By Michael Linder
“Best fledgling democracy this side of Baghdad” quipped a resident after his first voting encounter with the 5 year-old Venice Neighborhood Council. “We’ve got long lines, confusing ballots, screaming matches. Now, someone’s taking the uncounted ballots home for the night. We’ve got everything but purple ink on our fingers.”
No sectarian violence either as stakeholders turned out in record numbers Saturday, approving initiatives that would expel the motorized homeless from their ‘hood. Voters refused to overturn an earlier neighborhood council endorsement of overnight permit parking districts.
Some Venetians said they were driven solely by parking frustrations and reluctant to impact the already hard-hit homeless. Still, the measures they approved would drive homeless vehicle-dwellers from Venice streets under threat of heavy fines — without offering parking alternatives. Voters also affirmed the rights of residents to set parking restrictions for individual blocks.
Voting Results – Initiative A: 868 NO; 634 YES; 9 ABSTAIN
Text: To Fairly Represent Venice, the Venice Neighborhood Council (VNC) Must Rescind any VNC Board Approval of Overnight Parking Districts in Venice and Transmit a Letter Stating Such to the Los Angeles City Council Office, the Bureau of Engineering, the Department of Transportation, and the California Coastal Commission.
Initiative B: 891 YES; 608 NO; 13 ABSTAIN
Text: Venice Stakeholders re-affirm that Venice residents have the same democratic right as other L.A. residents to establish, by 2/3rds petition signatures, OPDs for their blocks to preserve parking for residents and for night-time security, and call upon the VNC to communicate affirmation of this right to pertinent governmental bodies.
Lines of voters stretched for blocks on three sides of the Los Angeles Public Library’s Venice branch for much of the afternoon, some waiting 90 minutes or longer to weigh in on the issue.
Council president Mike Newhouse defended the narrow three-hour voting window that began at 12:30 p.m. saying it created a low-impact day that encouraged volunteer participation. Volunteers we spoke with, however, said they were fully prepared to stay as long as necessary. Some said they had earlier urged the council to lengthen the voting. Critics dismissed the vote as flawed, failing to accommodate absentees and working Venetians.
Many voters said they were flummoxed by the wording of the initiatives. “Nearly half looked at the ballot and wanted to know what the referendums meant,” said one volunteer. “The way the issues were written was really hard to figure. I had no choice but to tell voters that we were not permitted by law to explain anything. I’m not sure how many knew what they were voting for.”
Then came a ballot shortage followed by an emergency Xerox run to print more. At 3:30 p.m., voters were no longer allowed to join the still blocks-long line. But as voting dragged on, prospects for a same-day tally looked doubtful. The council descended into apparent hysteria as it debated its options. President Mike Newhouse was nowhere to be found.
“They were screaming at each other!” said an eyewitness. “They were saying, ‘Take the ballots home uncounted? You can’t do that!’ It got very angry. There were threats — people wanting to throw others out, people threatening to call the police. It was bad.”
Ultimately, the council acquiesced to member Ivan Spiegel’s suggestion that completed ballots spend the night in signed, sealed boxes at a council member’s home. Blank ballots would be sent home with a second member. Sunday morning, three boxes each containing some 500 completed ballots arrived at council headquarters still wrapped in tape with signatures intact. Results were tallied, certified and released late Sunday afternoon.
So who will control parking on Venice’s parking-poor streets? If these referendums stick, it’s folks able to pay for permits for themselves, visitors and guests. Apart from the homeless, the issue has also pitted block against block, neighbor against neighbor, in a battle over preferential parking.
Those living on Venice’s walk streets and Boardwalk are pissed at having been disqualified from any say on where they might find street parking. Permits along Pacific Avenue, for instance, will likely be sold to those whose residences front the street, not to those living on adjacent walk streets.
For City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, the sale of permits and visitor passes along with fines generated by the new parking rules mean a new source of revenue for City Hall, fees that “may soon go up” according to L.A.’s Department of Engineering which says the yearly tab will more than double:
• Resident Permit (3 max per dwelling) $34/each, per year
• Visitor Pass (2 max) $67.50/each, per year
• One-use Guest Pass $2.50/each
Bottom line: A residence with three permitted vehicles and two visitor passes buys 50 one-time guest permits over the course of 12 months. That’s $338 for on-street parking the year. Rosendahl, who has spent his first term monetizing virtually every available parking spot in Venice, successfully urged L.A.’s Bureau of Engineering to dismiss more than 100 appeals filed by Venice residents challenging OPD approval.
And the homeless? Rosendahl talks vaguely of parking zones in industrial and sparsely populated areas, though no such facilities exist now or are planned for the foreseeable future. Currently up for reelection, Rosendahl seems unlikely to side with homeless over homeowners on this emotional issue, especially residents claiming syringes, urine and feces are routinely dumped in their yards by the vehicular homeless. (None have yet offered proof of the alleged points and poo.)
In-vehicle living is illegal in L.A., though difficult to to enforce effectively despite accounts of cops rousting the sleeping homeless. Overnight parking zones would require homeless RVs, vans and cars to leave Venice streets — by 2am each morning or face stiff fines — an anywhere-but-here solution.
Regardless of voters’ individual motives, Saturday’s vote was a wake-up call for a neighborhood council ill-prepared to handle large scale elections and community involvement. Some Venetians are calling for a new vote, though Saturday’s balloting is largely symbolic.
The final decision will be made by the California Coastal Commission following hearings in Marina Del Rey in March. CCC has for decades rejected permit parking in Venice, fearful of limiting beach access by the general public. Inside observers feel that position is unlikely to change.
All of this has had me looking into L.A.’s past for historical perspective.
What do you suppose Ma Joad might think of the campaign to boot homeless car and RV-dwellers out of Los Angeles neighborhoods?
After all, the matriarch of John Steinbeck’s 1939 novel The Grapes of Wrath knew a thing or two about hard times, and how foreclosure — then and now — can force a family into a life on the streets in a rolling, run-down wreck like the Joads’ old Hudson truck.
Ma might say not much has changed in 70 years for folks struggling to find a home and steady job. In 1936, 136 LAPD officers were dispatched to sixteen locations along California’s borders where they erected legally-questionable “bum blockades” and shooed away homeless dustbowl Okies — anywhere but here.
What’s so different today? Chasing away the homeless is no longer a pricey law enforcement budget item. Now, the City of Los Angeles has figured out how to turn homeless-rousting into a municipal profit center. That’s progress for ya.