Stay in touch with the Spirit of Venice — spiritofvenice.net
June 8, 2011
The NY Times, Post and Daily News have now been evicted from Union Sq Park and Battery Park.
The revised park rules defines newspapers as expressive matter and states they cannot be sold outside of a medallion vending spot – the spots for artists in the revised park rules. That’s why the NY Times can no longer be sold inside union square park. These park rules are affecting artists, newspapers, musicians, performers, political activists and even religious proselytizers.
During their depositions the top Park Enforcement officials admitted all these people would have to compete for one of the 18 spots.
>>Section 1. Section 1-02 of Title 56 of the Official Compilation of the Rules of the City of New York is amended to add a new definition to read as follows: Expressive Matter. “Expressive matter” means materials or objects with expressive content, such as newspapers, books, or writings, or visual art such as paintings, prints, photography, or sculpture.<<
From the Expressive matter FAQs:
>>>Q. Who must follow these new rules?
The new rules apply to expressive matter vendors (anyone who sells art, photography, reading material, or sculpture whether original or mass-produced) who operate in City Parks.>>>
>>(3) Expressive matter vendors may not vend in the following general areas unless they vend at the specifically designated spots for such vending on the accompanying maps and in compliance with all other applicable Department rules:<<
A newspaper vendors cart, handtruck, display or other device is clearly a “display” according to the rules.
Another internal PEP memo states that displaying without selling still requires being in a medallion marked vending spot. That means that even giving a speech, handing out free bibles or distributing political literature for free requires being in a marked spot.
The Smoking Gun in the Parks vs Artists Lawsuit (It’s all about the real estate profits)
The City falsely claims that there were no vending rules in place before the 2010 rule revision to use in order to regulate street artists and other written matter vendors in NYC Parks. According to the City’s court documents, and public statements by the Mayor and Park Commissioner, they had to create the new rules banning artists from close to 90% of the locations where they traditionally sold their works, in order to protect public safety and Park aesthetics.
According to the Parks Commissioner, previous to the rule revision, artists could just set up “willy nilly” anywhere they liked in Parks and however they liked:
Commissioner Benepe interview on the day the revised rules were announced:
According to the Mayor, artists are “hot dog vendors” who imagine themselves to be protected by the First Amendment. Listen to the Mayor on his radio show the day of the Park rules hearing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AP8Oq5zsTsw
The Mayor further describes his desire to eliminate artists in this recording made in City Hall and complains that the police have no time to summons them:
Recording made in City Hall of Mike Bloomberg and Robert Lederman in which the Mayor reveals his true position on street artists. The first part of the recording is Lederman negotiating with NYPD security about the use of the City Hall steps. The Mayor personally intercedes on Lederman’s behalf at 2:40 of the recording: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MK-H48IEuHE
In reality, the Parks Department has had numerous Park rules and NYC vending laws in place for decades that they were already using on a daily basis to regulate artists and other expressive matter vendors. They’ve issued thousands of summonses to artists in the past few years. Here are 3 of many pieces of evidence demonstrating this:
*(1) Proof that the entire stated purpose of the revised rules is a false one. The existing park rules and NYC vending laws were already more than enough to regulate artists and other written matter vendors.
From the 2010 public testimony of New Yorkers for Parks, a front group for the Central Park Conservancy and the Parks Dept, that testified infavor of the new rules:
“We recognize that regulations applying to vendors, including vendors of expressive material, already exist, particularly relating, for example, to where they can set up relative to Parks property and monuments, walkways, or park entrances and to the permissible size of their displays. New Yorkers for Parks supports the enforcement of the existing regulations uniformly and fairly for both permitted concessions and First Amendment protected vendors.”
For the original document go here:
*(2) Internal Parks Enforcement Patrol (PEP), NYPD and DCA memos specifically describing the vending laws that were being used in NYC Parks prior to 2010 on a daily basis:
*(3) The top 3 Parks Enforcement officials have now testified to the exact same thing under oath in their depositions.
This is the number one legal claim in the Park rules lawsuit; that the revised rules can be revoked and there will still be more than enough laws in place to regulate all expressive matter vendors.
