It would have been like taking the steel out of Pittsburgh or the bleached blondes out of Hollywood, so the wheeled enthusiasts of Venice moved quickly when it looked like the city suddenly was preparing to enforce a virtually unknown ban on roller-skating and skateboarding in Venice.
They got results. The Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday overwhelmingly voted to repeal the 10-year-old ban along Ocean Front Walk.
The four proponents in the audience who favored the repeal, two of them wearing skates, smiled as they left the City Council chamber. Among the four were “Skateboard Mama” Liz Bevington, who carried her board, and legendary roller-skating street musician Harry Perry.
“Roller-skating is the most effective way of walking,” said Perry, who appeared at the council chamber replete with his trademark turban, sun visor, shin guards and hockey-style roller skates. “It’s the walking of tomorrow.”
Councilwoman Ruth Galanter told the council she wanted to save a little bit of Venice that had made the place famous.
She told her colleagues, “It’s unfair to enforce a law no one was ever told about.”
She reminded her colleagues of something that everyone at Venice Beach knows: The ban has been ignored by skaters and police alike.
The only reason the ban surfaced was that city Department of Transportation workers, in a routine replacement of worn and missing signs, had posted warnings two weeks ago that wheeled activity was forbidden on Ocean Front Walk.
The existence of the ban “surprised everybody,” said Galanter, who then researched the issue and discovered that skating and skateboarding had been outlawed on most of the beachfront walk since 1979. Bicyclists have their own path.
But as the Venice ban was being removed, a potentially greater obstacle to skaters was emerging.
The Department of Transportation is pushing for an ordinance giving transportation officials the power to ban skateboarding and roller-skating in “problem areas” without seeking City Council approval.
The department last week asked Transportation Board commissioners to endorse such a proposed ordinance after bridge inspectors reported that expansion joints on bridges crossing the Los Angeles River could trap a skate wheel and send a skater flying.
Initially, the department was concerned with just two bridges, both in the San Fernando Valley, the Balboa Boulevard and Burbank Boulevard river overpasses, said senior transportation engineer James Okazaki.
“But with 400 bridges in the city,” Okazaki said, the department “thought we were doing everybody a favor” in seeking a blanket authority.
Otherwise, under state and city law, the department would need City Council permission each time it banned skating on a bridge or overpass.
Venice activist Jerry Rubin, who led the effort to repeal the Ocean Front Walk ban, said he would also oppose the Transportation Department effort.
“They’re the guys who made the mistake putting up the signs (in Venice) anyway,” said Rubin, who is not related to the nationally known activist of the same name.
Rubin, who does not skate, said he believes that such plans are part of a larger conspiracy to harass skaters, including proposals to cobblestone Ocean Front Walk.
Okazaki said, however, that even if the proposed ordinance was passed, the department would not use it in Venice.
“No, no, no. We’ve got enough to do,” he said.
The proposal is being studied by the commissioners and the city attorney.
The council’s 9-1 vote in lifting the Venice ban was counter to a trend in which communities around the Southland and across the nation are increasingly writing laws against roller sports.
In December, Glendale outlawed skateboards in the city’s business district and some city parks. The Los Angeles City Council approved an experimental ban on the boards in a four-block section of downtown San Pedro in November. Skaters are also banned along the shopping district in the Pacific Palisades and in cities from Clinton, N.J., to Palm Beach, Fla.
Flush with the Tuesday victory, guitar-wielding Perry said he is already looking forward to the next expansion of roller rights. Perry, who has been skating the boardwalk since 1976, said the next battle is to give skaters access to bike paths and ultimately, he told the council, to have an improved surface that would be more suitable for skating on Ocean Front Walk.