City Council Meeting: June 9, 2009
Agenda Item: 7-B
To: Mayor and City Council
From: Marsha Jones Moutrie, City Attorney
Subject: Ordinance Modifying the Permitting Requirements for
Community Events on the
Staff recommends that the Council introduce for first reading the proposed ordinance modifying the permitting requirements for community events on the Third Street Promenade and the Santa Monica Pier.
At present, the Community Events Law requires permits for events on public property involving more than 150 people. As a matter of practice, the Bayside District Corporation (BDC) issues its own permits for events on the Third Street Promenade involving fewer people, and the Pier Restoration Corporation (PRC) has expressed an interest to do the same on the Santa Monica Pier. The proposed ordinance would lower the event permit threshold for the Promenade and Pier to 75 people in recognition of both current practice and the safety and circulation issues unique to those two crowded venues. The ordinance would also specifically authorize the BDC and the PRC to issue event permits, pursuant to current municipal code standards, for events on the Promenade and Pier involving less than 150 people.
The City's Community Events Law was carefully crafted to conform to the rigorous First Amendment standards, which protect rights of expression in public places. As the case law has continued to develop, the City has made a diligent effort to ensure that its law continues to conform to constitutional requirements. This effort has been very successful. The City's Community Events Law withstood a major legal challenge and was upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Ninth Circuit's opinion in that case and decisions in other federal cases indicate that the City's event permit threshold for public property of 150 people is appropriate for most public spaces, including public parks. However, the case law also indicates that special circumstances in particular public places warrant lower thresholds.
The physical characteristics of the Third Street Promenade are very different from a City park. The Promenade is a three-block long pedestrian street, walled on each side by adjacent buildings. Opportunities for ingress and egress are restricted, and there are physical impairments to circulation within the Promenade. Moreover, usage of the Promenade is very different from the recreational use prevalent in City parks. Huge numbers of people congregate in the Promenade, drawn by the opportunities for entertainment, dining, and shopping. Sometimes as many as 10,000 persons crowd the Promenade's individual blocks.
Likewise, the physical circumstances of the Santa Monica Pier are unique and very different from City parks. The Pier is a long, narrow platform over the sea. Points of ingress and egress are located only at the Pier's landward, eastern end. And, like the Promenade, large crowds frequently jam the Pier, impairing circulation, ingress, egress and access by emergency personnel.
The BDC has developed and utilizes a permitting system for events involving less than 150 people. Like the City's permitting system, the BDC's serves to competing demands for the varied cultural, social and entertainment opportunities afforded by community events, to ensure the safety and welfare of event patrons, residents, workers, and other visitors and to protect the rights of people to engage in expressive activities. This system has operated effectively, but it is nonetheless subject to legal challenge because it is not expressly authorized by local law. The PRC does not currently operate a similar system, but City staff has been advised that it would like to do so.
The attached proposed ordinance would authorize the PRC and the BDC to issue permits for events involving less than 150 people on the Pier and Promenade, respectively. Such permits would be issued according to the same standards that City personnel have successfully utilized for years in administering the Community Events Law. The use of these standards will ensure that First Amendment rights are protected.
The ordinance would also lower the event permit threshold to 75 for the Promenade and Pier. Legal staff believes that, under current case law, the special circumstances of these venues warrant this lowered threshold. For other public property, including the City's parks, the current threshold of 150 would remain unchanged. Based on the case law, legal staff recommends against a threshold lower than 75, even for the Pier and Promenade.
Finally, the ordinance would eliminate the provision authorizing long term lessees of City-owned, controlled, or maintained property to receive an annual Community Event Permit. No such permit has ever been sought and it is more appropriate for each event to be separately reviewed and permitted.
There would be no financial impacts to the City attendant upon the passage of the proposed ordinance.