CALIFORNIA

Venice Beach council wants women to be able to sunbathe topless again

Venice Neighborhood Council votes to approve topless sunbathing for women; L.A. council would have to OK

Forty years ago, a cadre of Venice Beach sunbathers routinely basked in the altogether.

The Venice Neighborhood Council thinks the time is ripe to take a half-step back to that time of physical freedom. In a 12-2 vote Tuesday, the council said it "supports women being afforded the same rights as men to sunbathe topless."

The city and county of Los Angeles prohibit nude or topless sunbathing. But Melissa Diner, the Venice council community officer who sponsored the resolution,said the panel would draft letters to Councilman Mike Bonin, Mayor Eric Garcetti and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, which has jurisdiction over the beach, calling for Venice to be exempted.

"I think this is a serious equality issue, and I'm not going to shy away from it," Diner, 32, said Wednesday. The wave of publicity that instantly followed the decision had done exactly what she'd hoped: "start a conversation about not only wanting to show our nipples on Venice Beach but about what else people want to see."

"Venice Beach was founded and designed around the European culture of Venice, Italy," the neighborhood council said, "and … topless [sun]bathing is commonplace throughout Europe, much of the rest of the world and many places within the U.S."

"I'm all for it," Martin Squires, a surf instructor who lives in a van in a Venice Beach parking lot, said of the proposal. "It's time that America grew up."

Mike Fischer, a Venice resident strolling the beach with his 21/2-year-old son, Owen, criticized the idea of letting women sunbathe topless. "I believe in freedom," he said, "but it's not really appropriate for the general public. It would make the beaches a little uncomfortable."

Linda Lucks, president emeritus of the Venice Neighborhood Council, expressed dismay that the panel would spend time on a proposal that she said had no chance of being approved. "There are so many more important things to be concerned about in Venice," she said. "I want us to be taken seriously, and this makes us look foolish."

Venice's earlier flirtation with laissez-faire sunbathing ended soon after the non-nudist public took notice. News crews swarmed. Helicopters hovered. Lifeguards found themselves rescuing people with nothing material to grasp. Lascivious men in leisure suits showed up carrying cameras with telephoto lenses.

"It became a freak show," Jeffrey Stanton wrote in his book, "Venice California: Coney Island of the Pacific."

In 1974 the city outlawed displays of genitalia and female areolae in parks and at beaches, and the Venice nude beach ceased to be.

At his vendor station on Ocean Front Walk not far from Rose Avenue, Micah Boyer, 38, a homeless artist, said the new vote for topless bathing was "almost like they were trying to get a strip club on the beach instead of focusing on providing shelter, hot showers and meals" for people in need. He said police recently took him in on warrants for sleeping on the beach, and he spent six days in jail.

Mike Newhouse, president of the Venice Neighborhood Council, said he thought the vote was largely symbolic. "It's more of a statement about equality," he said, "and not so much a full-throated effort to make this happen come hell or high water."

Bonin, who represents Venice, sought to douse any suggestion that he would carry water for the topless-sunbathing advocates.

"While I appreciate the idea," he said, "right now my priorities for Venice are increasing public safety, housing the homeless and protecting affordable housing, reining in overdevelopment, enhancing mobility and improving the delivery of core city services."

martha.groves@latimes.com

Twitter: @MarthaGroves

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