“The history here is of free speech, not selling all kinds of nonsense. You’d have people fighting for spots and undercutting the people who play by the rules and pay taxes in their space.”

January 11th, 2012

So California wants to clamp down on people selling trinkets (so-called utilitarian objects) at places like Venice Beach, but not people selling art.

And for almost as long, artists have set up tables to sell their wares. But last year, after a federal court dismissed a city ordinance as unconstitutional, the number of vendors hawking mass-produced items like T-shirts and costume jewelry grew rapidly. Soon, local people said, it was impossible to see the ocean from what is officially called Ocean Front Walk.

A new ordinance that goes into effect on Jan. 20 is intended to forbid only those who are selling items that could be considered to have utilitarian value — that means art is allowed but T-shirts are not. Mr. Rosendahl said that several city and First Amendment lawyers have assured him that the law will stand up in court.

“Who gets to decide what art is?” asked Emry Daley, who has sold Rastafarian gear from his native Jamaica for nearly five years. He pointed to the wooden pipes and leather bracelets that he said he had made. “Nobody can get this anywhere but here. This is something special. We sell things that inspire people.”

First Amendment? Really?