If City officials are so obviously lying about the justification for making these new restrictions on artists’ freedom of speech, what is their real reason for evicting so many artists from NYC Parks?
It is totally about raising the real estate values of the residential and commercial properties outside the 4 affected parks (Union Sq, High Line, Central Park, Battery Park). While there is some economic benefit to the City from doing this, the lion’s share of the benefit goes directly to those with the closest financial relationships to the Mayor and the Park Conservancies.
If you read the annual reports of the Park conservancies for each of these parks (all of which are filed evidence in the lawsuit) you will see how raising real estate values for some of NYC’s wealthiest developers and property owners is the reason for banning artists from these parks, and most recently, for banning classical musicians from parts of Central Park. Here’s just one of many examples of this real estate value boosting agenda:
* Parks used to enhance surrounding real estate values; a study by the Central Park Conservancy:
“The park [Central Park] added $17.7 billion in incremental value to surrounding properties.”
NY Times June 5, 2011 The High Line Isn’t Just a Sight to See; It’s Also an Economic Dynamo “But on Friday afternoon, there was Mr. Giuliani’s successor, Michael R. Bloomberg, proclaiming that preserving the High Line as a public park revitalized a swath of the city and generated $2 billion in private investment surrounding the park… Amanda Burden, the city’s planning director, emphasized the boost to property values, saying that in one building that abuts the lower section of the High Line, the price of apartments had doubled since the park opened, to about $2,000 a square foot.”
The kind of people who rent luxury apartments for $100,000 a month don’t want to see street artists in “their” parks. Who must be eliminated next to make our public Parks more profitable for the City’s wealthiest real estate developers?
The “noise” complaints concerning Central Park’s Bethesda Fountain are from people with multi million dollar Fifth Ave apartments who don’t want to hear classical music unless it’s coming from their own stereo.
SEE: NY Times 6/5/2011 No Radios by the Fountain, Please! Or Cellos!
The complaints about art displays are from billionaire art collectors who don’t want to see artists displaying their art in a nearby park – unless a politically connected art dealer or a politically connected arts foundation installs the art there. Mike Bloomberg lives right across the street from where the artists sell outside the Met Museum. He’s installing art he collects and approves of in parks all over NYC.
Park Conservancy and BID directors like Jennifer Falk, Danny Meyer, Doug Blonsky and Joshua David, are making huge salaries, the money for which comes directly from sprawling concessions of junk merchandise, bars and restaurants that they install in the exact locations within NYC Parks where street artists are now banned.
* Park conservancy salaries, concessions and corruption
Artists, musicians and the public’s civil liberties are obstacles to the Bloomberg administration’s version of “progress.” That progress is all about raising the occupancy rates and rental price per sq foot for buildings adjacent to these 4 parks.
As stated from day one on this issue, Adrian Benepe is a real estate agent, trying to get the maximum price per sq foot for every inch of these 4 public parks. It is not artists but the Parks Department itself that is congesting these parks and creating a dangerous public safety issue.
November 21, 2010
Assistant City Attorney, Mark Brown, spoke with members of the Venice Boardwalk Ocean Front Walk Task Force meeting on Wednesday, November 10, 2010 about the injunction on the permit/lottery system, amplified sound and illegal vending in the Free Speech Zone on Venice Boardwalk.
April 27, 2010
Breaking News: NYCLU (New York Civil Liberties Union)
Rejects Proposed Park Rules for Artists
Destinations Examiner reporter Leslie Koch just broke the news that
the NYCLU has come out very strongly against the proposed Park rules
for artists. Her just published article is below this press release
from the NYCLU. If you go to the site above you can download the NYCLU
press release and related materials. Needless to say, when the #1
advocacy group for First Amendment rights comes out against the Parks
Department and for our side, it is a very good development!
NYCLU to Parks Department: Withdraw Proposed Vendor Restrictions Until Questions Answered
April 23, 2010 — The New York Civil Liberties Union today urged the
New York City Department of Parks & Recreation to reconsider its
proposal to restrict the number and location of vendors at several
city parks on the grounds that the City has not made enough
information public to allow for a determination of if the proposed
rules run afoul of the First Amendment. Questions also remain as to
whether the first-come, first-served approach to vending locations
will result in a fair allocation of space, and if the proposed limits
are truly appropriate in all of the impacted neighborhoods.
