Port Townsend considers space limits for street performers, vendors
Mike Lewis, right, of Tucson, Ariz. performs on Water Street as Sharron Lawler, left, of Kingston and Rose Pugh of Stanhope dance. The Port Townsend City Council is considering an ordinance to manage busker traffic downtown. — Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News
By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News
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The ordinance was approved on a first reading 5-1 Monday night, with Councilwoman Catharine Robinson opposed and Mayor David King not present.
It is expected to be considered for final approval during a second reading at a council meeting at City Hall, 540 Water St., on Aug. 4.
Robinson did not explain her “no” vote.
Buskers, who put out hats for tips and perform music, and other performers are popular entertainment on the streets of Port Townsend.
The proposed ordinance allows a performer to operate without a permit as long as the performance space does not exceed 4 feet by 6 feet — or 24 square feet — the same limits imposed on free speech displays.
These limits are necessary to maintain consistency, according to City Attorney John Watts.
“If we don’t have standards, it opens up the possibility for arbitrary enforcement,” he said.
“We want to make sure everyone gets treated the same way.”
Performers who need more space have two no-cost options: apply for a permit for a specific date or place, or apply for a variance, which allows them a larger area up to 100 square feet.
Each performer can be awarded a permit or a variance up to four times a year.
A busker also can pay an annual fee of $350 for a business license, which is required for all street vendors.
The ordinance also increases the allowable space for street vendors from 15 square feet to 24 square feet.
The higher limit better accommodates the size of the average espresso stand, city officials said.
The ordinance restricts the volume of noise since it forbids the use of generators powered by electricity or gasoline.
Battery-powered amplifiers are allowed.
The proscribed performance areas do not include space taken by spectators, although performers need to make sure their fans don’t block the sidewalk.
To this end, the ordinance requires that the performer stand close to a building and ensure that a 5-foot right of way exists at all times.
Watts said any performer in violation of the rules would receive a verbal warning and be given an opportunity to correct the situation.
Those who fail to comply would receive a summons akin to a traffic ticket.
Anami Funk, who operates a portable fortune telling booth on Taylor Street between Water Street and the pier on weekends, told the council she welcomes guidelines but felt that a $350 business license was cost-prohibitive.
It would severely cut into her income, mostly generated by tips when she plays guitar, she said.
“Having to pay this much for a license would severely affect the income for a profession that is already undercompensated,” she said.
Council members said the cost of a special performer’s license is one factor that can be examined and adjusted.
In a July 7 email to the city, Funk said buskers have become an asset to the tourist industry and the businesses of downtown, and that an expensive license would be counterproductive to this.
“Most public art must be funded and maintained by the city,” Funk wrote.
“This is a rare opportunity for the city and business owners to reap a benefit with no initial costs or continued maintenance costs.”
Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or email@example.com.
Last modified: July 22. 2014 6:27PM