By Ian Lovett
On June 11, the California Coastal Commission voted 9-1, with one abstention, to reject a proposal to institute Overnight Parking Districts in Venice between the hours of 2-6 am. The vote came at the end of a five-hour public hearing, which featured testimony from the LAPD, City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, and hundreds of Venice residents.
At the end of the public testimony, Commissioner Mary Shallenberger said, “As an individual, I find it heart-wrenching, but unfortunately as a commissioner I have to look only through the lens of coastal protection.” Her voice wavered. “We’re being asked to balance between the homeless and the parking needs of residents, and that’s not our job.” She then proposed a ‘No’ vote to reject the proposal, explaining that the plan would render the beach “exclusively for Venice residents between the hours of 2-5 or 2-6am, and that is not consistent with the coastal act,” which is designed to ensure access to the coast for all.
Commissioner Ross Mirkarimi agreed. “This does become an exclusionary act, invariably,” he said. “I foresee that this is going to continue to be a problem over the next three to five years unless we get a new politics.”
And Commissioner Dave Potter offered, “What’s a problem in some areas is actually part of the fabric of your community.”
The hearing began at 8am at the Marina Del Rey Hotel, in a sterilized-looking white room. A hundred chairs, each draped in a red satin cover, were faced towards the front, where the Coastal Commissioners sat, while another hundred filled an adjoining room, where people signed pink slips for the right to testify.
A mix of Venice residents populated the hall, ranging from businessmen in full three-piece suits to some of the homeless who permit parking would affect most. ‘Hatman,’ as some of the other vendors on the boardwalk refer to him, made himself conspicuous. He wasn’t wearing his trademark sombrero, but a leather headband, onto which he’d attached his Styrofoam sign: ‘Dollhouse Dude.’ He strolled the aisles, offering up signs that read, ‘NOPD: No Overnight Parking Districts in Venice.” Some shushed him, others took signs. Eventually, he sat back down in the front row, legs crossed, faced back towards the crowd—we were his audience.
The hearing began with some official testimony—first the Coastal Commission staff, then LA Department of Transportation, the LAPD, and finally City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, all speaking in support of the proposal.
“We spend 80% of our time in that community dealing with motor homes,” said Teresa Skinner, LAPD Senior Lead Officer west of Lincoln Blvd. “This would be another tool to use to relieve some of our police time.” She had no pretenses—the primary goal of this permit-parking proposal was to purge the community of mobile homes, plain and simple.
Before the public testimony even began, it was clear how the two sides of the debate had lined up. On the right side of the room, almost everyone held an NOPD sign. Hisses emerged from this side when Rosendahl got up to speak, whereas, across the aisle, clapping greeted his endorsement of permit parking, though blue signs dotted that side as well.
Those speaking against permit parking outnumbered those speaking in favor two or three to one, a ratio several of the OPD supporters tried to explain, claiming to be there on behalf of neighbors who were at work, implying that the RV-dwellers and other opponents of permit parking could attend because they didn’t have jobs. “We have endured endless meetings,” said one supporter of permit parking. There was shouting and screaming and those of us who were in support of the permit were out shouted, so I oppose the idea that we were in the minority.” In the crowd, a row behind me, a man had written, “I work too,” on his NOPD sign.
As the commissioners acknowledged at the end of the hearing, little of the testimony had much to do with coastal access. OPD supporters mainly detailed the nuisance of living alongside mobile homes, claiming they took up all the parking spots, and dumped sewage and trash into the street.
OPD opponents, meanwhile, appealed mostly on humanitarian grounds. Kelly Young, who herself lives in an RV, made one of many very personal appeals. “We don’t have a choice,” she said. “I don’t know what else to do if you guys tell me I can’t exist between the hours of 2 and 5 am.” Emily Winters echoed, “We don’t want this in our back yard? Yes we do. We need to take care of these people.”
As the hearing went on, the room grew hotter, and began to smell of sweat, as people fanned themselves with their NOPD signs. Because the commissioners had asked the crowd to withhold clapping, people waved the signs vigorously after testimony they supported. And when hired pro-OPD attorney, Sherman Stacy, asked for five minutes to speak—instead of the allotted two, because he represented the Stakeholders Association, the right side of the room shouted, “No,” almost in unison, while the left side responded, “Yes, yes.” The chairman denied Stacy’s request.
Hatman brought a garbage bag full of goodies, from which he pulled a seemingly endless supply of clothes. Every several minutes he would be sporting a totally new outfit—maybe red pajama pants with white hearts, and the blue NOPD sign fastened to his headband. He topped this outfit off with a grated metal trashcan over his head, and got up to walk the aisle again. The guy next to me—a large man in short blue shorts taking up a seat and a half—learned over and whispered, “I think they put him here to ruin the reputation of homeless people.” Others laughed, and behind me one woman said, “I love Venice.”
When it came time for him to speak, though, he did so in all seriousness. “My name is Juan Alcolar,” he said. “I’m one of the colorful characters out there on Venice beach by choice, and I have seen how this society beats down on someone who loses their home.”
The man next to me leaned over again. “He gives the best speech of all,” he said.
Only when the public testimony had ended, and Shallenberger recommended the ‘No’ vote did the crowd settle down. Many OPD opponents came to the hearing with little hope of defeating the proposal.
Some, in their testimony, appealed to the Commission to take more time to examine the proposal and do a comprehensive study of the parking situation. Another said she thought approval was a “foregone conclusion.” But after Shallenberger spoke the room hushed, its stuffy air full of tension.
Once the 9-1 vote became final, that tension exploded into joyous clapping and hugging on the right side of the room. The commissioners invited the city to come back with another proposal. For now, though, the fabric of the community has been preserved as it is, RVs, colorful characters, and all.