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Street Performers' Hours Extended, Jail Time if They Stop Too Late

By Susan Reines
Staff Writer

November 11 -- The City Council juggled rules for street performers once again Tuesday, this time permitting the entertainers to perform on the Santa Monica Pier and Third Street Promenade past midnight, but allowing police to take performers to jail if they go past 1 a.m.

In another major change to the rules, the so-called heartland, or free-speech, vendors -- people who sell bumper stickers and buttons from tables on the Third Street Promenade -- will no longer be allowed to sit in one location all day.

Now the heartland vendors will have to rotate positions just like the musicians, dancers and artists do.

Jerry Rubin, a heartland vendor and former council candidate who sells peace signs and stickers, spoke out against the new law requiring him to rotate positions every few hours.

"If we're forced to rotate inside the performance zone, it would be very difficult," said Rubin, who has challenged the City's performance rules. "The truth of the matter is, it doesn't work for the people who do political outreach tables and voter registration tables, and it might be a violation of free speech."

Mayor Pro Tem Kevin McKeown questioned Rubin's statements, however, noting that it seemed like a contradiction for a peace activist to ask for a special exemption from rotation.

In the past, the City has been taken to court by heartland vendors who do not want to rotate. The vendors have successfully argued that they, unlike performers, do not attract large crowds and so do not threaten public safety by staying in one location all day.

"The local court does not appear particularly inclined to enforce the rotation system with regard to heartland venders," said City Attorney Marsha Moutrie. "Judges do change over time, but that is the current state of things."

Council Member Michael Feinstein, however, noted that when not forced to rotate, vendors tend to bring more and more supplies and may be violating a law that requires vendors and performers to be able to pick up all of their things and carry them away in one trip in case of emergency.

"When people use that (space) to sell, the selling itself tends to proliferate," Feinstein said.

Only Council member Ken Genser spoke against requiring heartland vendors to rotate.

"Not that I think it's a bad policy in theory," he said, "but we've already been told by the courts that they are not going to enforce this or uphold this, and I don't think it's a big enough problem to expend the resources."

The council unanimously supported the other major change to street performance rules -- which have been changed almost yearly since their adoption in 1997 -- voting to lengthen performance hours year-round, but charging those who go too late with misdemeanors.

"I have heard that there are very few performers who, when asked to complete their nice performance, refuse," McKeown said. "The misdemeanor would allow that person to be stopped."

He added that police can currently only issue tickets, deterrents not strong enough to stop performers who want to continue. All performers would be warned before being taken into custody for a misdemeanor, McKeown said.

Some residents said the punishment was too harsh, however.

"Criminalizing street performers is not the way to do it," resident Reina Alvarez said. "They are not criminals."

After juggling the street performer rules, two portions were left up in the air.

At a future meeting, the council will vote on an ordinance to restrict performances, or completely eliminate them, at five performance spaces at the end of the pier, a move advocates say would create a place for quiet contemplation.

The council also pushed back a vote on potential restrictions for sign-painters until staff can provide a definition of the difference between performers -- who go by one set of rules -- and vendors, who face tighter restrictions on their sales.

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