If you’ve ever taken a stroll down Hollywood Boulevard, you know you’re likely to run into a colorful cast of street performers — ranging from Marvel and DC superheroes to Star Wars and Disney favorites — who offer a photo or put on a little show for you and expect you’ll throw a little cash their way as a thanks for the souvenir.
While some say the performers add to the neighborhood’s charm, police and some businesses in the area say they can block the flow of pedestrian traffic, crowd entrances to shops and restaurants, and even threaten public safety along the Boulevard — think fistfights between costumed characters and the hassling of tourists over souvenir photos.
Today, the Los Angeles City Council directed the city attorney to draft rules that would require street performers on the boulevard between Highland Avenue and Orange Drive to obtain a daily permit to perform, play music, ask for money or do any other “First Amendment expressive action.”
The area would be designated as the “Hollywood Entertainment Zone.”
In a report issuing its recommendations to the council, the Los Angeles Police Commission, citing the L.A. Tourism and Convention Board, said that 74 percent of visitors to the area report being approached by one or more solicitors — that includes food and merchandise vendors and the costumed characters.
Among those, 20 percent said their experience was unsatisfactory; the most common complaint was that solicitors were “aggressive and rude.”
The Police Commission highlighted several recent high-profile cases in which solicitors exhibited more bad behavior than entertaining antics. In one, a costumed Mickey Mouse duked it out with Donald Duck. In another, Mr. Incredible punched Batgirl in the face. Both encounters were captured on cellphone video and shared on YouTube (which you can watch below). Mr. Incredible was convicted of battery.
In another case, a Chinese tourist took a photo with a woman in a pirate costume. They had agreed on a price of $20, but when he handed her a $100 bill, she refused to give him change. She was later arrested, and her case is pending in court.
The Police Commission recommended adding several new regulations to restrict solicitors and street performers:
- Require a 24-hour pass for any permissible vending, including performing, soliciting donations, handing out free food, or using amplified sound or setting up equipment on the sidewalk.
- Issue only 20 passes per day — 10 for the north side of the street and 10 for the south side.
- Prohibit blocking the free flow of pedestrians or generating a crowd that does so.
- Allow solicitors to occupy no more than 5 square feet.
- Prohibit performers and vendors from doing their thing within 5 feet of a crosswalk or building entrance or exit.
- Prohibit the display of wild or exotic animals or birds.
- Limit noise level to 75 to 96 decibels, depending on the distance measured.
- Allow the city to revoke day-pass privileges for three months upon a second violation.
Business owners welcome the regulations, saying they’ll help streamline traffic and keep large groups from blocking store entrances. The performers say the rules would snuff out the street scene that is a big part of why both visitors and locals come to Hollywood.
Kerry Morrison, Executive Director of the Hollywood Property Owners Alliance, a position she has held since the inception of the Hollywood Entertainment District BID in 1996.
Carol Sobel, Santa Monica-based civil rights attorney; she represented street performers that sued the city in 2010
This post has been updated.