Saturday, November 24, 2012

Street Musicians Navigate a Myriad of City Ordinances in Downtown Santa Cruz

A recent trip to downtown Santa Cruz revealed how difficult it can be for street musicians to navigate the many different city ordinances that affect them, some of them unfairly. The downtown is patrolled by officers from the Santa Cruz Police Department, both on foot and in vehicles, and also by private security forces which include uniformed guards employed by First Alarm. The Downtown (business) Association's own representatives, who are called "hospitality guides" dress in bright yellow and also enforce city ordinances by threatening to call the police if individuals do not comply with their demands.

On the Friday evening of November 9, a group of four musicians who were playing in front of the New Leaf Market, located on the corner of Pacific Avenue and Soquel Avenue, were told by two Downtown Hospitality guides to stop playing because the crowd listening to them had become too large. The band did not argue and they moved across Soquel Avenue to resume playing in front of the new Forever 21 store. 

Taking the band's place in front of New Leaf was a single woman who sang and played an acoustic guitar. Shortly after she began to play, she was told by a hospitality guide that she was violating the city's noise ordinance and that she would have to stop what she was doing. 

The young woman was told that she would have to stop playing was because the complaint came from someone, "trying to conduct business." 

"I'm trying to conduct business," she emphatically stated when interviewed. 

"This is the third time [in one day] I have been stopped," she said, sadly. 

When asked if she thought she was playing louder than the four person band who were previously there, and still playing across the street, she said, "I think they were much louder." 

"I have a lot of energy, always, and sometimes that energy is too much for people," she explained. 

She said she was downtown in Santa Cruz trying to earn money to eat and to buy her friend a new pair of shoes. When she arrived at the spot in front of New Leaf she said found a box with some slices of french bread in it, explaining she was happy to have found it as she chewed on a piece. 

As she continued to talk about her encounter with the hospitality guide, a woman walked by and consoled her affectionately: "I love you and all of your beautiful singing," she cooed. 

It's unclear if the young woman with the guitar ever moved from that spot in front of New Leaf after she was warned, and a few minutes later, the hospitality guide returned and was telling her she had received another noise complaint. 

She asked the guide, "I am a tiny little girl and was I louder than a four person band?" 

The guide's response: "I don't do that, I am complaint driven. If someone calls me and complains, I have to address the, I am going to go pick on them right now." 

Before leaving, the guide told her about other spots she could play at, including the spot in front of Bookshop Santa Cruz farther down on Pacific where there are less restrictions. She also suggested the young woman play during First Friday. To what extent that information was helpful is uncertain, as the woman needed money for food, and shoes for her friend, and First Friday was more that three weeks away. 

The fairness and impartiality of the code enforcement being conducted by the hospitality guides has been called into question by community members over the course of the program's tenure downtown. The program is privately operated and lacks the same transparency, however modest and in need of expansion, which public enforcement agencies themselves are subjected to. 

At one point during the street musicians' security encounters that evening, Sergeant Bush of the Santa Cruz Police Department walked by. He passed by individuals sitting on the sidewalk, apparently choosing not to hold them to task for violating the city's sit-lie ordinance which prohibits the act of sitting in most places along Pacific Avenue. 

The hospitality guide, however, did not let the sidewalk sitters stay seated when she saw them. Even though they take up less space and protrude less than the individual who was also there enjoying the music with a baby in its stroller, the guide made them get up. 

The downtown hospitality guide interacted with the musicians a number of times, as can be seen on the video: 

0:00 Woman with guitar in front of New Leaf Market told to move because she has received a noise complaint. 
2:20 Four person band plays in front of Forever 21. 
2:51 Hospitality guide tells band members not to sit on the planter boxes, that they have to be at least 14 feet from the "Imagine Positive Change" meters, and that they need to "relocate." 
3:21 Woman receives another noise complaint in front of New Leaf. 
5:59 Hospitality guide reminds band that they have to be "seven squares out" and that they have to relocate every hour. 
7:00 Sergeant Bush of the SCPD walks by an instrument case that is not "seven squares out" and also individuals sitting on the sidewalk. The Sergeant walks by without stopping.
7:18 The hospitality guide tells two audience members they may not sit on the sidewalk, and tells a band member not to sit on the planter again. 
7:36 The woman asks the guide again why she was singled out for a noise complaint. 
7:50 The band engages in some lite civil disobedience. 
8:05 The guide tells band they have to leave.

For more information about the Downtown Hospitality Guide Program, see: 

A "Hospitality Guide" and an officer with the SCPD

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