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KPBS Midday Edition

Many Buskers Want San Diego To Change Rules Of The Game

William Dorsett, seen in this undated photo, has been busking in San Diego for more than a decade.
Kinsee Morlan
William Dorsett, seen in this undated photo, has been busking in San Diego for more than a decade.

Many Buskers Want To Change The Rules Of The Game In San Diego
Many Buskers Want To Change The Rules Of The Game In San Diego GUESTS:Kinsee Morlan, Engagement Editor, Voice of San Diego Chris Morris, civil rights lawyer, Morris Law Firm

This is KPBS Midday Edition. I am Maureen Cavanaugh. A group of San Diego buskers say there right are being violated by codes and ordinances that regulate where they can perform. They are doing something about it. They are collecting signatures and a plan to show up at the city Council meeting tomorrow. And see Morlan spoke with local buskers about the issue. She brings the report which aired as part of the podcast. Hello. How is it going? All right. How are you doing? Good. Long time no see. What are you up to? Working and making roses and handed them out to people. William has been setting up in the same spot in front of Anthony's restaurant. He was ripping palm leaves and turning them into roses and crosses and scorpions and other sculptors. He hands them out for free to people walking by. The hope -- he hopes they kick him a few bucks in return. Are you going to buy rose? [ Indiscernible low volume ] What would you like to May I have a scorpion, please? Did you pick out what you like? Maybe the scorpion. William makes spray paint art, which he lays on the ground next to him and sells. William has become one of the de facto leaders of the sea indigo street performer community. It is because he started a Facebook group called the San Diego buskers. They contact him when they get hassle. Laster, at a couple of different times, we were messed with. People email me and say I get harassed or I have been harassed. What can I do? Most buskers, when they police officers tell them to do something, they back down and they do not fight. They do not go to the system or do anything. William has tried to do something about what he says is that inconsistent and unfair treatment of street performers by police officers. He and another local buskers took there troubles to the mayors office. Bob was the mayor and he did step in to help by issuing a letter, a permission slip to one Oscar at Ocean Beach who was told he could not sell goods by setting up a booth. William says when the mayor got involved, the media reports about the issue, it resulted in relaxed policing for years after that. He says, things started getting bad again. He says his friend Silverman, a guy who covers himself in silver paint and pretends to be a statue only to move on passerby's least expensive, he got a citation for performing in front of the convention said -- center. He got a ticket at the street there. The ordinance they cited was, 22.437. Interfering with a special event. The tickets are still working through the court system. It is likely that neither one will result in sweeping changes to have -- how the city handle street performers. The tickets get thrown out by a judge who recognizes that they are protected by the First Amendment. Williams says he is tired of police officers using obscure city ordinances against reformers. He do not think they should have to waste time in court. He says he wants change. A few weeks ago, William launched a petition asking the city Council to add a section to the code that defines what buskers are and what they are allowed to do. So far, he has collected 160 signatures. He plans to get as many signatures as can. He wants to take the petition plus a group of buskers to the city Council member meeting on Tuesday. We will, and give them the petition along with the court cases so that they have fair warning that if they do not change the law, I plan on seeking out counsel. I will find some sort of accounts that will challenge the codes. We will put forth a lawsuit against the city. 12 years, I have been dealing with this myself and I am not the only one. Kenzie is joining me with the voice of San Diego and host of the culture Coast podcast. Welcome. Like to be here. This is a civil rights lawyer who worked for more than a decade. Welcome, Chris. Thank you. Kenzie, is there a special permitting process that buskers have to go through? There is. They have to show up on one Saturday every month. I think it is at 10 AM. It is in admin building. They get little blocks that have numbers. It is a lottery system. They are are randomly assigned. They figure out for what they do, if there is an available permit. They have a certain amount of permits for musicians at a certain amount for artists who do drawings. It is meant to spread things out, and they give you an area. It is to spread things out and prevent overlap. One suggestion that you heard was to let everyone who wants to perform perform. It would seem that