“Parks have historically been recognized as vitally important for
social, artistic and political expression,” said NYCLU Legal Director
Arthur Eisenberg. “The Parks Department should make every effort to
accommodate our city’s artists, poets and authors. It must withdraw
its proposal until it can publicly demonstrate it is meeting its First
In a letter sent Friday afternoon to Alessandro G. Olivieri, general
counsel to the Department of Parks & Recreation, Eisenberg and NYCLU
Executive Director Donna Lieberman outlined three concerns regarding
the proposed vendor restrictions:
* That the Parks Department has “failed utterly” to make public
data demonstrating that its proposal is reasonable and leaves open
* That a first-come, first-served system for getting vendor space
runs the risk that a few vendors and their agents will obtain more
than their fare share of sites for more than their fair share of time;
* And that any restrictions placed should be tailored to their
communities as the residents of Greenwich Village, where Union Square
Park is located, “can tolerate a level of disorder and energy” that
residents near Central Park may object to.
According to press reports, the Parks Department’s proposal will
reduce by 75 percent the number of people engaging in the vending of
“The Parks Department has failed utterly to provide the public with
the census information and utilization necessary to reach a fair
judgment as to whether the limitations contemplated by this proposal
are ‘reasonable time, place and manner’ measures sufficient to satisfy
the City’s constitutional obligations under the First Amendment,” the
“So severe a reduction in the number of expressive opportunities will
be treated with considerable skepticism by the vendors and by the
fair-minded public. To overcome such skepticism, the Parks Department
will need to come forward with powerful evidence and persuasive data
to demonstrate the reasonableness of this measure. It has not done so
The NYCLU urged the Parks Department to withdraw its proposed
regulation until it makes public the data necessary to assess the
reasonableness of the limits. It also requested that the Parks
Department re-evaluate its methodology for awarding locations and that
it reconsider the differences in the aesthetics of each park as it
“Our artists are part of why New York City is the best city in the
world,” Lieberman said. “We must be certain that any restrictions we
place on them allows our community to retain its vibrant culture.”
New York Civil Liberties Union | 125 Broad Street, New York, NY
10004 | Phone 212-607-3300
NYCLU urges Parks Department: Withdraw proposed restrictions on art vendors
April 27, 5:11 PMNY Destinations ExaminerLeslie Koch
The Parks Department should withdraw its proposal to limit expressive
matter vendors in city parks, said the New York Civil Liberties Union
(NYCLU) on Friday.
The NYCLU, a non-profit organization dedicated to defending civil
liberties and civil rights, criticized the Parks Department for its
“lack of transparency” in a letter addressed to Alessandro G.
Olivieri, the Parks Department’s legal counsel.
Hundreds of street artists protested the Parks Department’s plan to
restrict the number and location of expressive matter vendors in
Manhattan parks, on Friday April 23, 2010. (Photo: Lauren Hillary)
The Parks Department proposal would eliminate roughly 75% of the
vendors selling fine art and other expressive materials in four
popular Manhattan parks.
Expressive matter vendors would compete for just 18 spots in Union
Square, 9 in Battery Park, 5 in Central Park South and 5 on the High
“So severe a reduction in the number of expressive opportunities will
be treated with considerable skepticism by the vendors and by a
“To overcome such skepticism, the Parks Department will need to come
forward with powerful evidence and persuasive data to demonstrate the
reasonableness of this measure. It has not done so, to date,” said
Eisenberg in the letter.
Street artists strongly oppose the Parks Department proposal and
believe it violates their First Amendment rights.
As a result of successful lawsuits, vendors can legally sell
expressive materials– including paintings, drawings, photographs,
sculpture, books and writings– in New York City’s public parks and
streets without obtaining vending permits.
