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Santa Cruz gives final OK to space restrictions for street acts

Santa Cruz gives final OK to space restrictions for street acts


January 16, 2003
Sentinel staff writer

It sounded simple: Decide where downtown street buskers can stand
while plunking out tunes for quarters.
But in Santa Cruz, simple plans can get complicated, and the debate
about space limits for street acts shows no sign of abating. Several
activists told the City Council on Tuesday night that buskers are
innocent “dolphins, caught in the tuna net” of downtown behavior
rules. But the City Council approved space limits Tuesday that will
keep money-seeking buskers, and political tablers, 10 feet from
various spots, including kiosks and building fronts, starting next
month. They also will have to move spots after an hour.
Current setbacks range from 4 to 10 feet.
Frank “Morgani” Lima, the costumed accordionist and a crowd
favorite, said it’s silly to push musicians 14 or even 10 feet from
buildings because it directs sound into store fronts instead of crowds.
Pulling out a picture of a 1930s-era Santa Cruz street act with a
dancing dog, he said, “Can you imagine telling him to stop playing
because he’s 3 feet 4 inches from the wall ... and by the way, what
about your dancing dog?”
The three-hour session was subdued. Mayor Emily Reilly urged the
crowd to “summon our best behavior.” The only local color was
Morgani’s sparkling hat, a 10-foot pole held by protesters, and a few
half-hearted kazoo solos at the meeting’s end.
It was one of those meetings when everyone on the council and in
the crowd looked fed-up. Councilwoman Cynthia Mathews said city
staff can’t afford to spend much more time on the issue, and must
address other concerns like pending budget cuts of up to $2
million, possible layoffs and the state slashing funding to local
“We do not have a blank check of time here,” she said. “I wish people
would get real and not have this apocalyptic view of the council
declaring war on street musicians, which is simply not true.”
The council agreed to look at “exemption zones” next month or
areas where musicians could play regardless of space rules.
Council members said they want police to enforce the rules “at their
discretion” but not too tightly, so only disruptive or sidewalk-blocking
acts feel the heat.
That’s a shift from earlier this year when it urged cops to strictly
enforce all existing downtown ordinances.
Council members insisted they are trying to be accommodating, and
that musicians who aren’t seeking money can play most anywhere.
The activists were not mollified, and some said musicians already
deal with strict rules.
“Unreasonable noise they use that one on you all the time,” said
protest folk singer Phil Free, who sings about overthrowing “the police
Almost all 30 speakers were against the rule changes. Angela Marie
of the marimba band Kuzanga urged the council to delay restrictions
by a least six months, saying there is no data to justify them.
“Many performers are complaining of police harassment,” she said.
“This has a chilling effect on performances downtown. ... Performers
are being driven away and are refusing to come back.”
Keith Holtaway of the Downtown Association, the only merchant
voice at the meeting, said many storekeepers like the one-hour rule
because they feel “trapped” in stores. He said merchants, faced with
troublesome street acts, have to “go out and talk to them, on a daily
basis, over and over again, and it gets really tiring.”
Council members have received about 100 e-mails opposing the rules.
Councilman Ed Porter said most were identical, suggesting an
orchestrated e-mail campaign. A handful supported the rules.
Council members responded angrily to audience members who likened
the 10-foot rule to post-Sept. 11 civil liberty rollbacks and even the
escalating situation in Iraq.
Another speaker, Tim Zorach, said the new rules “would be
considered a class act by the Bush-Cheney-Ashcroft-Pentagon axis
of suppression.”
Councilman Mike Rotkin said the war analogies were ridiculous and
“Let’s get some perspective,” he said.
Tuesday’s meeting addressed fallout from a set of downtown rules
the council passed in July in reaction to complaints about sexual
taunts and aggressive panhandling. The city expanded space
restrictions on panhandlers to a uniform 14 feet, and banned begging
after dark.
Council members insisted money-seeking street acts never were the
intended target but that the city must regulate occasional conflicts.
“We’re not going to make any group 100 percent happy,” Reilly said.
Contact Dan White at dwhite (at)


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