Santa Cruz Street Performers Crushed In Under New Ordinances

by Robert Norse

Wednesday Sep 11th, 2013 9:46 AM

Street performers will be severely impacted.

Their allowable performance area will be reduced from the current standard–having an 18 sq ft table and being able to have other items outside that area–to 16 sq ft and having to have all their personal possessions (including musical instrument cases) inside that area.

They will be required to provide stand-up tables or boxes on which to perch their stuff (actually creating more of a trip-and-fall hazard–one of the laughable undocumented excuses used to sugarcoat this attack on the street scene). In effect they’ll be required to store their personal goods inside these devices

How many poor people can actually afford to purchase such devices? How many homeless people can store them at night?.

They will be required to be 12′ away from each other—limiting still further the total available space (under the second phony pretext—also asserted without proof or documentation–that there were “conflicts”).

But most important, the 10′ “forbidden zones” have been increased to 14′–something specifically rejected by extensive hearings in 2002 and 2003 when several committees and the City Council itself in repeated sessions debated the issue. Street performers then vocally and accurately pointed out that the expanded zones (which were at that time designed to corral and deter homeless and poor people panhandling and sitting) would severely impact the performers. The Downtown Commission as well as a Joint Council-Commission Task Force recommended and got the Council to limit the damage to 10′.

This new expansion “no man’s land” (the forbidden zones bans on tabling, sitting, sparechanging, vending, etc. essentially only consumer access to stores) cuts available performance space down to about 1/5th of what it was.

How so? Rough estimates in 2002 were that the sitting and panhandling ban (which were increased from 6′ to 14′) eliminated 95% of the sidewalk for “legal behavior”. The 10′ forbidden zones finally settled on after extensive research and public debate eliminated 75% of the sidewalk for “display devices”. Street performers will now be in the same position as sitters and sparechangers have been for the last decade—legal on only 5% of the street (as distinguished from the previous 25% (and that was a generous assessment).

Since then, additional forbidden zone creators like “public art”, directory signs, trash compactors, and other items have been added to the landscape. Additional bike racks have been put in creating less space for traditional Santa Cruz street activity.

The new ordinance now proclaims that any street musician who performs with a cup or open guitar case (a “display device”, to quote the ordinance, “anything capable of holding tangible things”) will be illegal within 14′ of a forbidden zone indicator.

The forbidden zones extend within 14′ of:
street corners,
drinking fountains,
public telephones,
public benches,
public trash compactors,
information/directory signs,
sculptures or artwork,
ATM-style machines,
outside street cafes,
vending carts,
and fences.
(See under MC 5.43.020).

The Council’s claim that it wants to “avoid confusion” and “make things consistent” disguises the fact that this kind of consistency punitively sucks up the public space. Comments by City Council members (Robinson, Comstock, Mathews, Terrazas) seemed to indicate “aesthetics” (i.e. Get rid of the indications of visible poverty) and merchant sensibilities (more space for us and our customers) were the major indicators.

No concrete evidence of “trip and fall”, congestion, ongoing conflict problem, or any other real public safety concern was presented.

But, of course, this ties in nicely with the City’s redefinition of “Public Safety” as “Homeless Removal”.

Real public safety concerns might be aesthetically and economically “desirable” alcohol abusers lured by the city’s nightlife, but hey–they pay good money for their raucous behaviors and “contribute to the economy of the city”.

The real issue is how to restore and reclaim the public spaces that the Downtown Association and Take Back Santa Cruz–operating through the City Council–have stolen…again. Perhaps a kazoo brigade? Perhaps chairs distributed to homeless people to sit (sitting in a chair anywhere on Pacific Ave sidewalks is legal if you’re not blocking the sidewalk)? Perhaps link-ups with Palo Alto attorneys who have already committed themselves to challenging anti-homeless laws there?

The law comes up for a second reading on September 24th.

I’ll be hoping to write more about this infuriating situation if I can find the steam.