The unique ecosystem of birds and snakes in Palisades Park next to the entry of Santa Monica Pier is being endangered by a proposed ban on all wild and exotic pets from the Pier and its surroundings.
Santa Monica City Council will discuss an ordinance that would prohibit certain exotic and wild animals of snakes, reptiles, non-human primates and birds at the next meeting on Feb. 24.
Karen Ginsberg, director of Community and Cultural Services, and Pier Manager Rod Merl drafted the proposal after fielding an increasing number of complaints from residents and visitors regarding the exotic animals in parks, namely Palisades Park. The complaints range from public health and safety concerns to perceived inhumane treatment of the animals.
According to the City staff report, Santa Monica Police Department has responded to several incidents of injuries from these animal attractions, including injuries to children.
If adopted, the ordinance would prohibit all species of snakes, reptiles, non-human primates and birds from all City parks and sidewalks adjacent to the parks, beaches, Oceanfront Walk, the Pier and Pier ramp, Third Street Promenade, and Transit Mall.
James Patrick, 56, is one of the newer handlers at the Pier’s entrance. After holding one of the snakes for the first time about six months ago near the Pier entry, he joined the ragtag group of animal handlers on the corner of Colorado and Ocean Avenue.
“There’re the people who walk away or walk past quickly, I let them go…but most people will walk right up and want to hold the snake, and they’re harmless,” Patrick said while holding his two-year-old, 30-pound red-tailed boa constrictor, Prada.
For Patrick, a lifelong animal trainer and handler, holding Prada outside the Pier serves a greater purpose: animal education. According to Patrick, children are the most attracted and least afraid to hold his snake, often jumping at the chance to host Prada on their shoulders.
“When I started talking to [the handlers], they’re about educating the kids. It’s more about that,” Patrick said. Making money, he added, is just a bonus for him.
As for the recent reports of injuries, notably to children, Patrick understood the concern and admitted that during the crowded times, Palisades Park can look like a circus.
“Anytime you get a large group of people, there’s room for incidents,” Patrick said.
Patrick and the rest of the handlers have already begun a petition to combat the ordinance. They also oppose the language of “exotic and wild,” preferring the terms “domesticated” and “pets.”
The report also noted other cities that have adopted similar bans on animal acts in parks and beaches, including West Hollywood, Pasadena, Huntington Beach, Encinitas, and Newport Beach.
The Santa Monica Pier Corporation’s board and Recreation and Parks Commission have voted to support the proposed ordinance.