couple of years.
Because of a lack of regulation several problems have cropped up along the Boardwalk that the City and Community feel the need to address. Typical to Venice, there are a lot of strong opinions and a lot of disagreement. For the time being, the City will be enforcing two new regulations along Ocean Front Walk. Both laws impact the homeless community, with one targeting them directly.
The first regulation addresses the West Side of Ocean Front Walk and is specifically written to curb commercial vending. It regulates what goods may be sold in the numbered spots, where all the temporary vendors set up each day. The law has been written so that people may only sell certain, primarily self-produced, goods, i.e. art that they have created themselves.
As we learned from the fiasco a few years ago on Wallstreet, a little regulation can be a very good thing. Councilman Rosendahl pointed out that it is certainly unfair to the permanent vendors on the East Side of Ocean Front Walk (who pay taxes), to have their business negatively impacted by people who don’t play by the same rules. Of course, the fighting among homeless and transients (who are often paid to hold spaces for vendors) has to stop. I have witnessed those arguments. They can be vicious and easily turn to physical violence. Finally, I don’t want a Venice Beach that is known for endless prints of Marilyn Monroe in gangsta gear and T-shirts with Charlie Sheen flipping us all off. If this is an artists’ community, then what we represent to the outside world needs to reflect that.
The down side, of course, marginally surviving people who are the go-betweens for posters, clothes – and whatever else comes in from outside – are pushed even farther down the food chain. There is an incense guy who has been a staple there for over twenty years. Under the new rules, he’s out. Then, you have jewelry makers – much working in a style from their native countries – despite concerns raised, they are out.
The regulations aren’t perfect. They never are. We have to ask ourselves, what happens to all those people who just lost their livelihood?
The second regulation recently coming into enforcement has caused an even bigger stir. The City of LA is calling on a law, which has long been on the books, that defines not only Venice Beach (the actual beach), but Ocean Front Walk, as a park. Therefore, it can be closed at midnight and people cited and arrested for curfew violations.
Due to the perpetually unruly Boardwalk, many residents welcome the enforcement. On the other hand, there are questions about whether or not residents may use their front doors when they are coming home late; if folks walking from bars to home, can use the somewhat well lit Ocean Front Walk, or, will be forced to skulk down Speedway, a dark, narrow alley. All that, I assume will get resolved.
The larger issue is how these new regulations, these big changes, really jibe with the long enduring Spirit of Free Venice, an idea which may be on the decline. The die-hards are dwindling in number and are an aging demographic. It is not to say they don’t have power and are not yet quite vocal and significant. But what is the Spirit of Free Venice in this day and age?
Many young professionals of Venice – even some of the artists – seem a different breed. An entertainment industry attitude has permeated certain parts of the community. There are some things that are more about the “scene” than the art. The seediness is much less tolerated than it has been in past decades. New Venetians seem to want things a little more sanitized, nicer for their families and visiting friends. Google’s presence will only reinforce that.
A community’s fear from recent shootings and increasing night-time violence aids the City in seizing an opportunity. Crime is bad for all of us, that is true. Crime is bad for tourist bucks, as is too much of an unsavory element. We are seeing an open effort to eliminate the transient population that springs up in blanket villages all along the Boardwalk every night. These hut towns are comprised of the local, perpetual homeless along with young men and women who are passing through, or are poor and stuck and have nowhere else to go. In the mornings, guitar music and pot smoke wafts from each “camp” whether made up of young or old. Many of these mini-tribes include a pooch or two.
With an increase in the homeless population, there is an increase in the number of mentally ill and people who have serious health problems. Because of other common aspects of Boardwalk culture, drug abuse pervades. Though most of the transients are essentially harmless, a few are a danger to themselves and others. But, if kicked off Ocean Front Walk, where are these people going to go?
If you are not already aware of this, Venice Beach has, so long been a neighborhood known for both the number and tolerance of its homeless, that it was the subject of a South Park parody. When all the homeless started showing up in South Park, it was because they had been kicked out of Venice Beach. When I first moved here, I was struck by how many homeless people lived in the park by the library.
I also used to be amazed at how many campers were parked all over Venice. Five years ago, I would ride my bike around the neighborhood, early on Saturday mornings, and spot old run down RV after old run down RV. After a little while, I got used to it. More than once, I made conversation with a friendly face inside; though, I confess some camper folk seemed a little scary and I crossed streets to avoid them.
Now, you hardly see campers at all. Parking for them is strictly regulated. Even though the rules were not changed without a fight, too many people got tired of the sight of the dilapidated recreational vehicles turned homes and the resulting parking issues.
So, we got rid of our campers. Now, we get rid of our homeless. We run off young transients and hustlers and bums. We get rid of our flea market vendors. We preserve artistic integrity along the West Side of the Boardwalk and support the tax paying merchants on the East Side. We keep tourists and locals safe.
All goes as planned. Shops are doing well. Artists sell a little more art. It’s a little cleaner. Crime goes down. Property values go up. We have more money for schools and well maintained streets. There’s a little rougher part of Venice to the north, bordered by Rose, Oakwood and California. Some poorer folks up there start getting property taxed out of their homes as more developments move in…
In these tough times, we all have to look at that underbelly and be honest about what it is. Of course, we have to save the beast. Even though it may be unrealistic, how do we all make it through?
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