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SM street performer limits OKd
Mary Moore, The Outlook. Santa Monica.
October 8th, 1997
After weeks of complex and philosophical discussions about free speech rights, the Santa Monica City Council voted Tuesday in favor of sweeping revisions of an ordinance regulating street performers on the Third Street Promenade and Santa Monica Pier.
The council voted 4-3 in favor of the revised ordinance, with council members Robert Holbrook, Ruth Ebner, Asha Greenberg, and Paul Rosenstein supporting the measure and Ken Genser, Michael Feinstein and Pam OConnor voting against it.
Efforts by a minority on the City Council to loosen key provisions of the revised ordinance were struck down as the council hammered out details of the new law. However, Rosenstein brushed aside concerns of the council that the new law would limit street performers First Amendment rights.
These rules do not infringe on anyones free speech, Rosenstein said.
Two controversial proposals were eliminated from the ordinance early in the councils discussion. One would have allowed street performers to distribute cassettes, videotapes, CDs and other recordings of their work, even if they werent created the same day the performance took place.
The other provision would have exempted newspapers, leaflets, pamphlets, bumper stickers and buttons from Santa Monicas regulation -- items typically distributed by political and religious groups.
Sign requirement altered
However, in a coup for performers, the city backed down from a requirement that signs be posted saying that all items available from performers were free or for a donation. Under a last-minute revision, the signs would only say that the performers items are available for a donation.
The ordinance the council was set to approve culminates two years of work by several city departments and has been the main item on the agenda for several recent City Council meetings. The council postponed voting on the issue at its last meeting, hamstrung by philosophical discussions about the free speech rights of those who entertain the crowds that flock to two of Santa Monicas social hot spots.
Although the council finally voted Tuesday, the meeting once again was fraught with the complexity of First Amendment law.
As originally proposed, the ordinance allowed performers to distribute only items that were created on the day of the performance and only for a donation. However, anyone else could go to the pier or promenade and distribute any item for free or for a donation without restriction.
That made no sense to Councilman Ken Genser, who pushed for the amendment. Genser wondered why performers would be restricted from distributing their work when the same limitations are not placed on the public at large.
I think its not only absurd, its probably unconstitutional, Genser said.
Tensions mounted when Councilwoman Greenberg proposed striking an exemption for newspapers, bumper stickers and other items. If the council had voted in favor of including this exemption in the new law, groups distributing these objects would not have been allowed to sell them for any price.
Its a slippery slope, Greenberg said.
Fears door would be opened
She said that although the exemption is meant to allow for free political and religious expression, it would open the door to anyone who wanted to sell the exempted items.
Councilman Feinstein threatened to vote against the entire ordinance if the exemption was not included, arguing that without it, political free speech in Santa Monica would not be allowed to flourish. Feinstein, a co-founder of the Green Party in California, has operated voter registration tables on the promenade and distributed information about the political party.
This is so basic, Feinstein said about the exemption for newspapers, bumper stickers and other items. I would rather err on the side of a slippery slope.
We need to respect political activity in this community ... and not put prohibitions on peoples right to sell bumper stickers and buttons, he said.
City staff members say the revised law is written to protect public safety in crowded areas but preserves performers rights of free speech.
Interest in the street performers ordinance heightened several months ago when Marc Miskey, a guitarist who plays on the Santa Monica Pier, sued the city on the grounds that his First Amendment rights were violated. That lawsuit has been on hold until the city finalizes its revisions to the ordinance, said Carol Sobel, Miskeys attorney.
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