All the complaints heard this week from the street performers were predictable and should have been music to the ears to those who crafted the new ordinance. The buskers’ issues with the new regulations were exactly the intent.
“The system they implemented is not working whatsoever … It has segregated us to the point of first-come, first-serve. People are showing up at midnight and sleeping in front of City Hall just to be allowed to express themselves. That is excessive and over burdensome. It describes everything that free speech is not,” said Mark Chase, who was a member of the town’s task force that worked with a law firm specializing in First Amendment issues on the changes.
Performer George Gilbert said, “Now they are making us register every Monday and Friday morning but that is impossible for me because I don’t even live here. I live in Tampa, Fla. What about all the traveling performers? They are taking away the spontaneity of street performing.”
Both these points are exactly what the city wanted to address with the sweeping regulations that essentially redefine what street performers can and cannot do on the Boardwalk from 9th Street south. The city wanted to add some order to the nightmare that was street performer clutter on the Boardwalk and that has happened. Although it’s early in the game, it’s a good thing in the big picture.
The city has added a process that must be followed and it’s exactly what needed to be done. From 9th Street to the Inlet, there are basically two designated spaces available per street end for performers. There are many other specific rules, such as no hair braiding and tattooing, no use of city electric outlets and no selling or bartering designated spaces, but it’s the new concept of registering for the certain spots at City Hall that will have the biggest impact and has the street performers most irritated.
It was a similar registration process that landed the city in legal trouble previously. That’s why it contracted with a legal law firm that specializes in First Amendment protections to work with the appointed task force, which heard testimony from the general public, including street performers, last year and into this year. The input received at the public hearings was instrumental in crafting these new regulations.
These changes were expected to be fought by street performers who are upset over the change in the process in the middle of the summer that leaves some of them on the outside looking in. Shame on them for not knowing the regulations were changing because there has been plenty of media coverage on the impending changes the last several months. They also should have realized the city was not going to let the “Wild West” mentality persist without any sort of attempt at moderation on the Boardwalk. The anything goes mantra (remember the pole dancer last year) was not going to be accepted. The tricky aspect was crafting regulations that were not illegal.
Ocean City did the right thing with adding some order and a logical process to the street performer overcrowding on the Boardwalk, and we are hopeful the ordinance is not subjected to a legal challenge, which will require more public resources to be allocated. However, if it’s taken to court, we believe the city did its due diligence with the changes to ensure the changes can withstand legal challenge.