A Day at the Beach with the Coastal Board

By Jim Smith

The California Coastal Commission began discussing Venice permit parking around 4 pm, after hours of hearing testimony from Venetians who overwhelmingly opposed the scheme.

At first, I had trouble comprehending that the “square” looking Mark Stone was saying that he would oppose the recommendation from their staff to support Overnight Parking Districts (OPDs). Then another Commissioner joined him in opposition, then another. The room began to sway and tilt. I couldn’t tell if it was the “big one” or a cataclysmic political event that was rocking my world. The woman next to me dug her fingers (talons?) into my shoulder, as if she would otherwise fly off into space.

I suddenly snapped out of my delusions when Richard Bloom, formerly a Santa Monica City Councilmember, began to propose a compromise. He made a substitute motion that there would be six months of enforcement of an oversized vehicle ordinance after which the city would have to come back to the Coastal Commission if it wanted to institute permit parking. I thought, “please no, not another hearing.” But to my surprise, the other Commissioners weren’t going for it. Several mentioned that the city had provided no evidence that there was a problem with access that needed regulation to fix. No one had come forward to say they couldn’t get to the beach because of the RVs, they observed. There had been no parking study, as Steve Clare and others had been telling them for hours.

Rumor has it that Bill Rosendahl put Bloom up to making the “compromise” motion when he (Bill) saw that things were not going his way. In any case, Bloom’s attempt to torpedo the rejection of the OPDs failed as five Commissioners voted against it and only four voted for it. Back to the main motion to reject the tremendous pressure asserted by everyone from the state legislature to the city of L.A., Mark Ryavec aka Venice Stakeholders Association, the Pacific Legal Foundation, and miscellaneous homeless haters.

In the end, six of the Commissioners found the courage to stand up for access for all, including those who can only afford to live in recreational vehicles. The motion was defeated six votes to three. The courageous ones who voted against it were Sara Wan, Ross MirkarimiMark W. StoneEsther Sanchez and Bonnie Neely. All those voting against OPDs were appointed by either the State Senate or Assembly, except Neely, who was appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Neely was the third vote in favor of Bloom’s substitute motion which would have allowed OPDs after six months. Those voting in favor of the staff recommendation for OPDs were all appointees of the Governor, except Bloom, who was appointed by the State Senate.

At the hearing, I witnessed my fellow Venetians rising to the occasion, and speaking more articulately and more brilliantly than I had ever heard them before. So many came and spoke. Some ditched work to be there. Those living in RVs risked exposure to the police who were watching and listening. We must make sure there is no retribution visited upon them for exercising their constitutional rights.

Many of them pointed out that nothing had changed since last year when the Coastal Commission overwhelmingly (9-1) voted this down. Others told the Commissioners that people were being arrested for being on the beach at night, just the opposite of access. Steve Clare explained why permit parking in Santa Monica doesn’t restrict access, while it would in Venice. Santa Monica has 5,500 parking places in beach lots, while Venice has only 1,727. At the same time, Santa Monica hosts three million beachgoers, while Venice is inundated with approximately 16 million per year.

There was the battle of the petitions. Mark Ryavec, who filed the lawsuit that kept OPDs alive, said he had signature of 441 Venice residents. A search of the petition on his Venice Stakeholders website showed that at least half were anonymous or name withheld. Karen Wolfe told the Commissioners that Venice Action, a group that opposes OPDs but supports an oversized vehicle ordinance, had collected 547 signatures. They were unfurled as she spoke. Peggy Lee Kennedy won the petition contest with 900 handwritten signatures and 300 online signatures against OPDs which were collected by the Venice Justice Committee and the Venice Town Council. She also said that her public records request turned up on 51 signatures in all of Venice from people requesting permit parking, and some of them were bogus.

The LAPD also got into the act with Captain Jon Peters saying that OPDs would be another tool in the police’s tool belt in fighting crime. He said that the current law that vehicles must move within 72 hours was not a good tool in their tool box because drivers can simply move a few feet. He was flanked while he spoke by officers Theresa Skinner and Peggy Thusing. All three wore their work uniforms and accessories.

Conservationist and former Beachhead Collectivist John Davis pointed out the irony of the police arresting and incarcerating people for coming to the beach at night when the coastal act is clearly in favor of access. Jack Ainsworth, the South Coast Deputy Director for the Commission responded that he completely agreed with Davis (then added “on this matter”). He said the staff was preparing a memo to city planning directors telling them that prohibiting access to the beach at night is not legal.

