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Proposed Ban on Exotic Animals at Santa Monica Parks Gets Initial Approval

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 Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

February 26, 2015 -- A proposed ban on street performers who use snakes, birds and other exotic wildlife to entertain visitors to Santa Monica parks won preliminary approval by the City Council on Tuesday.

After a public hearing that drew 22 speakers, most of them in support of the ban, the Santa Monica City Council voted 6-0 to outlaw exotic animal acts. Councilmember Gleam Davis was not present.

The ban came at the urging of the city’s Recreation and Parks Commission, whose members reported receiving numerous complaints from visitors about the shows and the human gridlock they sometimes create.

Speakers particualarly complained about aggressive street entertainers thrusting the animals at unhappy visitors.

One speaker reported having a snake thrust in her face; another remembered seeing a youngster bitten on the hand by a monkey during an encounter on the Promenade. The youth was trying to give the performing monkey a quarter.

“I reported it to the police and they said, ‘Well, there isn’t anything we can do,” Alan Toy, a member of the Recreation and Parks Commission, told the City Council.

The head of the commission, Phil Brock, echoed the comments of many others when he said the animals involved are exploited. He also complained the acts themselves sometimes pose a physical danger to members of the public, as well as cause congestion that drives away potential visitors.

“Our city is a compassionate one, and our commission asks that you extend the city’s compassion, its heart, to the animals in our parks,” he said.

Tuesday’s action was approval of the ordinance’s first reading. A second vote is set for March 24. If approved, the ordinance becomes law in 30 days.

Although most speakers Tuesday favored the ban, a few took the other side. One speaker at the meeting asked the board to stop short of outlawing exotic animal acts at city parks. Howard Kaminsky, who calls himself  “the birdman of Santa Monica,” said the city should step in with regulations --  not an outright ban.

“I believe my birds are special, and I see the happiness and wonder they bring to the people who visit and talk and play and cuddle with them,” Kaminsky, a father of two, said. “I strongly urge these acts not be removed because it is my livelihood and many come from all around the world to pat and talk and interact with these amazing animals.”

The law applies to city parks and adjacent sidewalks. It would also extend to the beach, Ocean Front Walk, Santa Monica Pier and the Pier Ramp, the Third Street Promenade and the Transit Mall.

It targets “all species of snakes, reptiles, birds and non-human primates,” and is aimed at street performers whose acts include display of such exotic animals in return for getting donations from the public in public areas.

One local veterinarian, Heather Rally, told the council that even the best-treated exotic animals are exploited in the sense that they can never be domesticated, no matter how long they live in that world.

“Although the public may think these animals are happy, it’s clear to anyone with knowledge (of exotic animals) that the needs of these animals cannot be met on the streets of Santa Monica,” she said.

Language in the ordinance includes exemptions for people naturally interacting with animals on public property, such as those feeding birds. Exemptions are also allowed for organizations displaying exotic animals at City-sanctioned events and for movie filming.

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