FORBES.com on Venice Beach Boardwalk Rules: an ever-more-clownish government is failing to do its first duty — provide basic security and the rule of law — while instead dreaming up more economic restrictions. [Zuma Dogg Mentioned In FORBES article on L.A. City's VENICE BEACH BOARDWALK MESS OF A JOKE!]
California Crackup: LA's Strange New Attack On Capitalism
Just south of Santa Monica inLos Angeles, Venice Beach is a haven for snake-charmers, fortune-tellers, chainsaw jugglers, and a variety of admitted freaks, weirdos, drifters and bums. It’s where Jim Morrison met Ray Manzarek and began dreaming up The Doors. A few years later an immigrant gym rat named Arnold Schwarzenegger began his unlikely American career pumping iron nearby.
At some point Venice Beach’s colorful zaniness became its own tourist attraction, and today millions of outsiders come just to soak up some funky. To serve them, along the boardwalk a variety of craftsmen, musicians, performance artists and political activists sell their trinkets and services.
In southern California’s most notorious hippie haven, though, one thing that can’t be allowed to be free is the marketplace.
The patchouli brigades have been at war with an invading legion of salesmen hawking, in the coveted 205 spaces on the west side of the boardwalk, such mass-produced items as sunglasses and T-shirts. To lay claim to the valuable retail slots, vendors began hiring transients to squat on them overnight. Vendors who could not afford to pay this minimal level of quasi-rent were at a disadvantage.
In other words: Those who were selling products people actually wanted to buy were pushing out those who weren’t. Viva the marketplace.
In an act of protectionism billed as preservation of the bohemian, hippie and freak-friendly nature of Venice Beach — you might call it the real Freakonomics — the L.A. City Council repeatedly passed ordinances designed to promote its favored, artsy vendors over the disgustingly commercial. At present it is illegal to sell on the boardwalk anything that isn’t an artistic or expressive item. Specifically included are leaflets, pamphlets, bumper stickers, buttons, art created by the sellers, books, audio, video, paintings, photographs and sculptures. The scourge of sunglasses sales has been defeated, for now.
As is usual in cases where the state becomes an uninvited third party in a simple business transaction, the real purpose of the government action is to benefit an existing special interest. The government doesn’t really care whether the vendors are hawking Chinese-made plastic doodads or lovingly lopsided crafts projects. Its concern is to protect the established businesses on the east side of the boardwalk, where retailers sell the same kinds of mass-produced junk that the newcomers have been trying to sell on the boardwalk.
Venice Beach’s legacy retailers don’t like the downward pressure on prices provided by nimble low-cost competitors. They’d much rather look across the boardwalk and see a non-threatening gallery of weirdos such as the guy who these days stands on the boardwalk with a sign that says, “Kick me in the [private parts] for $10.” Having been deemed to be communicating something or other, he apparently is safe in his slot.
Several previous similar ordinances were struck down by federal courts (in at least one case siding with a suit brought by a local gadfly who calls himself Zuma Dogg) but the latest one presents problems too. For instance, how is the untrained eye to tell whether a politically-themed button or necklace was made by the seller? In recent crackdowns the local constabulary has leaped into action to peruse boardwalk merchandise and play the guessing game Who Made It?
You may be wondering whether this is a wise use of police resources. Perhaps the police department is overstaffed and bored, having solved all other crime problems in the area? Not really. Police are often lax about enforcing existing laws against sleeping in public spaces, and the city is home to encampments of transients (some of whom appear to look on vagrancy as a calling, styling themselves “homeless activists” and keeping computers and cell phones on them). Walking too close to these encampments at night is ill-advised. This month a 21-year-old, six- months-pregnant prostitute and her partner, who lived in a tent in an encampment, were charged with beating up a passing couple with their fists and a skateboard.
Police have responded to a disturbing number of thefts of iPods and iPhones in Venice Beach by issuing an official communique telling residents it isn’t safe to wear earplugs or use their gadgets in public. Because you’re just asking for trouble if you leave the house with anything of value. Maybe the LAPD is distracted by the excitement of its golf tournament, in which it has offered boosters a chance to participate for $135, with the proceeds to benefit the cops.
Venice Beach has had a circus-like atmosphere from its earliest days, and so it’s fitting that an ever-more-clownish government is failing to do its first duty — provide basic security and the rule of law — while instead dreaming up more economic restrictions. A wag once said that California is “America, only more so.” American government’s blithe lack of interest in the basics, and its mission creep into ever more-absurd micro-tinkering with the economy, continue.