“The Parks Department should make every effort to accommodate our
city’s artists, poets and authors. It must withdraw its proposal until
it can publicly demonstrate it is meeting its First Amendment
obligations,” said Eisenberg in a press release accompanying the
The NYCLU’s letter details three legal concerns with the Parks
First, the NYCLU claims that the Parks Department “has failed utterly”
to provide data to the public that quantifies the number of expressive
matter vendors and competing users at the desired sites.
Second, the NYCLU questions the fairness of allocating a limited
number of spots on a “first come, first served” basis.
“Such a system presents the risk that a few vendors or their agents
will muscle their way into the most desirable locations and will
otherwise obtain more than their fair share of sites for more than
their fair share of time.”
Third, the NYCLU urges the Parks Department to consider the
differences between the affected parks—Union Square, Central Park,
Battery Park, and the High Line—when allocating vendor locations.
“Union Square Park is different in style and aesthetic from the
southern perimeter of Central Park. On the fringe of Greenwich
Village, Union Square Park can tolerate a level of disorder and energy
that might be undesirable on Fifty-Ninth Street.”
On Friday, hundreds of street artists protested at the site of the
Parks Department’s public hearing on the proposed restrictions.
As of press time, Parks Commissioner Adrian Benepe has not announced
whether he will enact the proposal, either as written or with changes.
The Parks Department has not issued a press release about the proposal
or the public hearing.
Media coverage, background materials, videos of the ARTIST protest
* Robert Lederman’s written testimony submitted at the Parks
Department hearing on 4/23/2010. Has numerous photos as evidence of
the real Parks Department agenda of privatization and concessions
* Video of ARTIST protest by Sasha Sazanov
* Video of Protest/hearing by Susan
* Videos by Ned Otter of protest/hearing
* Miriam West’s videos of protest/hearing
* EK Buckley’s photostream (lots of good photos of the protest and hearing)
* *MANY VIDEO CLIPS OF PROTEST AND the HEARING by MIRIAM WEST
(There are numerous clips)
*** Updated Major Media coverage ***
* Daily News
Artists fight public hearing on vendor restrictions in parks with
freedom of expression
* NY Times 4/24/2010 (go to site for photos)
(Has good video of the protest)
Seeing Red: Artists Protest Changing Park Vendor Rules
OR see the FOX video it here:
*** NY1News (fixed broken link)
(Important: Watch video and listen to Mayor Bloomberg pretend that
this issue is about hot dog vendors, not artists. They must be
desperate to do that much spinning!)
* WPIX Channel 11 News NY
OR, see it here:
Hundreds protest NYC proposal to limit art vendors
* 1010WINS Radio News
(Excellent photo slideshow)
* CURBED Hundreds Protest Plan to Limit Vendors Selling Art in Parks Updated 2 hrs ago April 23, 2010
(Has good photos from the protest)
Artists Creatively Trash Bloomberg at Rally Against Park Rules
April 22, 2010
Trailblazer’s Take on Limiting Vendors
(This is the article about the poet on whose behalf the Written Matter
Exemption was created)
* DESTINATIONS EXAMINER
Hundreds of street artists protest Parks Department plan, attend public hearing
April 24, 2010 PMNY Destinations Examiner Leslie Koch
(This article has another photo slideshow with great individual photos
of many artists you know and their signs)
Check out these amazing photos by artists
of Park concessions in USP, Battery Park and Central Park
As a WORD doc
(Note: the 2 above are identical)
* Earlier Media Coverage of This Issue
NY Times April 16, 2010
City Seeks to Limit the Flocks of Art Vendors at Popular Sites in Parks
Daily News Editorials
Figures of speech: New York Park’s Dept. must put public above peddlers
NBC News website City Set to Give Park Art the Brush Off
By ANDREW SIFF and HASANI GITTENS Fri, Apr 16, 2010
Recording from WNYC radio 4/14/2010
Featuring Park Commissioner Adrian Benepe explaining his fundraising
efforts in Parks. Robert Lederman calls in and challenges him. Benepe
repeats his claim that Lederman is, ”…just making things up,” about
replacing artists with concessions then admits he is putting
concessions, Holiday Markets etc in the exact same Parks where artists
now sell. The first few minutes deals with the Central Park tennis
court bubble issue. Commissioner Benepe has a really insulting way of
describing all street artists in parks as commercial vendors of junk.
