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Commission OKs relaxed rules for S.C. street musicians

Commission OKs relaxed rules for S.C. street musicians


December 3, 2002
Sentinel staff writer

An advisory board wants the City Council to roll back new downtown
rules that could erase many spots where street musicians play for
The Downtown Commission, in a 5-2 vote Monday, recommended
making street buskers exempt from space restrictions that the City
Council passed in July. Those restrictions drafted after many
complaints about crowding, drug dealers and harassment were
mostly aimed at aggressive panhandlers.
Among the new rules: banning Hacky Sack, increasing police
discretion to confiscate loose possessions that block sidewalks, and
space restrictions keeping panhandlers 14 feet from store fronts,
kiosks and crosswalks.
Originally, street musicians would have been subject to the same
increased space restrictions. But the street acts raised such an
outcry this summer that the City Council decided to exempt them
from the stepped-up space rules at least until mid-January.
In the meantime, the City Council asked its Downtown Commission to
work out a solution to the “unintended consequences” of its newly
minted rules.
But previous suggestions hit the wall, including a set of “exemption
zones” that met with angry resistance from merchants. Later, a
proposed musician’s permit and ID-card system led to an outcry from
street performers.
The Downtown Commission’s majority is not asking that the City
Council throw out its new downtown rules.
It is specifically targeting the “display” aspects of those rules that
affect spaces for musicians. The group wants the city to make
musicians subject to more lenient space restrictions dating back to
1994, when the City Council voted to set 6- to 10-foot restrictions
on panhandlers and money-seeking street acts.
Coleen Douglas, who is helping to organize a busker’s guild for street
performers, said the commission’s recommendation “makes sense for
street performers. There are a lot of problems with enforcement, and
(musicians) feeling like they have a boot on their neck.”
Kathy Bisbee of the Downtown Commission said the group majority
wants to give musicians a chance to work out problems, through the
guild and conflict mediation, involving merchants and other parties.
She said that if self- determination doesn’t work, the city could go
back to the 14-foot setback. But Bisbee said street musicians cause
few problems downtown.
Thomas Mantle of the Downtown Commission voted against the
recommendation. He said he supported the idea of musicians working
out their own problems. But he wanted more of a guarantee that
musicians would be subject to the increased space restrictions if the
guild, and conflict mediation, don’t work.
Mike Jackson, general manager of Borders Books, said he was puzzled
by the Downtown Commission’s recommendation. Jackson said rolling
back aspects of the downtown rules makes it “a little more of a
free-for-all.” He said more lenient space rules could cause problems if
musicians decide to be uncooperative.
Bookshop Santa Cruz owner Neal Coonerty supports the Downtown
Commission’s recommendation for more lenient space restrictions on
street acts. But Coonerty said the city would be wise to also roll back
its latest space restrictions on panhandlers to 1994 levels, to avoid
singling out one group for First Amendment protection.
Contact Dan White at dwhite (at)

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