By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
The ratty campers are so far removed from the glory of Chevy Chase’s giant station wagon in the film National Lampoon’s Vacation as to seem a different species. They signify not the American Dream but the end of the line. Tattered, sad affairs, they line the streets in one of Los Angeles’ trendiest communities — Venice.
Residents sick of it all say the unsightliness is only part of their problem. They say that people who live in the vehicles dump urine and worse, and though some of the R.V.s are homes for the unfortunate and the mentally ill, others are being used primarily for drug dealing and prostitution.
June 11, at a California Coastal Commission meeting in Marina del Rey, City Councilman Bill Rosendahl and some residents hope to get the powerful commission’s nod to begin the process of creating districts in which only residents with special permits can leave their cars on the streets between 2 and 6 a.m.
The so-called “preferential-parking districts” would cost affected Venice residents at least $15 per car each year, as well as charges for residents’ car-driving visitors. The districts would range from just west of Lincoln Boulevard to the beach, and from Washington Boulevard at the north boundary of Marina del Rey, to Rose Avenue at the Santa Monica city limit. “I don’t love the idea of paying for parking,” says Colette Bailey, “[but] I’m tired of every other liberal in the Westside dumping all their problems on us. ... Put them in Brentwood for all I care.”
Local media have framed the move to get rid of the camper dwellers as the death of liberal Venice. In fact, the story is one of a much more fractured, thoughtful — and troubled — community.
Few are more symbolic of the conflicts than Benjamin Schonbrun, founding partner of Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris & Hoffman LLP, a respected civil rights firm. A particularly virulent group of alcoholic and drug-abusing homeless hang out adjacent to Schonbrun’s office on Venice’s Boardwalk. While one of his partners is against the Overnight Parking Districts (OPDs), Schonbrun has a different perspective.
“If the homeless merely cleaned up after themselves and did not urinate, defecate and leave their booze bottles, crack pipes and garbage at our front entrance and in our parking area each and every morning, perhaps I could empathize,” Schonbrun told L.A. Weekly in an e-mail. “The reality is that I clean up [their refuse] every single day.”
Local resident Bailey echoes this, saying, “I think there are people out there who genuinely need help — the mentally ill or people who are handicapped. I feel bad that they get lumped in with those people who think it’s just their right to live in a camper on the street, or drug dealers or drug users. No community should have to tolerate it.”
Rosendahl’s support of preferential parking as a tactic to force out the campers is a reversal for him. During his first campaign for office five years ago, he hoisted a poster of Bobby Kennedy over his desk and styled himself a fighter for the needy. But lately, some have seen him as an inveterate name-dropper who lacks the courage of his convictions.
“He loves to use inflammatory language to show that he’s the man of the people,” says Venice resident and television producer Chris Plourde, “then turns around and does exactly the opposite.” Plourde says Rosendahl is “just another politician.”
During his first term, Rosendahl stunned local residents when he circumvented public input and placed a controversial St. Joseph’s homeless center amidst Lincoln Boulevard businesses. Things got so heated that angry opponents warned residents to guard their daughters.
Chastened after getting slammed for his heavy-handed tactics on the homeless center, Rosendahl, when the campers became an issue, asked residents of Venice to help him. He suggested that residents aid City Hall in locating more appropriate “off-street” parking, where camper dwellers could congregate. His move badly backfired, prompting recall rumors. Rosendahl soon did a political pirouette, supporting preferential parking on a block-by-block basis — if 66 percent of those residents agree to what amounts to a neighborhood parking tax.
In his re-election campaign this year, Rosendahl equated the right to have special-permit parking with “civil rights.” He noted that because Venice residents live in the highly protected Coastal Zone of California, they must get approval for preferential parking zones not just from the Los Angeles City Council but from the California Coastal Commission — which has repeatedly denied preferential parking sought by other cities and communities in the Coastal Zone.
Preferential parking has “nothing to do with civil rights,” scoffs black third-generation Venice resident Laddie Williams, who recalls how the local Thrifty manager wouldn’t let her family eat at the counter when she was a child. Williams has enjoyed strong ties with Rosen-dahl but was “dumbfounded” at his attitude.
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