Give it a listen.
You can play the radio interview here:
(a 30 second ad plays first)
Or download it here:
At this page, click on “click here to start download.” Ignore any pop up ads.
Or read the many comments here:
Concession Money for Parks: Adrian Benepe
confronted by Robert Lederman-WNYC
NY Times City Room April 5, 2010
Artists and Vendors Bristle at Proposed Limits in Parks
NY Times City Room April 9, 2010
In Fight for Art Vendors, a Look to the Past
Proof that the Parks Department ran a 160 stand art concession on
Central Park South
where they now claim only 5 artists can sell due to “public safety” issues.
WBAI radio 3/26/2010
Click on this link:
OR this one
(a 15 second commercial precedes it)
You can also download it as a Quicktime mov. file here:
A Walk in the Park website
Parks Commissioner, Adrian Benepe
Alessandro Olivieri, Parks legal counsel
Deputy Commissioner Kevin Jeffrey, Parks Enforcement
PRESS RELEASE ~ FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Date: 9/17/09
Venice Beach Boardwalk Coalition (VBBC) challenges City of Los Angeles Permit/Lottery on Venice Boardwalk
On June 24, 2009, Seattle Center’s permit regulations, imposed on street performers, were overturned in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals by an 11 member “en banc” panel of judges, including Judge Harry Pregerson, father of Judge Dean Pregerson, who, the City of Los Angeles claims, presided over the creation of the current LAMC 42.15 ordinance that regulates the Free Speech Zone (FSZ) on the west side of Venice Boardwalk.
Seattle’s law, requiring a permit to engage in [individual] speech: “constitutes a dramatic departure from our national heritage and constitutional tradition,” according to Judge Marsha Berzon, writing for the majority opinion. Additionally, the City of Seattle required free expressionists (artists, performers, politico’s, etc) to wear badges, refrain from soliciting gratuities, stay away from captive audience and work only in designated sites. Similarly, in the Venice Boardwalk FSZ, the City of Los Angeles requires free expressionists to purchase a permit and enter a lottery; just to have a chance to win an opportunity to exercise their First Amendment Free Speech rights, in city specified “designated spaces” in the FSZ, in accordance with city rules, including wearing badges.
VBBC free expressionists are demanding that the City of Los Angeles rescind the unconstitutional permit/ lottery and remove all “unprotected” retail commercial vending operating under the current LAMC 42.15. As Judge Marsha Berzon writes: “It is our belief that the protections afforded by the First Amendment are nowhere stronger than in streets & parks, both categorized for First Amendment purposes as traditional public fora. In such fora, the government’s right to limit expressive activity is sharply circumscribed. Among traditional public fora, parks [such as Venice Beach], are especially important locales for communication among the citizenry, as they have immemorially been held in trust for the use of public, and have been used for purposes of assembly, communicating thoughts between citizens, and discussing public questions.” Furthermore, VBBC claims that these important protections should not be subverted to allow the “unprotected” retail commercial vending that currently proliferates in the FSZ, driving out expressionists such as artists, activists, performers, politicos and others with a real “protected” message.
For more information on this topic, or to schedule an interview with Venice Beach Boardwalk Coalition spokesperson, Lisa Green and other free expressionists, please call 310 391-7686 or email at email@example.com. If you publish or use this information please inform us so we can monitor, and send you additional pertinent information to your community.
# # #
August 13, 2009
ACLU sues Fort Lauderdale on behalf of street artist
Posted by Brittany Wallman on July 28, 2009 02:43 PM
and fighting for this right, which NYC officials still spend a great deal of time and effort trying to take away. The First Amendment applies everywhere in the US, yet, NYC is still the only place where street artists have this FULL degree of freedom. You only get the freedom you are willing to fight for and then defend against whoever and whatever tries to take it back.
fought over time and time again. At any time, if one of these fights is
lost, or not engaged in, that right can still be lost forever.
