Barbara Peck - Activist

The term "homeless in Venice" is used to refer to people living in RV's, cars, or the beach. Decorated in pink camo fatigues, Barbara Peck refers to herself as a soldier of peace. She has been an advocate of the Venice "homeless" since the 1980's, establishing Tent City, a makeshift shelter set up directly on the beach. She organizes the Benefit Bus, a mobile soup kitchen, and Peck's latest cause is to preserve free speech on the Venice Boardwalk believing that performers and musicians that once prevailed have been pushed out by flea market-like vendors and commercial goods.

Thirty-One Days of Extraordinary Women - A celebration of Women's History Month by highlighting women of Departures.
Tent City
"Tent City was what I call a "happening", the kinda thing that used to happen in the sixties. You didn't expect it to happen in the eighties. In 1987 I came to Venice to meet with Ted Hayes, homeless activist from downtown Los Angeles. We ended up doing tent city on the beach down at the Rose Avenue end of the boardwalk."
The Boardwalk
"Your average first amendment person such as an artist or performer, are not actually aggressive people. They are willing to work with each other, there was always a system out here where you'd let someone in if they needed a space."
The Benefit Bus
"We were able to cook and serve food for the homeless from the bus as well as house some homeless."
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The Boardwalk (Ocean Front Walk) is only about ten yards wide and the buildings along it are about half store fronts and about half dwellings. It was never designed to be an amusement park like Disneyland, it was just a walkway along the beach. It's situated only about forty yards from a densely packed residential neighborhood with severely limited parking available for residents and visitors. The homes are closer to the Ocean Front Walk than is the parking lot for Disneyland. Currently, there are a few hundred people in a community of tens of thousands who base their livings upon attracting tourists to the Ocean Front Walk and keep associating the tourism on Venice Beach to the tourism at Disneyland, while ignoring the obvious problems of establishing a Disneyland like attraction in the middle of a long standing residential neighborhood. These promoters seem to be really well connected because their vision of Venice Beach as an old fun zone rather than as an old neighborhood seems to get all the press.

When I moved into Venice in 1973 the Boardwalk was almost all just a walk way next to the beach like any other along the coast. Most of the vending was by anybody who wanted to sell stuff, mostly clothes and sunglasses and post cards but some artists, too. People sold things to get by, artists and musicians who were trying to get some money pay the rent. There were petty thieves who tried to steal people's bikes when they were riding them. There were crimes against people on the beach at night. Amongst the residents there were a lot of party goers and counter-culture types, and there was a lot of low lifes who stole from their neighbors but mostly it was just another neighborhood in Los Angeles where people came to sleep and have a place to hang their hats. Over time, buskers and performers became more regular, mostly in the 1980's, drawing tourists, but it was just some places not the entire stretch of the Ocean Front Walk as it is today. By the mid-1990's the relatively quite walk was pretty busy and gaining a reputation as a big tourist attraction. At a certain point, the room ran out for all who wanted to use the area and the City was forced to implement regulations to allow everyone a chance to enjoy the Ocean Front Walk. Some people might share but it only takes a few who consider the area their territory and who try to keep others away to create a problem for the City. So the City was obliged to regulate.

But the problems from all of these activities intruding upon residents in the neighborhoods have become a real impediment to the quality of life in these neighborhoods, especially from the longer and more frequent musical performances outside. So, many of the residents in the adjacent neighborhood have complained. All attempts to have the City enforce the existing noise ordinances from these performances has resulted in the City refusing to do anything for fear of civil suits by attorneys claiming free speech provides the musicians with license to violate those ordinances. Meanwhile, the promoters accuse the complaining residents of being clueless new residents, or greedy land developers, or intolerant people. Ironically, businesses along the Boardwalk have forced the musicians to move simply by filing restraining orders -- money speaks in Venice.

The Boardwalk (Ocean Front Walk) is not managed by the City to have it fit where it is located, it's allowed it to become a place to act badly, despite all the hype about it.