Taking it to the street: Port Townsend City Council poised to align free speech laws for vendors, buskers
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Tarot reader anami Funk, who operates out of a portable booth, would be affected by the proposed ordinance considered tonight. Here, Funk takes a tarot reading from Chris Beard. — Photo by Charlie Bermant/Peninsula Daily News

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — The Port Townsend City Council will consider tonight (Monday) approval of a code revision meant to expand vendor and busker options and bring regulations for them in line with free speech rules.

The second reading and possible final approval will be at the meeting that will begin at 6:30 p.m. in council chambers at historic City Hall, 540 Water St.

The ordinance recognizes that free speech can include signs, petition gathering, busking and music and street performances, according to City Attorney John Watts.

The new changes are proposed to create a uniform structure for use of downtown space in ways that preserves freedom of expression and does not impede the free speech rights of others, he said.

“Without limits that apply equally to all, the administrative regulations the city is at risk of being challenged for arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement of free speech activity on sidewalks,” Watts said.

“One person could potentially take up as much public sidewalk space as the person wanted for free speech activity.”

The new boundaries are meant to expand the performance options for downtown while ensuring they do not block the sidewalk or impede foot traffic, Watts said.

The proposed ordinance would complement one passed in March that limited free speech displays to a 4-foot-by-6-foot space.

That led to resistance from Erik Olsen, whose 80-foot display in Pope Marine Park has drawn criticism from merchants and residents.

The proposed ordinance would allow a person engaged in either commercial or non-commercial performance activity to obtain a no-cost permit similar to a street vendor permit for a 4-foot-by-6-foot space.

Those who need more space would 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 up to four times a year.

They also could buy an annual permit. Such permits cost $350 now, but the cost will be discussed at tonight’s council meeting.

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.

An example of an additional space need is a fortune teller wagon, which the city estimated at 9-feet-by-11-feet, that is operating on Port Townsend streets now.

“This is good for the city,” said anami Funk, who reads tarot cards out of the portable booth.

“This is all about accommodating the arts,” she added.

Funk said she now qualifies as a busker. She said that two people often operate her booth and that she is not actually selling anything since she suggests donations for tarot card readings.

The suggestions of donations from $5 to $40 are only because people need limits for their contributions, she said.

She won’t turn anyone away and can receive less than $5 or more than $40, depending on the individual’s ability or inclination to pay.

“People always ask me what kind of reading they will get for $5 but that’s not how it works,” she said.

“I give the same information whether a person pays a lot of money or they don’t pay at all.

“I lay out the cards and start talking, but I’m not conscious about what I’m saying and I don’t know where it comes from.”

Funk declined to disclose how much she earns.

Funk is usually on Taylor Street between Water Street and the pier from about noon to 6 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.

She also plans to set up at the Concerts on the Dock on Thursday evenings.

The proposed ordinance also would restrict noise by forbidding the use of generators powered by electricity or gasoline, although battery-powered amplifiers would be allowed.

It would require that a performer stand close to a building and ensure that a 5-foot right of way exists on the sidewalk.

Watts said a performer in violation of the rules would receive a verbal warning and be given an opportunity to correct the situation.

Those who failed to comply would receive a summons akin to a traffic ticket, Watts said.

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Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: August 03. 2014 6:02PM
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