Ocean Front Walk: Vending or Free Speech

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By Greta Cobar

As expected and predicted, enforcement of the new Ocean Front Walk (OFW) ordinance regarding vending is starting to dwindle and become selective. While most vendors selling mass-produced, for resale merchandise on OFW were banned at the beginning of the year, when the new ordinance took effect, its enforcement is becoming less and less stringent.

The usual “lack of resources” prerogative is used to excuse police officers from doing their job, especially on sunny, warm weekends. More and more re-sale merchandise is being allowed to pop back up.

It’s interesting to see who sets up to sell or perform on different days of the week and in different types of weather. Currently on a nice, warm Sunday about 15 percent of spaces are taken by vendors re-selling merchandise, which is in violation of the ordinance. Because it is so crowded and it involves doing so much work, the police officers do nothing about it.

During the week, on an over-cast day, most spots are empty and only the local, true artists who live day-to-day are out there trying to make a dime and a dinner. It is at these times that police officers have been messing with the artists and issuing bogus tickets.

For example, at 5pm on Monday, April 23, more than half of the spots on OFW were empty. The weather was bad, and there were hardly any tourists around. Not a whole lot of business was going on. So why did the officers ticket a local artist for occupying more than one spot, when there were so many empty ones? And why were vendors allowed to re-sell merchandise the previous day, sunny and warm Sunday?

While Venetians were opposed to the ordinance’s prohibition of jewelry and its inferred provision allowing police officers to decide what is or not to be considered art, we got stuck with both of the above. The higher-ups assured us that things will be considered on an individual basis, but police officers used their discretion to target painstakingly hand-made objects on another gloomy weekday afternoon instead of targeting re-sale on a busy, crowded day.

For example, an artist who hand-makes beads out of paper and then assembles them by using fishing line into things like little bags, water bottle carriers or bracelets got a ticket stating that she is selling things with more than a “nominal” value or utility.

 

The public was told by the downtown representatives at the many community meetings regarding the ordinance that such hand-made objects would be allowed on OFW. We were assured that the purpose of the ordinance was to rid OFW of the re-sale of mass-produced merchandise while making space available for articles truly hand-made. The current situation on OFW does not reflect these promises.

As summer approaches and competition becomes even more fierce, it is just a matter of time before the police officers throw their arms up in the air and declare the vending situation out of control and give up on enforcement altogether. After all that is what happened to the previous five ordinances as well.    

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