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Busking It

Busking It



Chances are that by the time you read
this, Emily Reilly, who was vice mayor
this past year, will have already been
voted in as the next mayor of Santa Cruz.
Acknowledging last week that she is the
odds-on favorite for the job, Reilly added,
“But I’m not making any assumptions. I’d
like to give it a shot, and I’m as ready to
do it as I’ll ever be. But I can tell you one
thing: There will not be a fight about it.”
If Reilly is mayor, one of her first tasks
will be to shepherd the Case of the
Unresolved Downtown Ordinances to a
workable resolutiona task best likened
to herding feral cats.
Not helping Reilly any is the fact that in
the same week that the U.S. Senate
passed the Homeland Security Bill, she
and Ed Porter revealed that they were
considering ID badges for street
performers, a notion that has said
performers on the warpath (hey, they’ve
got the drums for it, that’s for sure).
Confused by the ID issue -- police stats
suggest street performers account for
only 5 percent of complaints -- Nüz called
Reilly to find out the thinking behind all
“Badges or permits could be a way to
exempt performers from restrictions,” said
Reilly, adding that, “the reason for the
downtown ordinances at all is the few
people downtown who aren’t gracious,
who have no manners. We felt the
ordinances would give the police a tool
that they could use when people aren’t
being respectful.”
Recalling how bubble man Tom Noddy
created a set of voluntary street
performers’ guidelines in the 1980s -- an
act that dissuaded a relieved council from
passing a drumming ordinance -- Reilly
said, “If that would happen again, that
would be one thing, but Tom emailing
suggestions from Germany is frustrating.
We need a leader to step forward. Ed
[Porter] and I have spent a lot of time on
this, but I don’t mind saying, ‘This isn’t
working’, and taking the heat. But I don’t
want to throw the baby out with the bath
water. It’s perfectly understandable that
the street performers are individualistic,
but I think we can find a way to work
together with them and give the police
something to use when we need them
But Bookshop Santa Cruz owner Neal
Connerty questions the legality of any
agreements that exempt some groups
from an otherwise blanket policy, such as
the ordinances.
“In trying to exempt street performers
and political tablers, but not panhandlers,
from the ordinances, you quickly run into
problems of whether this is
constitutional. All this is a big grey area,
and maybe an attorney could argue the
case, but the 14-foot restriction only
leaves performers a sliver of space,” he
said, suggesting instead that the city
rescind the new 14-foot ordinances, and
return to the 10-foot rules, which were
passed in 1994, when he himself was on
the then City Council.
As for dealing with performers, Connerty
recommends that merchants “go out, and
throw a buck in their guitar case, or
whatever, and then ask them a favor. A
lot of business owners want to stay
behind their windows and call the police.
But the real problem isn’t the performers
but gangs, violence, drugs and
While he acknowledges that the problem
with the voluntary street performers’
guidelines is their voluntariness - “not
everybody complies, the downtown hosts
don’t always have a copy, and sometimes
there is disagreement over their
interpretation” - Coonerty still feels these
problems could be resolved through
stakeholder input.
He and Reilly may get their wish.
A bunch of local street performers,
headed by Coleen Douglas, have
expressed interest in forming a Buskers’
Guild to provide conflict resolution,
develop a set of guidelines with input
from all stakeholders and serve as a
lobbying group. Interested? Email
cdouglas (at)

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