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Bayside Safety Committee Kicks Out Hacky Sac Ban

By Jorge Casuso

April 18 -- Juggling priorities, the Bayside District's Public Safety Committee on Thursday tossed out a possible ban on hacky sac playing on the Third Street Promenade but kept the fate of a proposal to curb sidewalk clutter up in the air.

The committee's recommendations, which will go before the full Bayside board next Thursday, will focus on boosting police deployment on the Third Street Promenade from the four current officers to the six budgeted to patrol the popular shopping strip.

"I really think we need to increase police deployment," said committee member Ruth Elwell, who owns Ye Olde King's Head. "There's a lot of things slipping… You want to look at the overall picture."

"For a long time we've been under staffed," said Bayside Executive director Kathleen Rawson. "It (increased deployment) needs to be brought up to the top."

Police Chief James T. Butts told the committee last week that the decreased patrols reflect a shortage of police officers, with 10 of the budgeted 214 positions currently unfilled.

Worried that banning hacky sac playing on the Promenade could be an uphill battle not worth fighting, the committee decided to wait until a plan is in place to offer outdoor dining on center court, where aficionados of the sport kick around the small, leather balls stuffed with plastic pellets.

"We'd have such a difficult time, and the City Attorney would have such a difficult time, they would not want to get into that thicket," said committee member Art Harris. "We'd have a lot of effort and little return."

"I don't think we can regulate specific behaviors, and I don't think we should," Bayside board member John Warfel, who is not a member of the committee, said during a short speech at the start of the meeting. "I'm concerned we'll start regulating all kinds of activities."

Committee member Patricia Hoffman was the most vocal committee member of the issue, but she agreed to hold off on a ban until the dining plan -- which would allow nearby restaurants to cook and serve food at center court on a rotating basis -- is in place.

"I don't like things being thrown in the air," Hoffman said. "Objects in the air without any visible means of control make me very nervous." But she added, "I'm not overly zealous on this."

Although riding bicycles, skateboards and roller blades is outlawed on the Promenade (Mayor Michael Feinstein has vowed to overturn the ban on roller blades), ball playing is legal on the Promenade (though not on the beach).

Juggling also is legal on the Promenade, although there is a ban on juggling dangerous objects, including lit torches and chainsaws. As a result, banning hacky sac playing would require council to pass new legislation, likely a long and difficult process.

Bayside officials noted that Feinstein and Mayor Pro Tem Kevin McKeown did not show much support for passing new legislation regulating Promenade use when they spoke at a committee meeting attended by top City officials last week.

"They didn't speak favorably about legislation," Rawson said. "They were very reluctant."

But if the committee dropped a ban on hacky sacs, it will pursue ways to outlaw placing personal possessions on the sidewalks for long periods of time.

Currently, the City's traffic regulations make it illegal to leave property or materials on sidewalks for longer than 10 minutes. But the law does not address those who lug around possessions, cluttering the public right of way.

City Attorney Marsha Moutrie has cautioned that the City likely would need to craft a law that exempts street performers, but the law would have to apply to a tired holiday shopper who puts large bags down while taking a rest.

Homeless advocates worry that such an ordinance could be used against the homeless, who often cart around their property and set it down for long periods of time.

Feeling that they could be biting off more than they could chew, committee members delayed deciding whether to try to curb homeless feeding programs by requiring permits for gatherings smaller than those currently allowed under the law.
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