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Breaking Up the Party on the Boardwalk : Venice: Hammer-wielding residents allegedly smash picnic tables they say are used for raucous late-night meeting sites.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Fed up with nightly drug dealing, gang fights, arguments among homeless people and bursts of loud music centered around picnic tables on the boardwalk, several Venice residents allegedly donned masks and hoods early Sunday, set a watch for the police and then sledgehammered the four tables to bits--to the reported applause of watching residents.

“I would call this positive vandalism,” said one Venice resident who asked not to be named. “I’m a Buddhist, and there’s a principle in the (Buddhist) law that you can break the law if there’s a greater law.”

The marble and concrete tables at Westminster Avenue and Ocean Front Walk had become a focal point of hostility because of the noise coming from the popular late-night meeting place.

Residents routinely complained to police, and during the day, a heavy police presence kept order in the area. But at night, chaos reigned, some residents say.

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Certainly, chaos is what greeted merchant Phil Saren on Sunday morning when he went to open his business, Phil’s Cafe.

“I was just shocked when I saw it, it’s such a mess,” Saren said. “Vandalism is always a bad idea, but I understood this is quite a problem for the locals--even though it was a good thing for the merchants.

“But this was not just ordinary vandalism,” Saren said. “Those were concrete tables and it took quite some energy. This was done out of anger. The pressure was building up and the anger was building up. You can tell.”

The Venice resident who asked not to be named detailed the destruction:

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“When I got home last night, someone came over to me and told me that if I heard noise coming from that area not to call the police, that they were going to sledgehammer the tables.”

“One came and watched for a police car. They all had ski masks and hoods on and huge sledgehammers, and they attacked the tables,” he said. “After they were well demolished, 80 or 90 people at different windows were applauding.”

Pacific Division police considered the table-smashing to be almost a non-incident and had to hunt through their logs for details.

“All we have are three to four benches and tables between 2 and 3 o’clock this morning were smashed, we’ve been told by witnesses,” said spokesman Don Cox, who confirmed reports of drug sales and nightly noise in the area.

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“Somebody told somebody else that there were three intoxicated male Caucasians out there. Parks and (Recreation) showed up this morning and found the things destroyed,” Cox said. The tables are city property, worth about $1,200 each, he said.

To boardwalk merchants and regulars, however, the tables were anything but insignificant. For merchants, they were encouragement for boardwalk strollers to grab a slice of pizza and sit down in front of their businesses.

To some of the artists and entertainers--Tarot card readers, jugglers, acrobats, musicians and other sidewalk performers--they represented a threat to their livelihood, gobbling up space that could be used to entertain the tourists.

For residents, however, they could be a headache.

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“I think the Westminster situation is unique because you don’t notice anyone going out and destroying the tables at Market (Street, a different location),” said Mark Ryavec, executive director of the Venice Boardwalk Assn. “It seems that Westminster is a local thoroughfare of illegal drug sales and people are just fed up.”

Drug dealing was a problem at the same site years ago, when pagoda-roofed wooden shelters attracted gang members, Ryavec said. The drug problem moved on when a frustrated resident rammed them with a truck and destroyed them.

“Once these picnic tables went back in, it re-created the problem,” Ryavec said. “I certainly don’t condone or accept that as a reasonable solution to the problem of late-night noise, but if it was residents--and I don’t know who did it--you can understand their motivation. It’s really chaos there.”

Drug dealing and noise are only part of the problem in the area.

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Fighting between black and Latino gangs in the Oakwood section of Venice has claimed 17 lives and left at least 55 people wounded in the last 11 months.

In early June, two Latino students at Dorsey High School in Southwest Los Angeles were killed in a drive-by shooting near Venice High School by assailants described as black.


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