CITY HALL — In July, police stopped a singer-songwriter who was performing on the street Downtown and asked to see his permit. He had one but didn’t have it on him, so they did a background check and found that he’d been convicted of a sexual offense against a child.
City Hall even found that he’d lied about this fact on his application for a permit. But there was nothing they could do.
“He still has an active permit,” said Salvador Valles, business and operations manager for City Hall. “We haven’t seen him performing here since, but based on the way the law is written today, we did not have the authority to address his permit at all.”
Until earlier this week, when City Council voted unanimously to tighten restrictions for street performance permits, City Hall required two violations to suspend a permit. This performer had only committed one: The lie on the application.
Now, thanks to the vote, City Hall can pull a permit after only one violation if the performance poses a significant threat to the public. But even a suspension only stops a performer for four months. A revocation stops them for six months.
“We’re not able to withhold a permit because this a First Amendment freedom of speech issue,” Valles said. “We require these permits for public safety issues in very specific time frames and in very specific areas for crowd control issues.”
Permits are only required on the Santa Monica Pier, the Third Street Promenade, and the Transit Mall and only during peak hours.
Under the municipal code, a performer that has been convicted of a sexual offense against a child cannot perform with the intent to entice children. This was not the case for the man stopped by police in July.
“That’s citywide,” Valles said. “You couldn’t dress up in a clown outfit and hand out balloons if you have this type of conviction.”
Prior to council’s changes, this type of offense resulted in a slap on the wrist fine. Now, it’s grounds for permit revocation.
Ned Landon, a street performer, spoke at the meeting, saying that these types of restrictions could be used unfairly against performers. He acknowledged that in the case of the sex offender, City Hall must be able to act but said that performers could lose licenses for leaving their gear on the street while they went to the bathroom.
Valles assured Landon that this would not be the case.
Councilmembers wondered about City Hall’s ability to stop dangerous or unseemly types of street performance. Of particular concern was the Santa Monica Pier, which does not employ a street performance manager like the promenade does.
Councilmember Bob Holbrook heard a story from a co-worker about a man performing on the pier who put animals in his mouth and then threw darts into the chest of a female helper.
“If that happened on the pier, it’s because the pier is not monitoring its performers properly,” said Steven Bradford, who manages street performers on the promenade.
Bradford said that performers will try all kinds of things on the promenade, and that it’s his job to stop them.
“Anyone trying to shoot arrows off of someone’s head would be stopped instantly,” he said. “Those kind of issues would never last for more than a couple of minutes. … We have people show up with fire, chainsaws, everything. Those kind of people get stopped.”
The Code Enforcement Division is planning to take on pier performers in the new year. Council also suggested hiring someone to manage the performers on the pier.
Additionally, council voted to stop performers from selling their licenses to other performers who were not selected in a pier lottery.