Dependable Erection

Friday, November 30, 2007

Begging for change

Interesting discussion on the ABCD list the past few days about getting more people out into the CCB (or See Say Be, as our old friend Blazer used to call it) Plaza.

The question was asked about having street musicians or artists busking there as a way of drawing interest and spectators.

Joy Mickle, Downtown Development Coordinator for the city, wrote in to explain some of the roadblocks:
DDI, and the City of Durham's Office of Economic and Workforce Development, and Parks and Recreation have had discussions related to how to encourage/support/finance street performers in the CCB plaza and in downtown. Currently the issues of insurance/risk management for performers who may be injured and/or sue the City or the sponsoring company remain a hurdle. We are still working through some of these issues for a final solution.

Fair enough, i suppose. I know that New York, for example, at one time sponsored performers to busk in the subways; so there are probably models out there for dealing with the insurance issues. but Durham may have enough liability issues on its hands in the future not to want to take on more, and that's understandable.

Ben Kimmel then asked:
But what if I wanted to hang out there and play music? I don't mean set up a stage and massive speakers - just me and a guitar and 50-80 bikers? ; )

Here's where it gets interesting. Joy responded:
Legally you can sit out and play music on the street all day long as long as you don't ask for money (which violates the City of Durham's panhandling ordinance) and if you are getting paid (by the City or by a private entity) then you need a City of Durham business license (so City taxes can be tracked) and if something happened to you and you were being paid whoever is paying you then becomes liable.

The point is that there are questions to be answered if we are to have PAID street performers in Downtown. If people want to do it for free and are not "panhandling" then you can play your guitar till your heart is content (and then as long as it doesn't create a disturbance or violate a noise ordinance).
she also posted the relevant sections of city code, which the Attorney's office apparently determined meant that you cannot play your guitar with an open case in front of you.

Let's look at the ordinance. (Note to any city officials reading this - a big fat link to the city's Code of Ordinances on the city website is probably a good idea.)

Section 12-28 is the relevant section. Paragraph (a) defines a bunch of terms, including "To beg or solicit alms or contributions," "Accosting another person," "Forcing oneself upon the company of another person," and "Public place."

Paragraph (b) states, pretty clearly: It shall not be unlawful to beg or solicit alms or contributions except when performed in the following manner:

and then goes on to use the terms defined above to expressly forbid accosting or forcing oneself upon the company of another person. The ordinance also sets some location limits, to wit, not within 20 feet of a bank entrance or ATM, or within 6 feet of a bus stop. Finally, subsection 4 reads:
(4) In a public place twenty (20) minutes before sunrise and twenty (20) minutes after sunset. For purposes of enforcement of this section, the terms "sunrise" and "sunset" shall be determined by and based on the times for those events published daily by the U.S. Naval Observatory Astronomical Applications Department.

I guess this last is confusing. Does it mean, between 20 minutes before the sun comes up, and 20 minutes after the sun goes down, you can't solicit? Or does it mean that prior to 20 minutes before the sun comes up, and subsequent to 20 minutes after the sun goes down (ie, during dark hours) that you can't solicit. I'd assume the latter, but i'm not a lawyer. The key is that paragraph (b) clearly says that soliciting is legal unless you do it wrong. So i'm curious to know what reasoning the city used to make the blanket announcement that it's not.

Anybody able to enlighten me on this?

Labels: , ,


  • My only comment is:


    For the love of god... no mimes!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:02 PM  

  • "and then as long as it doesn't create a disturbance or violate a noise ordinance"

    So much for my accordion-playing, then :-)

    I once played on Ninth St. for a half-hour and got $2 handed to me. (I had neither hat nor box to solicit gifts). Out of curiosity, I also went to the City office to ask about a permit, where I was told that busking for money was not allowed. I thought I might be able to do it if I paid $X and got an orange vest.

    Like most, perhaps, I'm not surprised that the ordinance is confusing.

    As for Anonymous's comment on no mimes, I'll quote Opus's court testimony "and that's when I hit him with the olive loaf".

    By Blogger Marsosudiro, at 2:14 PM  

  • This is one thing I love about DC, the street performers. I don't find it intrusive at all. But then, again, I don't find being asked for money intrusive either. I mean, you can say no or you can say yes, right? People ask me for a lot more annoying things oftener enough.

    (So one has to be Anonymous if one doesn't have GoogleBlogger? urgh)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:50 PM  

  • I've come to the conclusion that Joy Mickle doesn't know what she's talking about on this one.

    But yes, at least the intent of the sunrise/sunset thing a few years ago was to ban panhandling after dark. The premise is that there are instances where the same activity should be protected speech in one situation but considered threatening or harassing behavior in another. Few people are made uncomfortable by being asked for money during the day, but many feel vulnerable after dark.

    I happen to think it's a pretty enlightened policy, and it's one of the reasons I spent so much electronic ink on the PAC2 list arguing against Lewis Cheek's roadside panhandling ban. For busking, though, as I said on the ABCD list, the question is whether an open instrument case counts as a solicitation. I say no, but it's probably something that has to be decided in common law.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 3:16 PM  

  • Sorry about the formatting. I think i've fixed it.

    Michael - as i read the ordinance, soliciting or begging for alms is expressly not unlawful, as long as it doesn't violate any of the proscriptions. So even if having an open guitar case constitutes a "solicitation" it's not unlawful unless you're doing it during prohibited hours or by accosting another person or forcing yourself upon their company. Or next to a bus stop or ATM.

    i don't see any other way to read it. i'm hoping that someone can explain to me why i'm wrong.

    By Blogger Barry, at 4:30 PM  

  • Having listened to the discussion about panhandling on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill for over a decade, I might disagree that few people are bothered by being asked for money during the day. This could be a Chapel Hill thing, but given the few discussions I've heard since being in Durham, especially WRT to the panhandling on 15-501, it is still my perception that most people are scared and/or angry when they are asked for money.

    I bet people and merchants would like the music playing, money or no money, if it brings business to the area. If it keeps customers away, they will probably fight it. And that probably depends on the type of music, relative to the businesses. (Maybe that's why the ordinance is vague.)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:23 AM  

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