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City Council Report: Street Performers at Pier, Promenade, And Transit Mall Must Have Permits

Tuesday night’s regular City Council meeting found nearly 20 residents, performers and key officials asking the Council to maintain its current permitting practice for street performers at the Third Street Promenade, the Santa Monica Pier, and the Transit Mall.

The process of permitting for street performers came under fire in June,  when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the city of Seattle’s performance permit requirement violated the first amendment. In that case, Seattle v. Berger, a street performer challenged the rules for street performers in the 80-acre Seattle Center, home to the Space Needle, museums, and shops. The case sparked interest in Santa Monica’s street performing permit requirement, thus staff is asking the Council to study the permit system and determine if it needs modifications.

Several Santa Monica Street performers said the permitting system works well, and that they would be hesitant to perform if there were not regulations regarding the amount of space between performers and mitigations on noise levels, both of which are outlined during the permitting process.

Also giving testimony at the meeting were Ben Franz-Knight, head of the Pier Restoration Corporation, and Bill Tucker, Chair of the Bayside District Corporation, both of whom said eliminating the permit requirement for street performers on the Pier and at the Promenade would create a significant public safety hazard. Three performers spoke in favor of eliminating the permits on the basis of unconstitutionality.

The City Council voted unanimously to keep the current permitting system in place at the Pier, Third Street Promenade and the Transit Mall, but they asked staff to examine the possibility of lifting the restrictions at other open spaces throughout the city, where it would not pose a safety issue to accommodate unpermitted street performers. The Council mainly talked about ingress and egress at the Pier and Promenade in the event of an emergency, and the fact that the expansive Seattle Center is a vastly different piece of property than the Pier, Promenade and Transit Mall. They agreed that Seattle and Santa Monica are different cities with different needs and the “one-size-fits-all” rule should not apply in determining safety standards.

Additional agenda items included a proclamation declaring October 2009 Disabilities Awareness Month in the City of Santa Monica, and the second reading and adoption of an ordinance establishing a new marathon route segment in Santa Monica.

The Council also unanimously adopted an ordinance amending city code to allow fortunetelling as a permitted use on Ocean Front Walk within the RVC District and on Lincoln and Santa Monica Boulevard. The Council also approved unanimously an ordinance related to the number and type of driveways required for parking lots and structures with more than 40 spaces, hazardous visual obstruction mitigations, allowable number of parking maneuvers, parking access in all districts, and garage door width in the front one-half of parcels. On a vote of  5-1,they approved a request from the Santa Monica Pier Restoration Corporation to consider extending the interim use of 1680 Main Street for temporary parking for a period of six to twelve months starting January 15, 2010.

The next meeting will be held on Tuesday, October 27 at 5:45pm.

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