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City weighs changing vendor rules

from the st augustine record:

City weighs changing vendor rules
Some selling 'just crap,' says resident who complained to city commission

December 23, 2011 - 12:29am

An unsightly but legal flea market-style display found weekends on Hypolita Street, plus unsubstantiated rumors that vendors outside the city downtown parking garage must “rent” their free public spaces, caused two St. Augustine commissioners last week to request a review of city laws regulating vendors.

Vice Mayor Leanna Freeman said, “The whole (regulation) system has been a problem for me from the beginning.”

Since 2008, artists, musicians and vendors have been prohibited from painting, performing or selling wares on St. George Street and up to 50 feet away.

But that hasn’t prevented vendors from legally using other public spaces to sell merchandise, such as homemade jewelry, preserves, art prints, clothing and other items. When the City Commission passed the current ordinances prohibiting those activities on the Plaza de la Constitucion, it also provided space for free artistic and commercial expression while at the same time easing public safety concerns and merchant interests on the city’s most visited shopping street.

However, that free space seems to have encouraged those who’d rather sell cheap trinkets rather than local arts.

Chris Fulmer, a city resident, brought the Hypolita Street vendor to the attention of the City Commission.

She said, “No other city I know allows people to set up shop on their public streets. It’s not even good stuff (they’re selling). It’s just crap. I don’t know why we allow it.”

She said the Hypolita vendor uses a hand truck to bring in orange plastic bins of cheap merchandise such as glow sticks and pinwheels to sell, mostly on Fridays and weekends.

“It’s horrendous,” Fulmer said.

A street view

Ralph Hayes, a versatile musician who has legally played downtown for many years, said he’s collected 55 signatures from St. George Street merchants who wouldn’t mind seeing musicians and artists back on St. George Street — as long as they didn’t block doors, windows or pedestrians or compete with merchants directly.

Hayes said, “They pay taxes and want the performers to pay something, too.”

The ideas of selling permits or holding a lottery for artists and vendors was once contemplated, but discarded.

Hayes said he brought his signed petitions to the county attorney’s office and gave copies to commissioners, but never heard back.

“(With the performers returning), more tourists would come down and see decent entertainment like they used to do,” Hayes said. “People would take their relatives and friends downtown.”

He believes that this activity would revive St. George’s Street’s fortunes, which he sees as hurting due in this economy.

“There’s nobody there. You can get a parking place anywhere you want,” he said. “Merchants are standing outside their stores, talking to each other.”

Before ordinances governing street activities were passed, musicians, magicians, artists, jugglers, clowns, pirates, hippies, silver men and — only once — three complete one-man-bands performed on St. George at the same time.

The artists, vendors and musicians occupied nearly every open spot of vacant wall and drew huge crowds of gawkers among the shoppers.

But merchants complained about the resulting litter, blocked doorways and sidewalks, and noise.

The city said the street had become unsafe because emergency trucks and police personnel couldn’t get through.

Hayes believes the performers should have negotiated a workable system with the city and merchants that would have kept the tourists coming and the performers working.

Instead, the ordinance was challenged in federal court on First Amendment grounds and the issue became confrontational.

“The city must do something now,” Hayes said. “Anybody can go (to the public spaces), set up a tent and do anything they want. Key West allows an artist one easel and one chair. Some merchants want us out there in front of their stores.”

No more regulations

City Attorney Ron Brown told the City Commission last week that the multiple ordinances controlling street activity — many adopted in final version in 2009 — remain legal and constitutional.

The federal judge allowed the city to restrict all forms of speech on St. George Street if there were “alternative venues for free expression.”

So the city carefully delineated where people may sell and perform and where they may not, such as the Plaza de la Constitucion and St. George Street.

Hypolita Street and grassy areas around the Visitor Information Center are sites where vendors may set up tables.

On Hypolita, one man plays his large didgeridoo, drawing curious onlookers. He also sells little ones.

Sometimes there are guitarists singing and playing for tips.

“All of the free spaces we established are now occupied by vendors,” Brown said.

Brown said he’d report his alternative measures at the commission’s Jan. 9 meeting and offered to schedule a workshop if the board wanted to discuss the issue further.

Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline didn’t want to pass new laws, saying, “I would prefer that we look at alternatives.”

Commissioner Errol Jones said he’d been told that someone had been coming to the VIC in the early morning, setting up a tent or a chair and then asking for money from vendors to use that spot.

Vendors on the street Monday said they hadn’t heard that, though they admitted that on weekends, the grassy area near the Parking Garage became packed with vendor tables.

Javier Baron, a St. Augustine silversmith who displayed colorful cut stone objects and jewelry, said no spaces are being sold. “Overall, everybody cooperates,” he said.

A nearby vendor, Sharktooth Steve, said he’d been selling there a long time and had never heard of that happening, either.

“With the job market (so poor) here in St. Augustine, for some people, this is all they have,” he said.


from the examiner (whatever the hell that is):

City Hall "Occupiers" Revive Issue of Where Art & Music Should Be Allowed

Rhonda Parker, St. Augustine Politics Examiner
December 14, 2011

St. Augustine – Members of Occupy St. Augustine braved the chill and rain to “Occupy City Hall” on Monday and get their message out – with the result of bringing the hot-button issue of an ordinance that bans musicians and artists from St. George Street, and the plaza de la Constitucion if they can’t afford a $75 permit.

Playing on a report also given at the meeting about the success of the 450th First America ‘Pirates and Privateers’ event held last week, Occupy’s J.D. Pleasant said, “After 400 years, pirates are still plundering the plaza of America’s oldest city, which is filled with sellers of cheap trinkets and junk from China. I exhort this City Commission to return the oldest plaza in America to its citizens.”

Pleasant was referring to an ordinance by the city that forbids the sale of art in the Plaza de la Constitucion, and also bans performers and musicians from the Plaza and within 50 feet of St. George Street.

"There would be an easy solution to this with the existing ordinance. Adding the term “no resale” would protect arts and crafts, but exclude sellers of cheap junk from China, which is what we see now,” said Pleasant, who has also been involved in the art-in-the-park issue.

In 2007, the city’s ordinance was deemed unconstitutional at the county level, and then at the federal level in 2009. Meanwhile, the city stopped their enforcement of ordinance 22-6 when city legal staff said this type of sales also fell under the protection of the court ruling, which has ruled in this and other precedent cases that the right to “self-expression” in public spaces is guaranteed by the Constitution.

The city has continued the ban on art and performers on St. George Street, but “Captain” Ralph Hayes and his dog Maggie Mae continue to set up legally on Cuna Street at the brick marker that is exactly 50 feet from St. George ( Haynes also keeps a framed permit that he says is the last ever issued to a street performer for St. George Street back in 1999.

“The streets are awful down there,” Hayes said, referring to the sidewalk vendors and various street acts and vendors.  “There’s everything down there we didn’t want. It stinks down there. You have to clean it up,” he told commissioners.

Hayes said he didn’t mind permits for artists or musicians if it would bring some order.

“It stinks down there. You need to clean up this mess,” he said.

There were applause from the audience and commissioners, all of whom expressed frustration over the current ordinance.

Occupier Chris Fulmer said he asked a police officer why they couldn’t do something about a vendor on Hypolita that had recently claimed about 30 feet in front of the Columbia to sell from cardboard boxes full of what he called strands of “junk lights.”

Fulmer said, “They told me there was nothing they could do about it.”

Another Occupy St. Augustine speaker brought up the “flea market” type environment on the Visitors Information Center promenade near the city parking garage, charging that while the site was free, space was being claimed by persons arriving early in the morning and selling “spaces” to hopeful vendors.

City Attorney Ron Brown said that according to federal law, the problem was that if the city bans this type of activity it must provide an alternative space.

However, Vice Mayor Leanna Freeman said she remained dissatisfied with the explanation. “I’m not happy at all. This is a free-for-all down there, not a solution.”

City Manager John Regan assured the commission that by the January meeting, “staff would come back with some new ideas on this.”

Another citizen at the meeting who was with the Occupy group but asked not to be identified (because they sometimes offered items for sale in the VIC space and feared retaliation) said there were not only people who illegally sold the spaces, but also those who offered illegal items, and even looted archeological artifacts for sale.

