Street performer Vincent Rensel (left) creates a caricature of tourist Malcom Lau (right) on the Santa Monica Pier. A new lottery system for pier performers has received mixed reviews. (photo by Brandon Wise)

CITY HALL — A week after officials began using a lottery system to pick which acts get to fill the 26 performance spots on the Santa Monica Pier, the new system is getting mixed reviews from the musicians, artists and oddball entertainers who flock to the tourist magnet to amuse the masses and make money.

The lottery system replaced a first come, first serve system that officials said had led to fights and intimidation among performers scrambling to be first in line.

With more performers coming to the pier to perform in the past year, Pier Restoration Corp. Executive Director Ben Franz-Knight said tensions have been rising.

While he said there’s been “some grumbling” since the debut of the lottery system from performers who say the lottery makes it more difficult to get the best performance spots, Franz-Knight said others have seen it as a positive change.

In the end, he said the pier lottery isn’t about enabling performers to rake in dough, but about creating an equitable system to ensure access to the landmark.

“This isn’t about providing work for people, this is about protecting First Amendment access to public space to express yourself,” he said.

On Friday, performers expressed a range of views about the newly enacted lottery, which takes place four times per day to select performers for three-hour shifts on the pier.

“It sucks,” said Howard Kaminsky, who earns tips by showing off his collection of exotic birds.

Though he said he hadn’t missed out on a day of work because of the lottery, he said it makes coming to the pier a less certain venture.

“When you go out there at lunch time there’s 40 people out there bidding for 25 spots so you might not get one,” Kaminsky said.

Steel drummer Desmond Bedlow, a native of Trinidad and Tobago, was more willing to embrace the change, saying he’d wait to pass judgment on the new system until the three-month trial period is over.

“You have to see the full effect of it first,” he said.

Portrait artist Kamen Chalakov said he’d prefer a return to the old system, when you could guarantee yourself a spot on the pier by showing up early enough to get a good position in line.

“You’ve got less stress,” he said of the first come, first serve system.

nickt@www.smdp.com

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