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Santa Cruz council OKs limits on street scene

Santa Cruz council OKs limits on street scene



Jan. 16, 2003
By Ken McLaughlin
Mercury News

After months of meetings, raucous topless protests and hours of
public hearings, Santa Cruz’s new plan to prevent aggressive
panhandling and verbal abuse of downtown visitors has finally
taken shape.
The Santa Cruz City Council late Tuesday night unanimously passed
an ordinance that requires donation-seeking musicians and people
who set up political tables to stay 10 feet away from doorways,
kiosks, drinking fountains, fences, midblock crosswalks, telephones
and outdoor dining areas. The ordinance also requires musicians
and “political tablers” to limit their time in one spot to an hour.
At the same time, though, council members made it clear that they
didn’t want police aggressively enforcing the ordinance unless
musicians or tablers were causing problems or triggering
In addition, council members Mark Primack and Scott Kennedy will
soon suggest a number of “exemption zones” where street
musicians can play and solicit to their hearts’ content. The city will
also review the ordinance in six months and decide whether to
allow musicians to play on the street longer with an easy-to-get
“I don’t see a new wave of repression,” said Councilman Mike
Rotkin, who said police have more pressing matters to attend to
than hassling street musicians.
Councilman Tim Fitzmaurice also said he had “absolute faith” in
the police department to enforce the law with common sense and
discretion, a remark that caused Kennedy to quip: “I don’t have
absolute faith in anybody, even Mother Teresa.”
The council’s decision came after a 3-1/2 hour discussion during
which dozens of street musicians and activists implored the council
to junk the ordinance.
Many evoked the spirit of the old Pacific Garden Mall, which was
destroyed by the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.
Hippie hangout
Constructed in the late ‘60s, the mall quickly gained a worldwide
reputation as a place for poets, musicians and hippies to hang out.
The spiritual center was the old Cooper House, which often featured
live music as crowds sat around on brick planters filled with flowers.
“Little by little we’re losing live music,” said Rick Walker, a city arts
commissioner with purple hair.
Activist Sherry Conable said music downtown, with people
laughing and clapping and kids squealing with delight, makes
downtown Santa Cruz what it is.
Angela Marie, a member of the popular marimba band Kuzanga, said
she feared the ordinance would be a “green light for police
Downtown issues came to a head in June after council members
were besieged with complaints from merchants, shoppers and
residents about nudity, taunting and sexual harassment of women
and gays, graffiti vandalism, and public urination and defecation.
Many of the taunts, Fitzmaurice said, were coming from young men
“marking their territory with brutish behavior.”
Some merchants petitioned the council to ban bare-breasted
women, hackysackers and panhandlers who ask people for spare
change while they’re waiting in movie lines.
But the Areola Rebel Forces were outraged. To make her point, one
woman in a multi-colored Mohawk stepped to the speaker’s lectern
in the council chambers and removed her shirt, flashing a copy of a
hastily written “Mammary Manifesto.”
But the wild protests seemed to backfire, and the council in July
passed a sweeping set of ordinances aimed at restoring a sense of
civility and safety downtown.
Solicitation redefined
The council changed the definition of solicitation, making people
holding signs subject to the same restrictions as people asking for
money. It standardized the distances that panhandlers, other
solicitors and sidewalk sitters must keep from various places
(doorways, kiosks, drinking fountains, telephones, etc.) to 14 feet.
The laws also allowed unattended personal property such as
backpacks to be confiscated, and banned sports and other
recreational activities involving the use of balls and other
projectiles. Going topless was not banned, however.
But in September, the council postponed parts of the ordinances
specifically affecting musicians and political tablers.
Council members said they didn’t want to discourage musicians and
characters from downtown Santa Cruz. They just wanted the
characters to behave themselves.
Vice Mayor Kennedy said after Tuesday night’s decision that he is
confident the planned “exemption zones” will send a clear
message that musicians will always be welcome in Santa Cruz, but
that foul-mouthed, obnoxious people will not.
Contact Ken McLaughlin at kmclaughlin (at) or (831) 423-3115


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