A change to city municipal codes could make instances like this from 2014 Buskerfest more common if public performance permit regulations are relaxed. Photo: Brian Addison
The City of Long Beach could soon loosen restrictions on musicians in the city as two separate studies aimed at increasing the ability for them to perform in city streets and inside non-traditional music venues without the burden of an entertainment license were advanced by the city council last night.
The two items, brought forward by Second District Councilwoman Jeannine Pearce, instruct the city manager’s office to explore the city’s ability to potentially establish zones in the city where street performers could play music as well as creating a tiered-system of enforcement, and price, when it comes to venues applying for a permit to host music performances.
The studies will take into account potential quality of life questions like how the volume of the performances affect surrounding neighborhoods, times when such performances would be permitted and would set to distinguish these types of performances—a busker on the street or a jazz trio at a cafe—from much louder concert acts that could be found at places like the Federal Underground, DiPiazza’s or 4th Street Vine.
The study results are expected to come back before the council within the next 120 days.
Pearce, whose district encompasses downtown and its entire entertainment district, said that cities like Austin and Seattle have benefitted economically from encouraging these types of musical performances. She stated that music accounts for about 29,000 jobs and roughly $130 million in annual revenue for the two cities, adding that one of the defining factors of many large cities both domestically and abroad is their vibrant arts community.
“This isn’t by accident, it’s by design,” Pearce said. “By policies and framework the cities have laid out over time, ones that don’t just tolerate the arts, but cultivate them, welcome them and embrace them.”
Pearce’s items called for potential amendments to the city’s municipal code including eliminating the provision that requires a musician to acquire a permit to perform in a public right of way and to better define “entertainment activity” which currently requires any performance by two or more people, and whenever amplified.
A list of the fees a business would have to pay just to be considered for an entertainment permit under current regulations.
Inspection fees to acquire a permit run as high as $1,425 for investigation fees and can include other taxes and regulatory fees if the city council grants a location permit to host entertainment activity.
The city’s definition of entertainment activity hasn’t been updated since 1996 according to Pearce.
“We can name a multitude of artists that have made it big just from the city alone,” said First District Councilwoman Lena Gonzalez, who co-sponsored the item. “In addition to that, the local, organically grown artists that are here and will make it big one day […] I would hope that we make it a lot easier. It’s been a struggle for musicians to just play at a coffee shop.”
An outpouring of public support for the two efforts was preceded by a demonstration outside of city hall prior to the council’s Tuesday night meeting where advocates and members of the city’s music scene pushed for the city to relax regulations that would allow more artists to play in a wider variety of places.
Both proposals passed unanimously! Thank you to Long Beach Music Council and all who came out tonight to speak in support and to my council colleagues for sharing our vision of a Music City. Our next steps will be to work with staff, BIDs, business owners, musicians, and residents to ensure we come back with two strong proposals. Stay tuned!#councilnights
First District resident George McCalip, a musician who hosts a weekly open mic in the city, pointed to Snoop Dogg, Sublime and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band as proof of not only the city’s diversity, but depth of talent when it comes to its local musicians.
He also detailed his struggles to find a place to host his open mic which occurs weekly at the Hellada Art Center in the East Village. McCalip tallied the $1,500 in application fees for a permit as well as the $1,000 if the council approved his application to host his event at a pizza parlor.
“The talent here is phenomenal, the variety is amazing, you can’t find another city this size that has that kind of variety and that level of talent,” McCalip said. “I’m very happy to be here, I just wish the city would make it easier for small venues to get a license to do this and do it within the law instead of doing it kind of on the quiet, like a lot of things are happening right now.”
Stan DeWitt, a member of the Long Beach Music Council, said that music stands to serve as an economic driver for the city, and can have a spillover effect to youth in Long Beach who have the opportunity to meet and work with local musicians and together, the initiatives can grow Long Beach as a music city.
“One of the reasons I joined the music council is because I wanted to do something to support musicians and support the music culture in the city and to grow it,” DeWitt said. “These items are designed specifically to do that, to give musicians a chance to make a living and to stay here and to help Long Beach grow.”
To address quality of life issues, like the potential for additional performances to be wedged into already impacted areas of the city like Belmont Shore, the approach is not anticipated to be a one-size-fits-all suggestion when the report comes back from the city manager’s office. While the items received broad support from the council, some members cautioned for flexibility to be included to better govern potential noise impacts from street performers or additional venues under any kind of municipal code changes.
“Just yesterday—I live around the corner from Scherer Park—there was live music emanating from the park as the Be Safe Long Beach program kicked off and to me, that was a quality of life moment,” Eighth District Councilman Al Austin said. “It was good to hear live music coming from the park. It was great to hear the laughter of many kids and families enjoying our public park as well.”