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Santa Monica Might Ban Exotic Animals at Parks

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Hector Gonzalez
Staff Writer

February 17, 2015--It’s become part of the colorful scene at Palisades Park and the Santa Monica Pier--tourists posing for pictures with boa constrictors, Macaws, and the occasional monkey. But some City officials say things have gotten wildly out of hand.

Now too many exotic animals and their handlers regularly congregate at Palisades Park at Colorado Boulevard and Ocean Avenue and at the Pier’s entrance, said Phil Brock, chairman of the City’s Parks and Recreation Commission, which is pushing the City to ban such animal acts.

The Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office is at work on the language of a new ordinance that could go before the City Council later this month, said Community and Cultural Services Director Karen Ginsberg.

 “You get accosted, literally,” Brock said this week. “I was walking down the Pier one day during the winter, and some guy throws a parrot into the air, and it flew right into my face. Then a guy puts a snake up to my face. I’m not terrified, it’s not that. But we’re talking about the middle of a public park and the entrance to the Pier, which is already very densely populated.”

Much of the increase of animals at popular Santa Monica tourist spots has occurred since officials in the City of Los Angeles began cracking down on “buskers” on the Venice Boardwalk a few years ago, Brock said.

Now some of those street performers have moved east, bringing their exotic pets to the Pier and Palisades Park and charging passersby a fee -- typically $5--to pose in a photo with the creatures.

“I lot of these buskers have been exiled from the Venice Boardwalk, and they’ve started to find their way to Santa Monica,” said Brock.

Among the animals he regularly encounters at the Pier are a yellow boa constrictor, several types of birds and “even a monkey,” Brock said.

“We’re not talking about banning people’s pets from the Pier. It’s not made for, for instance, if you have a pot-bellied pig for a pet and you want to walk it around on a leash.”

Rather, Brock said the ban would be aimed specifically at “stopping the hocking of animals in exchange for money.”

“I look at this as being similar to many other things that happen in the City, where you have private individuals making a profit on City land,” he said.

Commissioners also are concerned about the health and welfare of the animal performers, Brock said.

“They’re transported in cages and are out there literally all day long every day during the summer,” Brock said.

The issue has dogged this touristy city for years.
In 1996, City Council members complained about a proliferation of exotic animal acts at The Third Street Promenade. On a motion by then-Mayor Pro Tem Greenberg, the Council directed staff to explore whether the City needed more regulation to deal with the problem.

Last year, Santa Monica Parks and Recreation Commissioners raised concerns about the growing number of animal acts and possible safety risks to the public, Ginsberg said.

At their meeting earlier this month, the Board of Directors of the Santa Monica Pier Corp., which operates the Pier, raised similar concerns.

This past November, a Santa Monica Police Department official briefed the Corp. on the issue, saying officers had dealt with 24 violations over a one-year period involving animal acts and other street performers at the Pier, Board records said.

In 2013, City Parks and Recreation Commissioners sent a letter to the council expressing concern about too many animal acts at Palisades Park and asking the Council to consider “making some recommendations about adjusting the laws,” Ginsberg said.

Commissioners “subsequently made a motion in August 2014 reiterating the last one,” Ginsberg said.

“They also expressed some safety concerns and ask the council once again to consider an ordinance.”

The City Attorney’s Office is now working on the ordinance, Ginsberg said, adding that the proposal was scheduled to go before the City Council at its February 28 meeting.

Although the proposed ordinance would focus on banning animals from Palisades Park, Brock said it might also include all city parks.

And while some might view displays of colorful snakes and birds as contributing to the tourist atmosphere at Santa Monica Pier, Brock disagreed.

“I don’t think it (the proposed ban) will take anything away from Santa Monica’s tourism,” said Brock. “I think we can have entertainment and attractions for tourists without all the snakes and birds. The prime thing is that we’re not a city that looks fondly on this.”

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