An ordinance proposing to regulate and fine street performers on the public-right-of-way in West Hollywood was unanimously kicked back by the West Hollywood City council at a Regular City Council meeting on Monday, March 6, 2023.
The Staff report in Agenda Item 3.A. acknowledges that street performers can provide public amenity that enhances enjoyment and public interest in the city of West Hollywood, however, they also seek to attract crowds with their performances which can create conflicts to pedestrians using sidewalks, can impact vehicle traffic and create disruptions to adjacent neighborhoods and businesses.
Taking complaints from community members and taking observations from Code Enforcement staff into account, City Staff proposed an ordinance seeking a balance between First Amendment Rights as street performers and the safety of performers, their audience, local businesses and the general public as well as providing a resident’s enjoyment of peace and quiet in their homes or the ability of businesses to operate and conduct their business.
As a result, staff proposed the following requirements to better address these types of issues:
- Street performers cannot demand payment or tips as a condition to observe or remain throughout a performance.
- Street Performers cannot use live animals in their street performance.
- Street performances may not occur in any place within 10 feet of any bus stop or business or 15 feet from a street corner or crosswalk.
- Performances must remain at least 20 feet away from any outdoor dining areas when a business is operating and 25 feet from any on-street valet loading zone or City-designated passenger loading zone.
- Street performers may not use any prop or power source that may pose a risk to the safety of the public and shall not connect power cords to adjacent buildings or
have them run across the sidewalk.
- If crowds begin to gather that block the free movement of pedestrian or vehicular traffic, the performer shall relocate.
- Performers shall not operate prior to 10:00 AM or after 10:00 PM and shall abide
by the West Hollywood Noise Ordinance.
- Street performers will not be allowed to perform within the Rainbow District or along Santa Monica Boulevard within or near the boundaries of a street closure during celebrations where thousands of pedestrians attend, such as during Pride or Halloween festivities.
Violations of the ordinance carry a penalty ranging from $250 for the first offense and up to $1,000 for the third offenses, but Code Enforcement would seek voluntary compliance by way of warnings or information materials that are found out in the field.
During Council questions, Council member John Heilman asked about amplification devices, which he said were missing in the report.
Director of Community Safety, Danny Rivas, said there were some legal challenges to amplifications devices and that they were only able to address compliance to the noise ordinances at this time as well as adherence to minimal width requirements for pedestrian access regarding ADA accessibility.
“How big of a problem is this?” Asked Mayor Pro Tem John Erickson. “Are we going out every week and citing hundreds of people because they are setting up a jukebox and performing outside of Hi Tops?”
Rivas said they are not citing multiple individuals, but that they have received complaints and reports from local businesses and some residents.
Mayor Sepi Shyne asked for the number of incidents relating to street performers.
Staff did not have numbers to present at the meeting. Rivas guessed that within the last three months there have been incidents during four different weekends.
Mayor Shyne asked if Sheriff Deputies could intervene to disperse the crowds or engage a street performer that is being a nuisance.
Rivas said that deputies could intervene, especially if they are engaged, but they will mostly divert it to Code Enforcement if an ordinance is being violated.
Council member Chelsea Byers asked for map or a visual tool that tells a street performer where than can perform. There is currently no map in existence, but Rivas said it’s something that can be done if the ordinance passed. He said a similar visual tool would also be helpful to street vendors.
During Public Comments bagpiper Madeline Hamilton thanked West Hollywood for the City’s encouragement of the arts. “I’ve been able to connect with neighbors, I’ve been able to raise money for charities like Black Lives Matter and The Wounded Warrior Project,” she said. “Thanks to my corner, I’ve been able to develop a one-woman show about the bagpipes that I’m taking to a… French festival in August. I’ve been able to do all of this because of West Hollywood’s support for the arts. I believe the current proposal, ten feet from the bus stops and the fifteen feet from street corners, essentially terminates any chances that street performers have of performing–no offense, but I don’t think the sidewalks are that wide and I don’t see the logic of these restrictions on these busy streets like Santa Monica [Boulevard] where sirens, traffic, and construction are much louder and more unpleasant than forty five minutes of music.”
Hamilton added that she worried the ordinance would set a precedence on restricting First Amendment rights of the many due to the complaints of the few. She said she’s pushing for more nuance on the ordinance and that it should be based on case by case and location.
“I don’t see the necessity for this ordinance,” said Mayor Pro Tem Erickson during Council Comments. “I think it’s big government. I don’t think we need it personally…I don’t think it’s a problem at the moment. I also need some information. I need to see a heat map of where performers would be even allowed.”
Council member Lauren Meister said she was ready to support the item, but would prefer that it be tabled and brought back with a map and a narrower definition for the ordinance.
She also that in respect to the “Bagpipe Lady,” she has received complaints from some neighbors around the Crescent Heights area because of the loudness and her performances taking place on the weekends when people are home and trying to relax.
Council member Heilman agreed that the ordinance needed to come back with a clearer understanding of where street performances would be permitted. He also said that he understood that Code Enforcement needed tools to address crowd control issues.
Mayor Shyne said she was not in favor of the item. She said she was concerned about safety issues especially around performers using knives, swords, torches, flame, ax or any other object that can cause serious bodily injury. She added that West Hollywood is a creative city and she didn’t want it to lose its West Hollywood flair. She also said that the bagpipe performance takes place by where she lives and that there are many residents who enjoy her performances.
Mayor Shyne also said that she was against street performers not getting tips. “We want people to be able to be compensated for their art,” she said. This is an artistic city and we cannot lose that. We have a lot of queer people that perform for everyone, so let’s maintain West Hollywood’s beauty and queer culture.”
Council member John Heilman motioned to table the item without direction, but four out of five voted no, noting council member Heilman’s single yes vote.
Mayor Pro-Tem Erickson made a motion to bring back an updated ordinance that addresses safety issues and also includes a heat map of where street performers can perform.
The motion passed unanimously.