Town Hall: Venetians Say No to Bollards and Cameras

By Greta Cobar

Town Halls are held for those in charge to listen to the public. If anyone was listening during the October 29 Town Hall on Ocean Front Walk safety, what was to be heard was NO to bollards, NO to security cameras, YES to bathroom upkeep. Those were the only things being re-iterated over and over again.

Bollards are posts or structures used to obstruct the passage of motor vehicles. Although cars drive down OFW almost on a daily basis for deliveries, emergencies, or because they’re lost, obstructing vehicles off of OFW became a concept after Alice Gruppioni was killed August 3 by a maniac who drove onto OFW with the purpose of hitting pedestrians. Although the driver could have entered OFW from a number of streets open to vehicles, such as Rose, he pre-meditated and entered through Dudley, which is blocked off by permanent metal bollards. He got around those by driving on the sidewalk.

The question now is: will they go ahead with the planned bollards, gates and cameras in spite of community opposition?

Upon gazing at the crowd of over 100 that had gathered for the meeting, I out loud wondered who were the out-of-Venice-looking group of four women dressed up and sitting together. I didn’t know everybody in that room, but I could tell that all were from Venice just as easily as I could tell that those four women were not from Venice.

They turned out to be architecture students from USC (University of Spoiled Children) who were attending the meeting to present their plan of bollards, planters and gates to be installed on OFW.

As Dede Audet stated to cheers and claps during public comment, “One thing about Venice: ask the people!”

The ridiculousness of the USC students’ proposal was pointed out by several speakers during public comment: Who is going to water the plants that you’re planning to put in the planters? Living here and being all too familiar with how the city of Los Angeles ignores Venice, we know those plants would not last till the end of the weekend.

“Bollards did not stop the guy [who killed Alice Gruppioni on August 3]”, Theresa Dietlein said. “Bollards are not the answer. Cameras are not either, what happened to innocent till proven guilty?” she went on to say.

Barbara Peck pointed out that gates and bollards would block evacuation in case of a tsunami. Ira Kuslow stated the obvious: “you can’t stop a maniac. They’re gonna do what they’re gonna do.” Another obvious fact that he pointed out was that blocking side-streets would increase traffic on OFW, as trash, delivery and emergency vehicles would not be able to enter and exit on the closest street available.

One of the most effective speakers of the night was Suzanne Thompson, who wanted to know whom she was supposed to be addressing and why Rob Kadota, from Mar Vista, was chairing the meeting. And why the community was not involved, why the Venice Arts Council was not consulted, but only USC students’ plan was considered. The audience overwhelmingly agreed with her that money needs to be spent on bathrooms instead of bollards.

The installation of bollards alone would cost $1,200,000. Gates, planters and cameras were proposed as well. The question that came up over and over again was: where is this money coming from when all we have heard for as long as we can remember is that there is no money for toilet paper. “We need bathrooms, not bollards,” said Lisa Aycock.

“It wasn’t the car that killed the woman, it was the person driving the car,” said Barbara Gibson.

“Our public safety issue is the LAPD. They have not changed at all since the 80s and 90s. They just cover their asses better,” a gentleman said.

Our new councilperson Mike Bonin did one thing in Venice since taking office: he installed useless plastic bollards on OFW and side streets that started out as an eye-sore and have since become a tripping hazards, as many have been broken off. How plastic bollards that flatten to the ground when a car touches them would have stopped the driver on August 3 is very unclear.

While speaking at the Town Hall meeting, Bonin himself admitted that his bollards “are not most effective.” He also said that he wants to make the beach better than it is by holistically managing it. Aha….

“I did not feel threatened, but I did not feel comfortable,” Bonin told the audience about his experience walking down OFW at 9pm. I wondered if having to badly use the bathroom was making him feel uncomfortable.

The proposal submitted by the USC students will go before a Venice Neighborhood Council Board vote, and will then be considered and amended by committees and sub-committees of the City Council.

The August 3 incident was horrific and unfortunate, but blocking and fencing off OFW as a result would be an extreme reaction. Ironically, we have been told over and over again through the years that streets cannot be blocked off for festivals and community gatherings. Did that change overnight?

In light of the latest government spying scandals at home and aboard, the last thing we want are more police surveillance cameras on OFW. Let’s not allow the authorities to use the August 3 incident as an excuse to increase surveillance over Venice.

We have spoken our hears and minds out loud and clear during the October Town Hall: no bollards, no cameras, yes toilet paper. Now we’ll just have to wait and see if anyone was actually listening.