L.A. Votes To Limit Vendors On Venice Boardwalk

Street vendors peddling sunglasses, incense and handmade jewelry along the famous Venice Boardwalk are preparing for eviction. The Los Angeles City Council has voted to severely limit the amount of commercial selling that takes place at the tourist attraction. But removing the unregulated merchants could mean the loss of its bohemian draw.

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Street vendors peddling t-shirts and incense along the famous Venice boardwalk are about to get the boot. The Los Angeles City Council has voted to severely limit the number of people selling arts and crafts at the world famous tourist spot, but as Daniel Hajek reports, dropping those unregulated merchants could also mean losing its Bohemian draw.

DANIEL HAJEK, BYLINE: On the boardwalk, a tall man in a white robe on rollerblades plays his electric guitar. He passes near an elderly man dancing to a boom box in front of a tattoo parlor and crowds pass by acrobatic street performers on famed Muscle Beach.

Scott Smith(ph) sells jewelry from a card table on the west side of the walk.

SCOTT SMITH: It's like a circus, basically. Welcome to the circus with no elephants, but there is two-headed turtles right up there, if you want to go see.

HAJEK: The boardwalk is split between two groups. The beach shops along the east side who pay rent and taxes and artists and street vendors on the west side like Smith. They pay nothing to sell their items on blankets or under makeshift tents. For years, it's been a strained relationship between the two sides.

SMITH: There's not a big rivalry between those guys and over here, would you say?

HOWARD GIRARDIN: Oh, yeah, there is. Yes.

SMITH: Well, there is, but not that...

GIRARDIN: There is. If you knew how many of these people were actually at the meeting and spoke against us...

HAJEK: That's Smith's business partner, Howard Girardin. He's been homeless for most of his life and working this jewelry stand since he arrived in California.

GIRARDIN: I scraped pennies off the ground to start this business.

HAJEK: These street vendors rely on the first come, first serve policy to grab their small sliver on the boardwalk each morning.

SMITH: We sleep out here at night to make sure we get the spot, so that we can try to make a living.

HAJEK: On the opposite side of the jewelry stand is a sunglasses shop run by Borislav Alexandrov.

BORISLAV ALEXANDROV: There's been, like, literally fistfights. The vendors are actually kicking out the artists who are supposed to be here in the first place.

HAJEK: He says his side has to compete with the street vendors selling cheaper versions of the same products, but his main frustration is the violence he sees caused by the vendors vying for their space.

BILL ROSENDAHL: It's competing with people who are legitimate, who pay their taxes, who take care of their employees.

HAJEK: That's Los Angeles councilman Bill Rosendahl of the 11th District, where the boardwalk is located.

ROSENDAHL: And that kind of competition has created more chaos and then the violence associated with it - it's just awful.

HAJEK: Working closely with the Venice community and businesses, Rosendahl and his staff drafted Ordinance 4215. It restricts vending by evicting the unregulated merchants selling jewelry, clothing and incense on the west side of the boardwalk.

ROSENDAHL: This ordinance puts some order in place.

VANESSA CHAPMAN: The street vendors are kind of what makes Venice Beach so awesome.

HAJEK: Vanessa Chapman comes down to the boardwalk often. She lives just a block away and says this new ordinance will change the very character of the boardwalk.

CHAPMAN: I think otherwise it would just kind of be a strip mall of tourist souvenir shops.

HAJEK: With the ordinance in effect and the street vendors gone next month, the atmosphere of this place will change dramatically. The question is, will the transformed Venice Beach boardwalk live up to the expectations of its 16 million annual visitors?

For NPR News, I'm Daniel Hajek.

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