The End of the Venice Beach Curfew?

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An end to nightly curfews on Venice Beach?

Plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles praised the City Council’s vote on Friday, June 30 to apply for a permit from the California Coastal Commission for its beach curfew and said it could lead to an end of the nightly closures.

The lawsuit was brought by two Venice Beach activists and challenges Los Angeles’ 28-year-old overnight beach curfew, saying it does not conform with the California Coastal Act, which requires the city to get permission for the closures.

The vote directs the Department of Recreation and Parks to seek a coastal development permit from the California Coastal Commission for the closures, although the motion specifically states the move does not mean the city believes it is required to do so.

“The city asserts that it is not legally required to obtain a CDP. Other cities in California have defended this right by applying to the CCC for a CDP under a ‘reservation of rights,’ pursuant to which the cities assert that a CDP is not required,” the motion states.

The plaintiffs called the vote a victory for their side.

“It has taken almost eight years but finally the city has gotten the peoples’ message and is following the law,” said Francesca De La Rosa, one of the lawsuit’s plaintiffs. “Today’s vote validates what we have fought so hard to protect, ensuring our public beaches remain open and accessible for all of L.A. to enjoy.”

The city’s ordinance closing the beaches every night from midnight until 5:00 a.m. makes it illegal for local residents and tourists to fish, surf, walk, stargaze, or otherwise access the beach, according to the lawsuit. In 2014, the city issued 1,265 citations in the Pacific Division area alone for violations of the law, the suit states.

On June 8, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Susan Bryant-Deason handed the plaintiffs a favorable ruling that sparked the City Council action when she granted their motion to dismiss the city’s defense that enforcement of the curfew was not the type of “development” that requires Coastal Commission approval.

The judge agreed with the plaintiffs’ attorneys that the law was a development because it amounted to a change in the intensity of the use of the land by limiting access to the water nightly from midnight to 5:00 a.m. on the city’s 11 miles of coastline. “Your curfew blocks off the entire beach,” Bryant-Deason told Deputy City Attorney Sara Ugaz. The judge further told Ugaz that while as a hard-working lawyer she may be in bed by 9:00 p.m., “there may be others who want to watch the moon move across the sky.”

Lawyers for the city have argued the ordinance is needed to limit vandalism and crime on the beach, and that the curfew is exempt from the permit provisions of the Coastal Act. They also say the lawsuit should have been brought within three years of the curfew’s 1988 enactment. The complaint was brought in December 2015.

Plaintiffs’ attorney Shayla Myers said citizens are permitted to bring lawsuits requesting injunctions against laws that they believe violated the Coastal Act.

“The Coastal Act and the Coastal Development Permit process are critical checks on a city’s power to limit public access to the coastline,” said Myers, an attorney with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, who represents Jataun Valentine, one of the plaintiffs.

“Beaches are important public spaces, and the right to coastal access matters to everyone in our state, not just to people who live in houses along the beach. The City Council’s decision today ensures the beach closure will be subject to public debate and discussion, and the public’s right to access will be considered by the Coastal Commission,” said Myers.