May 16, 2022 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

City Council Scrutinizes Street Performers in Santa Monica:

Street performers relationship with City of Santa Monica is a dynamic push and pull affair with officials trying to balance needs of business owners, residents, and tourists, while still embracing one of the most unique attractions the city has to offer.

City Council heard points from all sides at its Oct. 26 meeting in an effort to modify a strictly regulated system for the many street performers who, depending on who’s looking, create a charming atmosphere or the source of major public safety concerns. Currently regulations are thick, but a usual pitfall that comes with many ordinances in the city, enforcement is lack.

Street performance is subject to a permit requirement, costing applicants $39 a year to appear at the Third Street Promenade, the Pier, and the Transit Mall. This is mandatory only when those very popular, relatively small, and physically constrained spaces are subject to crowding, according a staff reports, which is a majority of the time. Performers are allotted a two-hour slot to perform.

Safety Personnel documented crowds as large as 10,000 persons per block on the Promenade creating hoards in the tourist locale. The 540-feet length of seaward Pier also is restricted with crowds, except it is without any exits. The Transit Mall – the dense downtown area east side of Ocean Avenue west of Fifth Street, around Santa Monica Boulevard and Broadway – is narrow, bounded by walls forcing by-standers to crowd out toward busy streets to watch performers.

In the last few years, council made revisions to the street performer regulations after considering public input from the community, according to the staff report. When last making revisions, 91 performers submitted a petition requesting that the City maintain its permitting system for the Promenade, Pier, and Transit Mall because the system ensures “equitable sharing” of limited public space.

Noise is a main concern for street performers, creating sound wars between artists while businesses and residents in the area suffering the collateral damage.

“Amplified performers are the most in your face and one of the concerns is that if your are in a business and the doors are closed, and if you can’t carry on a conversation, it is simply too loud,” said Kathleen Rawson, CEO of Bayside District, a management corporation for downtown. She went on to explain that a growing complaint of residents and business owners – some with triple-paned windows – cannot enjoy the inside of the building with being barraged with the performers’ cacophony. She said they are trying to address a problem that will value street performers as well as make downtown “livable.”

Overcrowding and blocked circulation are major issues for the council, whose members expressed fears the in case of an emergency that people will not be able to quickly and safely exit areas. Council member Gleam Davis agreed that the City would be blamed if these areas are not properly regulated and then tragedy hits. In terms of noise, Davis said “enforcement is key” to reduce decibel violations, but how such enforcement would work is still remain abstractly undefined.

Police officers must stand a foot away from an audio amplifier in order to get a noise reading, explained a department representative. Taxing a strained police force to regulate street performers is not ideal. The law also currently states any paraphernalia used by performers must be small enough to pick up and move.

Some noise regulation needs to be more relaxed, not tightened, said Council member Kevin McKeown. He worried that acoustic performers would be negatively impacted by decibel restrictions, punishing the wrong type of performer. With the Promenade only 80 feet across, he said amplifiers do not need to be at maximum output to entice an audience.

Street performers need to be valued for what they contribute, McKeown said, without which the Promenade and Pier would not be the same.

The newest level of ordinance aims to make distinctions between street performers, which are encouraged, and street vending, which is heavily monitored. Under the current system anyone who “performs” or “creates visual art” has the ability to sell items they created in conjunction with the performance. The definition of performers can include juggling, singing, playing instruments, and acting. The definition of a visual artist is also loosely defined, encompassing everything from digital sketches to finger-painting on glass.

Street performance laws do prohibit “performing” for a charge. City staff questioned in their report whether restrictions on the many “actors” listed for the permits should be able to stop certain performers charging to have their pictures taken. Many of these “actors” merely dress in costume as action figures or movie characters. Some of the Hollywood Boulevard character actors moved to Santa Monica in the wake of enforcement actions taken by the City of Los Angeles, the report said.

Staff and police cautioned the dais against the possibility of sex offenders that could hide behind masked costumes while attracting children. Police Department personnel asked to prohibit wearing masks and to require a criminal history with permit application. The Pier Restoration Corporation management also asked for the costumed characters to be prohibited from working at the entrance to the Pier.

Davis said as a parent she was “appalled” that predators could use such methods and called for regulation. The Attorney’s Office is researching these issues, but there is limited authority to ban masks. Evidence needs to be demonstrated for any ban to be universally applied.

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