City by city, it’s going to happen. How ironic would it be if 5 years from
now, NYC is the only place you CAN’T freely sell your art? If we don’t all
step up and do our part, that could be the outcome. It starts with each artist trying to understand what free speech on public property really means.
or saving multiple spots for your friends when there are not enough
to go around.)
ARTIST POWER! Here’s the latest:
http://weblogs. sun-sentinel. com/news/ politics/ broward/blog/ 2009/07/aclu_ sues_fort_ lauderdale_ on_b.html
The ACLU announced today it’s suing the city of Fort Lauderdale for what it called a “web of ordinances that create an elaborate scheme” that make it “illegal for street artists to work and sell their artwork.”
Not in France (contrary to what many think) nor in Mexico not even in Africa, let alone in most US cities. Sometimes I ask street artists why they are allowed to sell on the street in NY for free, with no license and few restrictions. Many answer, “It’s because of the First Amendment, right?” Not really.
In Fort Lauderdale, that’s a no-no.
“I bring culture, I bring art to the city streets,” Wang said Wednesday. “I’m an entertainer, I make people happy. Even people who don’t want a portrait, they give me a thumbs up.”
Stewart said the city has a right to regulate sidewalk vendors, and if Wang wants to sell art, “he needs a business license and an address.”
The city maintains it has a right to regulate vendors.
Michael Laughlin, Sun Sentinel
A group of free speech activists from Venice Boardwalk attended a meeting on Wednesday, July 15, 2009 to present their viewpoint regarding the current LAMC 42.15 (Item#5 on Agenda) which regulates the free speech zone on Venice Boardwalk. Here is the link to the audio recording of the meeting. Item #5 starts at approximately 32:00 mins into the recording.
Letter from Free Speech advocate, Lisa Green, to the L.A. City Council Committee, overseeing LAMC 42.15, following the hearing:
Thank you for the time to address, albeit briefly, my concerns regarding the Venice Boardwalk. I appreciate the opportunity to engage with the City Council as a citizen of LA, and as a artist and free speech activist.
As already noted in Dr. Alexanders’ email, the four ladies that routinely participate in in free speech activity on the boardwalk felt strongly enough about our concerns to appear before the Committee.
I strongly disagree with the City Attorney and the Councilman’s position that enforcement of LAMC 42.15 is merely an administrative problem. The ordinance and the lottery do not prevent commercial vending, or stop fights, or the selling of spaces, or create an environment that gives equal chance to performers, artists and those engage in free speech activities.
It was indicated during discussion from Norm Kulla that further changes to 42.15 would be proposed. Is it possible to be informed of the changes in advance? Reason being is I believe that a group of participants from Venice Boardwalk should be involved. This peer group should include performers, artists, free speech advocates. Including a peer group within the process brings accountability to the participants, and gives the City of LA departments direct insight from the participants. The peer group could have
terms of a few months and rotate out with other participants cycling through. More suggestions about how, what, who, when, can be provided at a later date.
In addition I would like to request that the City departments make the effort to improve interdepartmental communication regarding any further changes to 42.15 (ordinance and the exhibits). For instance, I attended the
lottery on Tuesday, July 14, the day before the Committee reviewed the motion after receiving the email from Arturo Pina on July 13.
I brought along the agenda and the motion to the lottery. Victor, whom I believe is the superior to Robert Haskins, informed me he would not make an announcement regarding the meeting to the lottery participants. He, Victor, indicated he knew nothing about the meeting. I stated, well this came
from Arturo and provided a copy (one of his assistant’s took the documents). Victor said, I can’t announce anything unless it’s part of the ordinance. I asked, You can’t announce the meeting, referencing changes, and state the time, date and location? He continued to state he was unwilling to do so, and said, it’s a private meeting. I pressed on, It’s not! That’s why we were informed by Rosendahl’s office and encouraged to participate to make
public comment! He said, No I haven’t read any of it. So I walked away. At the end of the lottery he’d had a change of heart and announced the meeting, the location and indicated he had the documents that could be reviewed
if any of the lottery participants were interested.
I was happy to find out that the announcement was made in both lotteries (P-zone & I-zone) that day but seems like there’s room for improvement along the interdepartmental City departments.
