What are code enforcements for street musicians?

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Logo courtesy of Seal Beach PD

Dear SBPD Lt. Nick Nicholas,

Thank you for your excellent weekly article.  My question relates to public musicians on the streets, sidewalks and pier in Seal Beach.  My understanding was that amplified music was a code violation.  I also assume there are other rules regulating musicians performing in public, perhaps relating to blocking sidewalks, asking for money etc…  There is even a vehicle that has all its musicians in the bed of the pickup truck that is often parked in Seal Beach performing.  On a typical weekend evening there are numerous competing musicians, most with amplifiers and yet there never seems to be any enforcement of this public noise nuisance that detracts from the peace and quiet of Seal Beach.  Could you please clarify what the rules are and why enforcement seems non-existent.

Sincerely,

David

Old Town Seal Beach.

Hi David,

Thank you so much for the compliment and really good question.  Street performers, also known as buskers, are generally protected under their constitutional right to free speech.  However, this doesn’t mean that it is a free for all.

To help  get some additional information, I reached out to our  Neighborhood Services Officer Samuel Funes who handles Code Enforcement for the City of Seal Beach.    

There are a few applicable Seal Beach Municipal Code Sections that would apply to your question.

First, §7.35.010(B)(4) states: Disturbing of the Peace. No person shall willfully disturb the peace or quiet of any neighborhood or person by doing any of the following:

a. Creating or causing to be created any loud, unnecessary or unusual noises.

b. Firing without just causes any pistol, revolver, shotgun or firearm.

c. Fighting.

d. Threatening or challenging to fight.

e. Keeping an animal that creates a noise disturbance in violation of Section 7.05.065 of the Code.

f. Acting in an offensive manner.

Next, §7.35.010(B)(5) states:  Obstruction on Public Property. No person shall obstruct any street, alley, sidewalk, public way or public property by causing or permitting to be placed, erected or set in position any fence, post, or other barrier, or by sitting in or upon any public hallway, public sidewalk or public walkway area. This prohibition does not prohibit sitting on the seat of a bench legally placed upon a public hallway or upon a public sidewalk, or standing on the sidewalk at a bus stop for the purpose of boarding a bus.

From the Code Enforcement perspective, verifying that street performers at an exact location are in fact the sole source of the disturbance can be difficult to prove from a legal perspective. The City would need to hire a sound professional to respond to the location and note measurements which take into account all of the ambient noise. After completing their study of the surrounding, they could conclude the decibel ratings of the performer.  Therefore, Code Enforcement will normally attempt to seek out compliance (move to a less obtrusive location, lower the volume, etc.) and to work cooperatively with the musicians.

From a Police Department perspective, we can generally turn to California Penal Code §415(2) which deals more broadly with disturbing the peace.  This is a specific intent crime.  This means the person committing the crime has to have both the desire and intent to commit the crime.

Most importantly, if the complainant wants any enforceable action completed, we will need the caller to actually report themselves as a victim.  For example, when someone calls to report a noise complaint and they want actual action (other than just a verbal warning) they will need to identify themselves and ask to be contacted.  If we come out a second time, and they again want enforceable action, they will need to be an actual victim and sign a Private Person’s Arrest form which then asks us to place the offender under arrest.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that we actually make a physical arrest with handcuffs, but rather we might simply issue the offender a citation.  It also ensures that if and when this goes to court, there is an actual victim who is willing to testify that their peace was physically disturbed.  Plain and simple, without a victim, there is no violation.

So now you’ll ask what it takes for your peace to be disturbed.  There is not a simple answer to this.  There is not a specific decibel level which must be reached before we can take action.  What we can do is determine if the noise appears unreasonable.  In fact, the Penal Code is pretty clear on this.  It reads, in part, “Any person who maliciously and willfully disturbs another person by loud and unreasonable noise” has violated this section, i.e. Is someone running a chainsaw at 10:00 am on a Tuesday in order to clear a dead tree in their backyard?  Probably not unreasonable.  Is it 3:00 am on a Monday morning and there is a pool party with a bunch of loud screaming and music?  Probably unreasonable.  We do our best to determine what we think is reasonable and if and when enforcement action is both critical and necessary.

When in doubt, please don’t hesitate to contact us.  We can be reached on our non-emergency line of (562) 594-7232.

Thanks again for your question David.  Seal Beach, please keep them coming!  Email us at askacop@sealbeachca.gov with more great questions like this!

What are code enforcements for street musicians?