there might be so big drawbacks to that. It would but first come first served. A lot of people do respect that. Oscars who are on the streets doing this a long time, they get that and they respect that. There is not conflict when it comes to that. A lot of the buskers are street performers and a think, that is the street rules so why not let people rule themselves. Honestly, the city would like a more orderly process. That is the city's goal, to get a more orderly process in place for getting the permits out. Again, you have to remember that the buskers do, weathered it is solicitation of funds or dancing or singing are speaking, it is protected speech, even the solicitation is protected First Amendment speech. To get a permit process in place, you are required, if you are going to develop an ordinance for something, it has to be narrowly tailored to advance a significant government interest. What do you think of the process that we have now? There are significant problems with the ordinance on its face. Ones that you have to have a valid ID. Why is it limited to people who have an ID? Why is it limited to people who are 18 years old? Why is solicitation sign limited to 8.5 8.5 x 11. That is a violation, it is strict scrutiny. Limiting the mate to certain number and if you can show a reason to limited: that is okay but there are problems on this ordinance on the face. One is the solicitation and the size of the sign, you had to be 18. There are some vague language about behavior. That is the kind of thing that is upheld and that is a huge problem. Was this boisterous? Those are the things that the courts strike down. Kenzie, you talked about the buskers presenting to the Council. There are 200 people who signed the petition. How many people do you think are actually affected by this? It is hard to say. A lot of buskers are travelers. They come in from other places. The busker Festival just happened at Seaport Village. Those performers, they wanted to go out and perform while they were in San Diego. We do not know how many there are. I would say at least two dozen that you see on a regular basis. That is along the bucket there is. And the Seaport Village. We ask the Police Department to comment on the present policy. Scott wall said in part, there will be 20 in -- plenty of people who do not want to listen to a black pack and a drum outside their window. Our job is not to take sides but to enforce the law. Are the people who do not want that noise, do they have a right to make a phone call and have the street performer remit? No. that what causes problems. I do not like you. I do not like your speech or your music. I will take it you or requested that you be ticketed. That is when you start running afoul of First Amendment protection. This guy is okay but this guy is that. That is when you start running into problems. You do not like the content of the speech. Again, we are talking about a part, not outside 70s part. We are talking about downtown as well. Downtown by the ballpark district which is where some buskers have had problems before. Okay. I was talking about the permit process but yes, there are regulations for neighborhoods. Again, if there is a significant government interest like noise abatement past 10:00 with a bagpipe, sure. That will pass scrutiny. Content-based problems in an open area like this permit process, that is a problem for the city. Kenzie, the street performers are planning to go down to the city Council. There is a public forum and talk about this and make a request that the ordinances be changed. Are there supporters on the city council? Is anybody taking this issue under their when? Not yet but that is what they are hoping to get someone's attention at them meeting. They have done this in the past. To some level of success, they did get the attention of a former member. They do not know what the best path forward is. Kris, I think you had great recommendations on what they should request. They should request -- request a process that is narrowly drawn. I have been an attorney for almost 20 years. There is not a huge constituency of people who will rally for the street performers. There are 20 of them and they will make or break my campaign. What will get their potential is the potential lawsuit. I am speaking with Chris Morris and Kenzie Moreland. Thank you. You are welcome. Thank you.

A group of San Diego street performers — also called buskers — say their constitutional rights are being violated by city codes and ordinances that regulate where they can perform.

And the buskers are doing something about it. They're collecting signatures and some even plan to show up at Tuesday's San Diego City Council meeting to ask for a change to the city code.

Voice of San Diego Engagement Editor Kinsee Morlan spoke with several local buskers about the issue. She reported on the issue on her podcast, Culturecast.

Morlan and Chris Morris, a San Diego civil rights lawyer, joined Midday Edition on Monday to discuss whether buskers' rights are being violated.