For a city looking to court the tourist dollar, this coastal community isn't exactly rolling out the welcome mat these days.
With as many as 1,000 Hells Angels set to thunder into town Monday, city officials put dozens of downtown parking spaces off limits to motorcycles Wednesday--prompting immediate protests from merchants hoping to profit from the club's convergence.
Authorities say the move is aimed at keeping the roadways safe as Hells Angels from around the world roar into Ventura in celebration of the club's 50th anniversary.
But many downtown merchants viewed the new no parking rule as a cheap shot against the motorcycle club and a blow to efforts to boost the city's flagging tourist trade.
"This is so, so Ventura," said Caffe Bella owner Beth Keenen, who joined a handful of downtown merchants in filing formal complaints against the new no parking rule.
Red and white signs started popping up along Main and California streets early Wednesday, threatening that any motorcycle illegally parked in one of the newly restricted slots would be hauled away.
"We are welcoming the Hells Angels to town. We need the business," Keenen said. "We need some adventure and excitement. Downtown has been dead for so long, this could be exactly what it needs."
Already, downtown streets are rumbling with the roar of souped-up choppers.
In fact, dozens of Angels from as far away as Denmark and Norway have descended on this seaside city as part of the club's World Run, which starts Saturday in San Bernardino and culminates in Ventura.
San Bernardino is the city where the Hells Angels established their first chapter 50 years ago. But officials there aren't making any special preparations for the Angels' arrival over the weekend.
"I don't even think we knew about it," said Melanie Hastings, secretary to Mayor Judith Valles. "I don't think it's like it was back in the 1960s. It's not like they're dragging away women and children."
After they have finished celebrating in San Bernardino, riders will make their way Monday to Ventura, where local Hells Angels will host a private St. Patrick's Day party at a downtown nightclub.
With so many motorcycles thundering into town, Ventura police officials have said they will beef up patrols during the Angels' three-day stay. But authorities insist that the new parking rules aren't meant in any way to harass the bikers or drive them out of town.
Rather, police say parking in angled stalls has become harder for motorcycle riders because downtown renovations reduced the size of those slots. Because bikers back into those stalls, they are forced to go against traffic when they leave, creating a potential hazard, police say.
With up to 1,000 motorcycles expected, officials say they decided to put the downtown stalls off limits to avoid traffic snarls. At the same time, they have designated two parking lots in the downtown area for use by the motorcycle club.
"There is no taking without giving," said Ventura Police Cpl. John Turner, adding that it still remains to be seen whether the signs become a permanent fixture in the downtown core.
"It isn't every day we get this many motorcyclists popping into town," Turner said. "We are dealing with the numbers, not the individuals."
But the merchants aren't convinced.
"They're just overreacting to the whole situation, and I just think they're going to create problems," said Natalie Siman of Natalie's Fine Threads. "Merchants are looking forward to them coming downtown. They like to show off their bikes, and that will draw people downtown. [City officials] act like the Ku Klux Klan is coming to our city."
George Christie Jr., president of the Ventura Hells Angels chapter, said local police are trying to make a point by restricting motorcycle parking in the downtown area. But he said that won't keep the Angels from coming to town.
"What we want to do is have a good time," Christie said. "I think the police should treat it like any other event held in town."