Council entertains busking ordinance

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Correction appended: A previous version of this story stated the Town Council would hear the revised ordinance on Dec. 29.

The Taos Town Council is considering an ordinance to regulate busking and panhandling within the town's boundaries. But the Council unanimously voted Nov. 14 to continue a public hearing on the ordinance scheduled that day to Dec. 29, pending more clear language and ways to enforce the possible additions to the town codes.

Despite the postponement, some members of the public and the council spoke about the ordinance. According to the ordinance, panhandling, trespassing and busking have become more common within the town of Taos and the rules are the town's way of regulating the activity going on. Some of the points in the document were met with opposition and questions from both the Council and the public.

"We want to make sure its safe downtown," said Mayor Dan Barrone during the meeting. "It's not that we're trying to take [away] somebody's ability to sing in the Plaza."

Ordinance 17-10 would try to regulate panhandling and busking, or performing in a public place for donations, within the town of Taos. The ordinance currently calls for a permit fee of $15 to allow performance anywhere within town property and calls for the performer to carry the permit everywhere they would set up. The permit would allow the performer to set up anywhere on town property, but the ordinance does not specify for how long the permit would be valid.

In addition, the ordinance calls for the performer to communicate with the "codes administrator" before 9 a.m. on the date in which they choose to perform, and leaves much of the enforcement of other points up to the codes administrator's discretion. While imposing such permits on performers, the ordinance also limits their audible sound to a 50-foot radius, potentially limiting the type of instrument played by the performers.

"I think the street musicians are an asset rather than a detriment to the plaza," said Taos resident Rick Brown. "Having music around just adds to the life of the place."

The proposed ordinance would also limit panhandling to one person, as it outlaws panhandling in groups of two or more people. While keeping safety in the focus, the ordinance calls for a ban on panhandling involving moving vehicles or in any way that would impede traffic within the town.

Ordinance 17-10 would replace the existing ordinance in chapter 5.08.120 of the town codes and would include the busking section if approved.

Following public comments on the matter, Councilman Nathaniel Evans asked several questions of the Council about the ordinance, saying more time was needed for he and others in the room to review and re-work some of the language in the proposed ordinance. Evans was confused as to when and where the performers would be able to purchase a permit if the office of the codes administrator were closed and how exactly the audible distance from a performer would be measured. Evans also said it was unclear, based on the information in the ordinance, as to where a performer would be restricted from playing, as the ordinance calls for a ban on busking during town-sponsored events in the same area.

"There's been a lot of feedback that if it's something, like, for a performance for a day or for a month, it should probably be lower, like $5," said town Manager Rick Bellis.

Pending a rewrite of some of the ordinance points, the Council voted to continue the discussion and a final vote for a 3 p.m., Nov. 29 special meeting at the Town Council chambers. Town officials said the language needs to be concrete and air-tight before passing the ordinance, that way there is little room for discretionary enforcement. Nothing in the ordinance has been passed or approved yet by the council, and it will be up to the Council to pass the ordinance into effect after further discussion and rewriting.

"These are ordinances that will need to be well-defined," said Taos Police Chief David Trujillo during the meeting. "Different definitions need to be placed into these ordinances prior to the ordinance being passed. If not, we're going to have a lot of issues trying to enforce these."

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John Lapin

Let's make certain this is regulated to the point of confusion and then violators arrested. Let's make certain that Taos has no spontaneity and is as boring as possible. Yes, all performers must have a city issued permit and check in each morning, before 0900, with the Town Manager. The next step will be to identify "Performance Zones". These will be away from businesses and where the righteous residents of Taos go about their day. Probably located in Questa.

Wednesday, November 22 | Report this
Mike Lewinski

I can't imagine that a ban on panhandling in groups will survive judicial review (and I'd expect ACLU of New Mexico to challenge it). While there are potentially reasonable restrictions on time and place of speech and assembly, if groups are allowed to assemble for other purposes this amounts to a content-based restriction.

Friday, November 24 | Report this