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More “Exotic Creatures” Could be Banned from Santa Monica Public Spaces  

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Convention and Visitors Bureau Santa Monica

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Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

January 5, 2017 -- Spiders, rabbits and rats are among the "exotic creatures" the City Council is set to ban from public spaces, such as the Pier and beach, as it continues wrangling street performers who use them to coax cash from passersby.

The City of Santa Monica already prohibits people from bringing all species of snakes, reptiles, bird, and non-human primates to the beach, Ocean Front Walk, the Pier and Pier ramp, the Third Street Promenade, the Downtown Transit Mall and all City parks and adjacent sidewalks ("Proposed Ban on Exotic Animals at Santa Monica Parks Gets Initial Approval," February 26, 2015)..

But the ban, started in the spring of 2015 in response to complaints about street performers using unusual wildlife as their star attractions, failed to include other exotic creatures the City now also regards as posing a potential “threat to public safety and to the animals’ welfare,” City staff said.

As a result, the City is recommending the list of banned creatures also include arachnids (e.g. spiders and scorpions), rodentia (rodents) and lagomorpha (rabbits, hares, pikas).

All prohibited animals are allowed on public property only “in accordance with the terms and conditions of a community events permit or film permit issued by the City,” said Karen Ginsberg, the City’s director of Community and Cultural Services.

“Interactions with animals naturally inhabiting these public areas would continue to be exempt from the ordinance,” she said.

The proposed ban is on the City Council’s January 10 agenda.

Tourist destinations across the country –- including San Francisco -- have been cracking down on the use of wild and exotic animals in recent years.

Street performers are a colorful hallmark of many cities with large tourist populations, but their use of birds, snakes and other creatures sometimes cause individual alarm and can draw crowds and result in congestion, police say.

Animal rights activists contend animals should not be made to “perform painful, confusing and demeaning tricks.”

The original ban was adopted with few complaints from the performers themselves, although Howard Kaminsky -- “the birdman of Santa Monica” – told the City Council it would hurt his ability to make a living. The same would be true for others like him, he said, asking for regulations instead of an outright ban.

“I believe my birds are special, and I see the happiness and wonder they bring to the people who visit and talk and play and cuddle with them,” Kaminsky, a father of two, told the council at a public hearing on the issue.

“I strongly urge these acts not be removed because it is my livelihood and many come from all around the world to pat and talk and interact with these amazing animals.”

The ban carries misdemeanor penalties of up to $500 and six months in jail, or both. Minor violations could be treated as infractions punishable by a fine not to exceed $250.

The ordinance applies only to street performers who display exotic animals to solicit money donations from the public in public areas.

Santa Monica’s beaches are too congested, the Pier routinely handles overflow crowds and the parks are too packed to accommodate both humans and “potentially vicious, ferocious or dangerous animals within these congested public spaces,” the original ordinance reads.

As many as 500,000 people visit the Pier and beach areas on weekends, officials said.

City employees say they've witnessed vendors tossing snakes, birds, monkeys and other animals “onto unsuspecting members of the public” while asking for donations. Some visitors have even been attacked by animals, according to the original ordinance.

The law is meant to “prohibit such animals from the City’s most congested public spaces in order to protect the public’s safety and to promote the general welfare,” the proposed law states.

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