I also want to add that I am opposed at Victor’s guidance to the participants (in the I Zone) that states, “Some of you do not have a message on your products. Whether you make it or get it elsewhere you must have a message on your products. We’re (Park & Rec) here to help you, so you know you have to get a message on your products. If you have any questions please ask us. The message is political, religious, philosophical, idealogical message. So please get a message on your products.
To me this approach encourages the wrong behavior. To me the announcement should state that participants will be instructed to leave the Boardwalk that do not have a inextricably entwined message. I would encourage the City Attorney’s office to instruct Park and Rec’s management on proper guidance. I’ve also been informed though not witnessed yet, that LAPD also states the same “back into” message at times.
I carry the ordinance with me, and show parts of it other people when they attempt to take over a spot that is not assigned per the lottery. I also ask if they have read the document they signed because some seem to have selective amnesia when it works to their advantage.
It upsets me often that I hear that performers, artists and free speech activists are regularly given violations and/or citations for ridiculous things like having a clause in the ordinance that states you can’t be on a spot before noon if not assigned in the lottery (as if that deters problems), or if the display is taller than four feet high when people sell spaces, reserve spaces.
June 25, 2009
Seattle’s street artists get a green light
Ken Lambert / The Seattle Times
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals today struck down curbs imposed by the city on those performing at the Seattle Center.
A federal appeals court strikes down the city’s curbs on performers.
By Carol J. Williams June 25, 2009
Just in time for the summer tourist throngs, mimes, musicians and balloon-animal shapers have been newly empowered to bring their entertainments and tip jars to public parks. In a ruling with potentially wide implications for street artists throughout the West, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday struck down curbs imposed by Seattle on those performing at the popular Seattle Center, home of the landmark Space Needle.
Michael “Magic Mike” Berger, a busker who sculpted balloon figures and dazzled children with sleight-of-hand tricks, prevailed in his seven-year challenge of the constitutionality of Seattle’s 2002 rules regulating street performers. The city had required them to obtain permits, wear badges, refrain from soliciting gratuities, stay away from “captive audiences” and work only within designated sites. By contrast, Los Angeles city officials make little effort to rein in the street artists who abound at tourist venues like Venice Beach and the Hollywood Walk of Fame. One local move, a 2001 ordinance restricting street banners in Santa Monica, drew a court challenge but has since been amended. In the decision by an 11-member en banc panel of the appeals court, a majority rejected Seattle’s argument that the rules were appropriate limits on “time, place and manner,” rather than an infringement on free speech.
“I think there’s going to have to be a reevaluation by many cities, certainly in the 9th Circuit and perhaps across the country, on the validity of various laws that restrict people from speaking in public and performing in public on sidewalks and parks,” said Elena Luisa Garella, Berger’s lawyer.
Constitutional law professor Carl Tobias of the University of Richmond agreed the ruling could tie the hands of officials trying to control the proliferation of street artists but predicted it would be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Berger, 61, was in Costa Rica when the ruling was announced but sent an e-mail proclaiming victory.
“The city has been trying to turn Seattle Center into a government-controlled place that is very convenient for commercial interests and hostile to freedom and free speech,” he wrote, concluding that “the city needs to wake up and read the Constitution.”
Seattle officials suspended the restrictions after a federal judge ruled for Berger in 2005. The city appealed to the 9th Circuit, where a three-judge panel last year upheld the busker rules as permissible safety and order considerations. Assistant City Atty. Gary Keese said the city was still reviewing the 114-page en banc ruling and had yet to consider whether to drop the rules or seek Supreme Court review.
Four 9th Circuit judges, including Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, dissented from Wednesday’s opinion. Kozinski observed that the city was merely imposing “some basic rules, to ensure the safety and convenience” of the 12 million annual visitors to the Seattle Center. Writing for the majority, Judge Marsha S. Berzon, a President Clinton appointee, said that “a law requiring a permit to engage in [individual] speech constitutes a dramatic departure from our national heritage and constitutional tradition.” She referred repeatedly to a 2002 Supreme Court decision applying the same 1st Amendment protections to Jehovah’s Witnesses who take their religious messages door-to-door. Carol.firstname.lastname@example.org