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Proposal Details Exotic Animal Ban at Santa Monica 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 23, 2015--People who bring snakes, birds and other exotic wildlife to coax cash from visitors to Santa Monica’s most popular tourist spots could face misdemeanor penalties of up to $500 and six months in jail under a proposed new ordinance.

City Council members at their meeting Tuesday will get their first look at the proposal’s language, which bans “all species of snakes, reptiles, birds and non-human primates” from city parks and adjacent sidewalks.

As written, the ban would also extend to the beach, Ocean Front Walk, Santa Monica Pier and the Pier ramp, Third Street Promenade, and the Transit Mall.

The ordinance applies only to street performers who display exotic animals to solicit money donations from the public in public areas, according to the wording.

It backs the prohibition with penalties and citations. Violations could be treated as misdemeanors that come with penalties including a fine not to exceed $500, or six months in jail, or both.

Minor violations could be treated as infractions punishable by a fine not to exceed $250, the ordinance says.

The ban’s language includes exemptions for people “interacting with animals naturally inhabiting the public property.” Feeding park pigeons won’t get you cited, in other words.

Exemptions also will be allowed for organizations displaying exotic animals at City sanctioned events and for movie filming purposes, as long as organizers secure proper City permits.

It also will remain perfectly legal under the proposed ordinance to transport exotic animals on public streets.

With as many as 500,000 weekend and holiday visitors jamming the Pier and other popular places around town, Santa Monica needs to take “special efforts” to ensure that its most congested locales remain “available to all,” according to the ordinance.

Crowds that gather around exotic animals end up blocking pathways and sidewalks, and sometimes spill out into the streets, a staff report accompanying the ordinance said.

“The presence of non-domesticated, and potentially vicious, ferocious or dangerous animals within these congested public spaces constitutes a serious danger to public health, safety and welfare,” the ordinance says.

According to the ordinance, City staff have witnessed vendors tossing snakes, birds, monkeys and other animals “onto unsuspecting members of the public” while asking for donations. Some visitors have even been attacked by animals, the ordinance says.

“You get accosted, literally,” Santa Monica Recreation and Parks Commission Chairman Brock told The Lookout News last 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.”

Last year, commission members and the Santa Monica Pier Corp.’s Board of Directors wrote to the Council asking that the City ban the use of exotic animals for donations at parks and the Pier.

In her letter to the Council, Pier board Chairwoman Judy Abdo said Pier officials were worried about “aggressive” animal performers setting up at the Pier and Palisades Park and “startling passersby by thrusting animals at them.”

“The advent of the Expo line on the Esplanade leading to the Park and Pier will likely increase the number of people in the area and exacerbate the problem,” Abdo wrote.

Tuesday’s first reading of the proposed ordinance isn’t the final word. Council members will get a chance to discuss the proposal with staff and make changes.

The ordinance will then come back to the Council at a later date for a second reading. At that time, residents will get a chance to weigh in on the ordinance at a public hearing before the Council finalizes the new rules.

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