CITY HALL — Street performers will no longer need a permit to strut their stuff in city parks and on public sidewalks, but will still need City Hall’s permission to work on the city’s three busiest outdoor performance areas: the Third Street Promenade, the Santa Monica Pier and the Transit Mall.
The council on Tuesday unanimously approved the ordinance change, which also makes it permissible to perform anywhere in the city without a permit before noon on weekdays.
The council decided to amend its ordinance after the city attorney’s office raised concerns that the old ordinance requiring permits for outdoor performances anywhere in the city could be viewed as too restrictive of free speech rights and could be vulnerable to legal challenge.
Santa Monica officials reevaluated their stance on performance permits after a successful legal challenge to a permit ordinance in Seattle, Wash.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in June struck down a 2002 law that required permits and limited activities to designated areas for street performers in the Seattle Center, an 80-acre park and entertainment complex. The rules also allowed only passive solicitation, required performers to display a badge and prohibited anyone other than Seattle Center employees from engaging in “speech activities” within 30 feet of where visitors waited in line.
Santa Monica has customarily required performers to fill out an application with their name, address, proof of identity and explanation of their act. Permits must be renewed every year and displayed during performances. Street artists also have to comply with other regulations concerning noise and spacing, keeping a distance from other performers and maintaining safe circulation in case of an emergency. Performers are also not allowed to stay in a specific location for more than two hours of a six-hour period.
Following the ordinance change approved Tuesday night, the standards will only apply to performers who want to work in the city’s main venues on weekends and holidays and after noon on weekdays.
Before approving the change, public safety officials and City Attorney Marsha Moutrie emphasized the importance of keeping some sort of ordinance in place. Regulating performers in crowded areas of the city improves public safety, city officials said.
“It’s our contention that the permit process works well primarily because it establishes firm rules for the performers and it provides some enforcement component for the city to respond accordingly,” said Deputy Chief of Police Phil Sanchez.
Past performers have juggled meat cleavers, dragged full-size coffins onto the promenade and wielded torches, officials said.
“Even with the advanced screening, sometimes someone does an act on the promenade that is not authorized and is not on their application, so I can’t imagine what we’d have without the [permit] system,” Moutrie said.
Fire Chief Jim Hone told the council that the permitting system creates an opportunity to educate performers about safety standards and procedures, which makes for a safer environment in case of emergencies.
While many in the street-performer community have in the past voiced their approval of City Hall’s permitting system, there are some critics.
Vincent Garofalo, a promenade vender, spoke against the ordinance change on Tuesday, arguing that any type of permit requirement to perform in public places is unconstitutional.
“I don’t have a permit and I’m not required to have a permit. I hope I’m not a safety issue out there,” he said. “The Grove and Universal City Walk are private property, the promenade … is a public space.”