You have until mid-April to shoulder the weight of a giant yellow snake, pet exotic birds, or feed a monkey in any of Santa Monica’s parks or high-traffic public spaces.

After very little discussion among its members, City Council banned exotic animals on the beach, in the parks, on the Third Street Promenade, on the Santa Monica Pier, on Ocean Front Walk, and at the Downtown Transit Mall.

Animal handlers have been gathering for years near the entrance of the pier in Palisades Park, requesting donations in exchange for photos with or permission to pet colorful birds or giant snakes and reptiles.

The Recreation and Parks Commission brought the issue to the fore last year, claiming that the handlers were presenting a public safety hazard. City officials say a girl was pecked by a bird last year and that handlers have tossed snakes into the hands of unsuspecting passers-by.

Most of the pro-ban public speakers at Tuesday night’s meeting were animal rights activists, arguing that the animal displays are paramount to animal abuse.

They claim that the animals are forced to work for long hours, without water or breaks, something that the animal handlers in attendance refuted.

Similar arguments were made by activists before City Council voted last year to seek a new vendor for the space occupied for years by a pony ride and petting zoo operator. Later this year, when the vendor’s contract with City Hall expires, a non-animal vendor will take her place.

Nearly all opponents of the ban that spoke during public testimony were animal handlers themselves.

Howard Kaminsky, “the birdman,” said he shelters his birds with an umbrella and gives them numerous breaks.

“This is what I do for a living because they bring people great joy which brings me great internal joy and personal satisfaction,” he said.

The flexibility of the job, he said, allows him to take care of his son, who has Down syndrome, and his daughter.

“I ask that the committee look at regulating us and set forth rules which we will abide to keep the public acts in control and happy, entertaining yet safe,” he said.

Jesus Tapia, a reptile handler, said that people misunderstand snakes, thinking that they are all venomous or prone to constricting people to death. This, he said, is rare.

“Nobody’s actually gotten hurt — only one person out of so many years,” he said. “Please down ban us. Work with us. Allow us to be part of your community. We don’t want problems. We just want to fix it the correct way.”

Tapia noted that he has liability insurance in the event someone does get hurt.

After a brief discussion about banning elephants citywide (they were not banned) council approved the regulations put forth by city officials.

The second reading of the ordinance will likely take place at the March 17 City Council meeting. If approved, it would go into effect 30 days later.

dave@www.smdp.com

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