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Street performers not happy with council ‘compromise’

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Street performers not happy with council ‘compromise’

by Cassandra Brown

Earlier this month, the Santa Cruz City Council retooled rules that would have literally pushed street performers and political tablers to the fringes of downtown sidewalks. But what the council is calling a “compromise,” performers are calling unjust.
For decades, street performers have peacefully worked and collected tips on Pacific Avenue. They are an institution of Santa Cruz culture and a part of what makes the community creative and colorful. But lately street musicians find themselves caught up in a clash that is not their own. This summer’s fast slinging of ordinances dictating behavior in downtown Santa Cruz had some unintended consequences affecting musicians and performers.
An ordinance passed in July forbids display deviceswhich include anything used to collect money, from a hat to an open guitar casewithin 14 feet of a building, bench or a kiosk. That would have left street performers teetering on the curb or in the street. So last September, the City Council delayed enacting the ordinances and asked their all-volunteer Downtown Commission, which advises the city of downtown issues, to rectify the ill effects on street performers and political activists who set up tables downtown.
After months of marathon meetings and public hearings, the Downtown Commission presented their recommendations to the new City Council at its first meeting on Dec. 10. The Downtown Commission asked the council to rescind the 14-foot ordinance and go back to the original 1994 rules, which requires display devices to be set up at least six feet from storefronts. The commission also recommended that street performers be allowed to police themselves by using voluntary guidelines created by the Santa Cruz Busquers Guild, a newly formed street performer organization.
“Working to create the recommendations was a true example of democracy at work, so many people put their time into it,” says Bob Guzzley, a downtown commissioner. “We wanted to try at mediation.”
Mediation v. Legislation
However, in a surprise twist, the council disregarded the commission’s counsel. “The Downtown commissioners never got a discussion, they were discounted and the council went forward with legislation,” says Sherry Conable, who represents the organization People for a Free and Equal Downtown.
As a compromise between the new 14-foot rule and the old six-foot rule, Councilmember Cynthia Mathews suggested changing the ordinance so that display devices must be 10 feet from a storefront, a kiosk, or a bench. The council also included a “move-along” provision, which requires performers to relocate to different spots after an hour. A motion approving the first reading of an ordinance incorporating the 10-foot rule and the move-along provision passed 6-1. A second reading of the ordinance is scheduled on Jan. 14, and if passed, it will become law.
Some street musicians feel slighted by the proposed ordinance because they were never considered party to behavioral problems downtown, which gave rise to the original ordinance in July. Street performances were not finger-pointed in the rash of conflicts between street denizens, shoppers and merchants, which came to a head this summer. A few downtown business people have complained about loud or clashing music wafting in through their front doors. But the July ordinances, which included the 14-foot rule, sought to reign in unruly behavior of panhandlers, loiterers and Hackey Sack players, not street performances. Performers, however, would have been subject to the rules.
Moreover, some think that the City Council’s decision undercuts an enlightened attempt by the downtown community to work out its own problems through mediation. The commission’s recommendation, which the City Council snubbed, included a provision allowing street musicians to set up their own guidelines. It also called for conflicts that arise to be handled through the commission before calling in the police.
“The [City Council’s] decision short circuits the process of all the stake holders. The pay off [of using mediation and volunteer guidelines] is building community instead of ordinances,” says Angela Marie, a musician and member of the Busquers Guild. “The piece the councilmembers don’t understand is, they assume that after months of working with disparate groups who all have day jobs, that … we will still work together in goodwill.”
At the council meeting, Mathews dismissed the commission’s plan for self-regulation because it lacks enforceability.
Tom Noddy, better known as the Bubble Man, bemoans the city’s approach of slapping down new rules instead of letting folks work out their own problems. “If the city makes it clear that they would rather issue orders and enforce them with the police than to work out disputes as neighbors, I will not be helping.”
On the other hand, merchants seem generally pleased with the 10-foot rule. Candy Jackson, co-owner of Jackson Shoes on Pacific Avenue, says, “It generates a nice compromise between merchants, customers and street musicians. We had to find a balance.” Even though merchants never have been polled, Jackson says they often complain about street performers. Still, she says, “None of us want street musicians to go away. We have to find a way to cohabitate.”
Others insist that mediation, not more laws, is the path to successful cohabitation. Coleen Douglas, a facilitator and mediator, presented the idea of mediation to the council. She suggested a series of meetings between police, residents, government officials, merchants, downtown hosts and street performers.
“This [mediation] won’t happen if the council passes this ordinance,” Douglas says. “Mediation is an alternative to lawsit works.”
The City Council will hold the second reading on the downtown ordinances Jan. 14. To make your opinion known contact a councilmember at 420-5030


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Council Members should work more Democratically

It seems to me that the council members of Santa Cruz are not taking into account what is good for the citizens of Santa Cruz as a whole. Your article states that the merchants were never polled, and it doesn't sound as if the street performers had much say in the decision either. Even if the Council feels that they must pass legislation, they should still talk to all of the groups who would be affected by said legislation. This would make sure that the legislation works in the real world, instead of just looking good on paper. Also, if the street performers and merchants participate in the making of the legislation, they are far more likely to obey the legislation.


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