By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
"I’m probably not that art-savvy, but I would think it was impolite to walk on your art . . . How will the public know they can walk on your art?" asked Councilman Robert Holbrook.
"I walk on it continually myself," the ponytailed speaker replied. "I want to express myself as an artist."
So it wasn’t van Gogh as the former People’s Republic of Santa Monica last week considered an emergency ordinance to limit performers and political tables on the Third Street Promenade and pier. OffBeat had expected a primer on avant-garde street theater, and a bracing civics lesson on the First Amendment. Instead we listened with open jaw to Nina Anwall’s explanation of her "performance": "Sometimes I paint. Sometimes I paint light bulbs. Sometimes I perform henna [tattoo] art." And to a kerchiefed handwriting analyst’s threat to bring a "broad-based lawsuit" against the city — "and I have an Ivy League law-school degree."
One might ask what someone with an Ivy sheepskin is doing deciphering chicken scrawls for a living, but OffBeat was just thankful when the solemn solon responded to a question about the grounds for the suit by saying, "I shall give only the tiniest portion of the 17-hour answer."
OffBeat has nothing against making a buck, or against turning the Promenade into a carnival midway. But is this what the once-vibrant arts of street theater and busking have degenerated to? Religious scenes painted on eggs and YOUR name etched on a grain of rice (the performance metiers of other Santa Monica artists)? Most of these artists, whose "performance" consists of slapping on paint to make a "tangible arts object," are nothing more than hucksters. Others permitted on the Promenade are the "heartlanders," a category several city personnel admitted during the meeting that they didn’t understand, but that apparently includes the distribution of political literature but also the sale of bumper stickers that might say, "My kid beats up your honor student."
We also have a problem with the micromanagement by the Santa Monica council, which has been fiddling with these performer regulations for a while, and now plans to require performers to rotate positions every two hours on the hour. We have a nightmare vision of broken eggs and dripping henna applicators as the performers jostle for prime spots. But what really bothered us was that the ordinance was brought on an emergency basis. One restaurant owner testified, "Anarchy is the next step if we do not take action, and we are close to it."
Being fans of anarchy, we immediately headed down to the Promenade to take a look. But the only disorder we saw was the silver-painted mime who couldn’t stop chortling at a lollipop-sucking toddler he made cry. (There was also a sign in the dress shop, "No wet henna.")
OffBeat fears that with rent control nearing its death throes, the city of Santa Monica has way too much time on its hands. Speaker Joey Fulmer summed up our feelings when she scolded the council for ignoring real concerns in favor of this tripe. "You should be dealing with the real problems like clarifying what sleeping is and what living is, so people know the difference," said Fulmer, who also assured the council that her mother "was not Julia Morgan or Marion Davies, and I really resent that." After more than five hours of discussion, a dozing OffBeat was not so sure that the council knows the difference.
Pilots are not the only airport employees who experience ups and downs. Consider the case of baggage runner Greg Garrett: One Wednesday in May, he’s cordially invited to talk with his CEO, Frank Argenbright of nationwide Argenbright Security Services; the next morning, he’s out on the street.
This week, the Service Employees International Union brought a lawsuit on behalf of Garrett, a labor activist — the first such action filed under L.A.’s living-wage ordinance, which forbids punitive actions for labor organizing. The suit says Garrett and 50 other employees of Argenbright’s Northwest Airlines terminal operations were invited into the hallway to ask questions after a meeting with the boss. As other employees gathered around, Garrett asked the exec why there had been no raises recently, and why employees at Northwest were not getting the "living wage" like Argenbright workers at the United Airlines terminal, he says. The next day, Garrett was fired. The firing notice was dated the day of the meeting, he adds.
Argenbright spokeswoman Celeste Bottorff said Garrett was fired for "very unreliable attendance," but she declined comment on the suit’s other allegations. Garrett is seeking reinstatement, back pay and punitive damages. "My goal," says Garrett, who now works as an SEIU organizer, "is to win back my job and educate all the companies at LAX that workers have rights."—John Seeley