Phony Reform of the Street Performer Laws Coming Up at Council 7 PM 5-13


Performance Pens–the “Reform” Proposal from Vice-Mayor Lane and Councilmember Comstock
by Robert Norse
Monday May 12th, 2014 11:28 PM

The evening session of City Council on Tuesday May 13 will feature as its second and final order of business, discussion of a report by Comstock and Lane on proposed modifications to the Display Device Downtown Ordinance. The current sidewalk privatization law bans sitting, performing, vending, tabling, and sparechanging on 95% of the downtown sidewalks (and 100% of sidewalks in other business districts where buildings are present). The Comstock-Lane modifications would make “a Morgani exception” but set in gleaming and glaring cement the street culture-crushing laws. Instead of restoring the Street Performers Voluntary Guidelines–which worked well for 22 years–they would set up highly-restricted designated zones, giving performers “their own space” but apparently no more than they already have–just differently arranged.

Comstock and Lane cooked up these proposals in private conversations with individuals involving no announced public hearings. Lane ignored my request for the same.

I have not spoken with any street people or performers (other than Tom Noddy) that were consulted in the formation of these dialogues. It is not clear that Homeless (Lack of) Service Center bureaucrats were consulted either (though given their willingness to put in a Security Gate and ID cards they might have eagerly jumped on board).

The full staff report can be found at though it may disappear and have to be accessed through the City Council website under the May 13 agenda. I present what seems to be the (heartless) heart of the proposals below with my comments:

STAFF REPORT: The “new regulatory framework” would be “simpler”.

The last time this “simplification” argument was used (in September 2013), the Comstock-Robinson majority loped off 20% of the sidewalk space for street performers reducing their share to 5% or less of the sidewalk—cramming them next to the curb.

The gentrification geniuses also reduced allowable space to 12 sq feet, required 12′ distances between performers, sparechangers, vendors, and tablers, & banned blankets and tarps as “trip and fall hazards”.

Of course, merchant signs and display devices have proliferated as benches have disappeared.

All this and Santa Cruz’s unique “Move Along Every Hour” law (including resting “too long” on a bench) too!

STAFF REPORT: The performance pens and tabling spaces would be marked with paint on the sidewalk—clarifying that the First Amendment regarding tabling and performing with a cap on the ground only applies to highly limited areas of the sidewalk.

When some of us tried to chalk out the sidewalk being stolen in the Great Sidewalk Swindle of 2002 with (erasible) chalk, we were arrested for vandalism. But the friendly merchant fascism has grown so self-confident that they can propose this with a straight face and not expect a flood of outrage from those who still remember traditional Santa Cruz values.

STAFF REPORT: Performance-oriented spaces can be delineated separately from tabling spaces.

So city bureaucrats will now dictate what fraction of the sidewalk you can register voters in, where you can play a guitar, and where you can display your artwork.

STAFF REPORT: Marked spaces will no longer require the “need” to have the 14′ setbacks.

Since everywhere else will be illegal. Unmentioned is what the need was to have the vast forbidden areas in the first place, other than giving the police blank checks to run off “undesireable” people.

STAFF REPORT: Some larger performance spaces will be allowed accommodating larger performing groups.

Now, given the 12′ limitation voted in by Terrazas, Mathews, & Bryant, virtually all groups are technically illegal since it’s nearly impossible to take up that little space with instruments, cases, and other items.

STAFF REPORT: Likely that 50 to 60 spaces can be marked out– “very similar to what is available now”

Of course, no such number of viable spaces are available in the Pacific Ave. core downtown area—and this misrepresentation exposes the mendacity of the project’s conclusions generally.

Marking out spaces for performers is likely to put serious pressure on merchants nearby. The previously fluid and flexible flow of performers in the downtown area—until sabotaged by the destruction of the Street Performers Guidelines in 2003—addressed this concern. Limited and static places for performers is may also increase friction between performers, tablers, vendors, and others trying to use the sidewalk—as crowding often does in other confined areas.


“The more pressing issues for merchants include early morning messes left behind by homeless persons sleeping adjacent to businesses and the gap in downtown ordinance enforcement in the early to mid-evening after the Downtown Hospitality Team has completed its work. We now see for instance, partner with the Downtown Management Corporation to fund more early morning cleanup of human-created messes and more Community Service Officer patrol coverage on Pacific Avenue on busier evenings. It appears that these efforts, along with the City’s current work on the vertical prosecution team (Downtown Accountability Program) will have a more positive impact on the Downtown.”

The bigoted language (barren of documentation) speaks for itself. More cops, more harassment of homeless people. But let’s lure back The Great Morgami and still the criticism these abusive ordinances have roused, by accustoming the community to a step-by-step surrender of public space to anxious merchants and right-wing ideologues.

As for the noxious and nearly unique-to-Santa-Cruz “Move Along” law, all discussion is to be postponed for six months.

The full staff report can be found at

Prior commentary on the latest turn of the screw in enforcing the “homeless get out” Downtown Ordinances:
“Restoring Sidewalk Sanity in Santa Cruz ” at
“2013: A Nasty Year Heavy With New Anti-Homeless Laws” at

For those who want to look over the Downtown Ordinances, go to though you have to go through the comments sections to update the earlier document.

For those who harkened to comforting fantasies spread by City Council staff about “permits” as an “escape valve” for those wanted to be legal, see “Shrinking Sidewalks and the Permit Fantasy” at

A general critique of some of the Downtown Ordinances after the passage of the Sidewalk Shrinkage laws in September: .

Some of the comments in the Council-friendly Sentinel story are of interest at .

This issue will be on the City Council agenda Tuesday evening shortly after 7 PM.

Bring an audio recorder at your own risk! (See “Video of the False Arrest at Santa Cruz City Council for Audio Recording on April 1” at