Several residents of the North Beach area, including Frank Lutz, Colleen Saro, Eloise Kong and Debra Gavlak, told the Commissioners that their parking problems would become worse if the OPD plan took away their overnight parking lot at Rose Avenue and Main Street. By putting in overnight meters, their parking costs could go from none to $700/month. This would force even more people to park on the streets which are already filled with cars.

Perhaps the speaker most appreciated by those opposing OPDs was Ruth Galanter. She showed how a city councilmember could be on the side of her constituents. While she is no longer in office, many expressed their wish that she was. She said in part,    “These are public streets. There is already a 72-hour law. The city doesn’t have the staff to administer parking permits. People won’t be able to come and visit.” She asked the Commissioners to “protect the ability of visitors to come to the coastal zone.”

Another speaker who was well known to the Commissioners was Pam Emerson, a retired staff member of the Coastal Commission. She told the Commissioners that OPDs were clearly a restriction of public access. She said, “In the 1950s, my family bought a Spartan trailer. At that time, trailer people were not considered upstanding citizens. I appreciate the life people live in RVs. I hope you will protect their rights.”

Also using history to good effect was Winola Smith. She told the Commissioners about her uncle, Irwin Tabor, who was Abbot Kinney’s driver. Kinney willed his house to Tabor, but when he died, Tabor had to move the house because Blacks weren’t allowed to live in that section of Venice (on the Circle). Smith asked, “So why are RVs being discriminated against all over again? These people need help. They could be anyone, your family or your friends.”

Other opponents of OPDs who gave a good accounting of themselves at the podium, included Juan Alcolar, Eden Andes, Lisa Aycock, Jim Bickhart, David Busch, Diane Butler, Ibrahim Butler, David Ewing, Mary Getlein, Ethel Gillette, Lisa Green, Ivonne Guzmán, Terry Hendrickson, Sue Kaplan, Mark Lipman, Susan Millmann Chris Plourde, Dana Schumacher, Jim Smith, Demetrius Tahmin, Mike Suhd, Linda Patterson, Holly Moser, Jataun Valentine, Patty Warivonchik, Lois Webb, Emily Winters and Joshua Xi.

The few speaking in favor of OPDs generally talked about their distaste for those living in vehicles. They included Lois Brower, Stewart Oscars, Michael Lamb, Shelly Burger, Phil Raider, Barbara Gibson and Marie Hammond.

Assistant city attorney Valerie Flores did a good job in distorting the facts of the city’s OPD case. She was apparently drafted to present the misrepresentations by her boss, Carmen “Nuch” Trutanich, who did not show up. Councilmember Bill Rosendahl, who seems intent on squandering the good will of Venetians on his adamant pursuit of OPDs, did not speak. He sat quietly for most of the hearing with Mark Ryavec as Venetians paraded to the microphone to denounce permit parking, and in some cases to denounce Ryavec and Rosendahl. The councilperson departed before the vote was taken. During a break, I asked him if he was getting an earful today. He responded that this was democracy in action. Yes, democracy can be a dangerous thing, as when Hamas won the Palestinian elections, and closer to home, anti-OPD candidates won most of the contested seats in the Venice Neighborhood Council, last April.

Rosendahl ultimately rejected the wishes of Venetians. In a written statement the next day, he (or ghost writer Arturo Piña) said: “I am very disappointed that the California Coastal Commission rejected a settlement proposal that would have given residents of Venice the same ability to regulate street parking as every other community on the California coast.” Yeah, right. It seems that the Coastal Commission is denying us the right to charge ourselves for pay parking and more tickets every time we turn around. Oh, the suffering Venetians!

Likewise, Mark Ryavec quotes himself on the Venice Stakeholders website saying the Coastal Commission action to deny OPDs was a “bait and switch” trick. “Our only recourse is to remove overnight parking in Venice from this arrogant body’s jurisdiction by renewing our litigation,” Ryavec said.

Sour grapes notwithstanding, most of those who attended the hearing were jubilant at snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. In an age when politicians and their appointees usually have little or no backbone, the Commissioners showed that they would stand up for the people of California, no matter what powerful forces were aligned against them. In this case, they had to say no to the city of Los Angeles, the Pacific Legal Foundation, many of Venice’s landlords, real estate speculators and gentrifiers, not to mention distorted reporting in the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere.

Clearly those intent on driving the poor out of Venice will not give up. They will not say they are sorry for all the bad and untrue things they have said about those down on their luck. They will not try to work with the desperate and deprived. They will not even try to work with Peggy Lee Kennedy – who we all owe a debt of gratitude to for her unstinting determination and courage in spearheading this human rights struggle. It will take many more defeats like those of June 10, 2010 and June 11, 2009 before they finally learn that Venice is not Manhattan Beach and never will be.