“This is offensive to me. They are raping our heritage and there are already laws in place against this.”

After pictures were produced for the commission of the sellers along Hypolita, Commissioner Errol Jones said he had also taken photos of the lights vendor himself to present to city staff and ask what could be done.

“There has to be a solution to this because it is out-of-hand,” Jones said.

Freeman had the agreement of fellow commissioners, who directed city staff to move forward on appointing a committee to find a better solution – one that would be “fair to all.”

“What we’re doing isn’t working,” Freeman said. “This is a community that has been historically known for its support of the arts. We’re failing our business owners and the community. It’s time get on this and make it right.”  

Other speakers before the Commission included Ed Slavin, who is a St. Augustine National Seashore advocate, but also attends the Occupy St. Augustine meetings in the Plaza on Tuesday nights. He complimented the city on the ahead-of-schedule completion of the first phase of the Riberia Street drainage project, but also commented, “Let’s get the artists and musicians of this community their place back,” then added politely, “Thank you for listening to the 99 percent.”

When addressing the commission, Pleasant had stated that most on the commission could be considered “part of the 99 Percent.” Mayor Joe Boles reiterated this, asking the City Clerk to make copies for each Commissioner of the official “Occupy Wall Street Declaration” - a statement read earlier by Occupiers Logan Guidry and Camaron McCall adding that overall, members of the commission could be considered “part of the 99 Percent”.

“They really were open and positive to us overall,” said one of the students.

Outside the chambers, other Occupy St. Augustine members agreed.

“There’s a different attitude with some of the newer members and I do think they are sincere about doing the best they can to serve the public,” Hayes said.

However, the group said they planned to return to the next meeting and planned to monitor commission activities.  

As he’d stated before the commission, Pleasant said again, “I think they’ll find if they set up a fair system, they won’t have a fight with citizens.”

Occupy St. Augustine meets in the Plaza de la Constitucion at the band-shell gazebo each Tuesday evening at 6 p.m. and on Saturdays at 1 p.m.

Live feed recorded at the “Occupy City Hall” event is available at the group’s website at:

For more information on the Art ordinance issue and the late Artist Greg Travois who lead the fight for artistic freedom and first amendment rights in the city’s Plaza de la Constitucion:

During the regular city meeting, members who read from the OSA statement and brought local issues of concern before commissioners and the live TV audience received a warmer reception than they’d possibly expected, and even applause when the city’s disputed ordinance concerning artists, craftpeople and street musicians versus the invasion of vendors now selling kitsch in the Old City downtown was brought to the fore by Occupy’s J.D. Pleasant and “Captain” Ralph Haynes (


Re-inventing the wheel yet again.

In this age of the internet there is no need to hire another outside consultant to research what legally has been done, and is working,  throughout the U.S. - it isn't like St. Augustine is the only village with buskers and strangers visiting - or even assign a city employee to research; as there is no need to hire an outside attorney to write another new law and regulation.

A citizen committee - maybe even an existing one - can sort out every U.S. ordinance that has passed the legal bars, and which regulates and establishes busker zones throughout the city.

Then toss out all the existing regulations and establish a new fair one, as the 55 merchants on St. George St. are either asking for or won't oppose.

over on plazabum, i was one of the most vocal supporters of the city's "right" to limit the activities of the artists that were engaged in commerce.

not because it was the right thing to do, mind you but because the city had the right to do so.

there was a hue and cry that the artist's 1st amendment rights were being violated and of course, i'm a big booster of the 1st amendment.

but my oft repeated position was that; once a financial transaction took place, that was commerce and the city rules and regulations applied.

and while i still believe that is the case, i think the city, in it's infinite wisdom, has thrown the baby out with the bath water.


the city suffers because our thriving artist community isn't out there on display.

something needs to be done to get the artists and busker back where they belong.

puc reducks

The artists and buskers don't belong in downtown St. Augustine.

They belong in New Orleans. Or some other "carnival" place.


Do the artists and buskers think there really will be scads of money coming in with the millions of tourists for our 450th?


We have enough BS in this town.

DO NOT allow this ordinance to re-awaken, rear its hooded head, and spit venom at us.


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