Music: Performers who turn the corner from the Promenade onto a side street will be subject to new regulations. Emily Sawicki

The highly visible parklet program, which allows for outdoor dining patios located in parking spaces outside Santa Monica restaurants, is perhaps the most visible facet of the Santa Monica Outdoors Pilot Program, but it is just one piece of a more comprehensive temporary COVID-19 measure City Council is now working to translate into post-pandemic life.

In July, Council voted to make parklets permanent; now, Council has also approved permanent changes to the way it issues permits for outdoor fitness training programs in public parks.

The onset of COVID-19 caused indoor gyms to shut down for months, but it also triggered a cultural shift toward more organized outdoor fitness training and away from traditional indoor gyms and studios for the long term. 

“I myself will never go back to an indoor gym,” Councilmember Lana Negrete said during a hearing on the program at the Wednesday, Aug. 24 meeting. “I’m totally, fully committed. We live in beautiful Santa Monica. So, I’ve been enjoying the outdoor gym.”

Offering permits in an effort to regulate outdoor fitness programs in public spaces around the city is seen as “an opportunity to preserve and activate parks, mitigate risks, support the local economy, enhance community wellbeing and health, and diversify training locations,” according to Santa Monica city staff. That’s why it has been a program since Jan. 1, 2014.

In June 2020, following the start of COVID-19, the City began waiving quarterly use charges for permit-holding businesses.

Under the new program, “general park and beach use” fees will continue to be waived, and some beach parks will enter into a new “Palisades Park and Beach Parks” fee structure (for Barnard Way Linear Park, Ocean View Park, Beach Park #1, Crescent Bay, South Beach, and Beach Green). In addition, two parks — Airport Park Interim Space and Ken Genser Square — have been removed from the list of approved parks. Permits will be capped at 75 per year, and in order to attain a permit, business owners must prove they hold general liability insurance and a Santa Monica business license.

By waiving quarterly fees, the City said it has drawn more enthusiasm for the program, which is more popular now than it was before COVID-19. They want to see that momentum continue.

Staff said that each year, annual permit fees bring in a revenue of about $32,400 to the city — “a very small amount,” staff said.

“So, we aren’t doing this for money, we are doing this to have the right kind of programs, right?” Mayor Sue Himmelrich asked. Staff replied in the affirmative. The motion passed in a unanimous, 7-0, vote.

Street performers

While the city has long regulated street performers in high-traffic pedestrian areas of town including the Third Street Promenade and Santa Monica Pier, council has now tightened up regulations for performers in what they refer to as “buffer zones” surrounding the Promenade — the sidewalks on Wilshire Boulevard, Arizona Avenue, Santa Monica Boulevard, and Broadway between Second Court and Fourth Court.

This was a move spurred by concerns over crowds gathering to watch performances in these areas, staff wrote in a report prepared for the Tuesday, Aug. 23, Santa Monica City Council meeting. Regulations will mandate only one performer per block and an adherence to the Municipal Code, which includes several paragraphs of regulations on street performers.

Some of the areas in the “buffer zone” were already regulated as part of the Transit Mall (Santa Monica Boulevard and Broadway between Ocean Avenue and 5th Street). 

The move passed unanimously, 7-0, with little discussion.

Amplified sound in Ocean View Park

While Ocean View Park has become a popular venue for musical performances, complaints from nearby residents have prompted City Council to enact a regulation prohibiting the use of sound amplification there outside organized music events.

Staff clarified that the ordinance change would not prohibit the playing of acoustic instruments, which was a key point for several councilmembers in approving the new measure.

“I very strongly believe in the First Amendment, and the First Amendment protects the rights of artistic expression, which includes amplified music, but I also understand this as a unique situation,” Councilmember Gleam Davis said at the meeting, later adding, “Given that this is a relatively limited area, I’m willing to support it, but I hope this is not the camel’s nose under the tent, as they say — that we’re going to use this to start limiting amplification at other parks where people are more likely, for example, to exercise their First Amendment rights, such as protest and things like that. So I’ll just leave that there.”

Negrete, the owner of local music shop Santa Monica Music Center, said banning microphones and speakers did not mean outlawing music at all.

“I just wanted to make the comment that, as a music supporter, you can still create music without amplification,” Negrete said. “So, there can still be music; it’s just amplified sound, to be clear.”

Approval passed unanimously, 7-0.