San Diego Explained: What the Law Says About Street Performers

Should selling handmade crafts be treated the same as performing a magic trick or music?

Musicians, jugglers, balloonists, clowns and magicians line busy thoroughfares like the Prado in Balboa Park and the Embarcadero downtown. These street artists perform for people passing by in hopes of getting tips.

Known as "buskers," these outdoor performers are exercising their constitutional right to free expression. In most locations, whether it's city, county or Port of San Diego property, they're allowed to do their thing as long as they don't block public right-of-way, amplify sound too loudly and otherwise follow existing laws. In Balboa Park, though, there's a permitting process buskers have to follow. The system's meant to prevent overcrowding and too much overlapping entertainment.

Most of the time, buskers are welcome on sidewalks and in public parks. But every now and then, people call the police to complain about noise, or business owners call officers when they think buskers are interfering with their customers. The run-ins can sometimes result in tickets for obstructing traffic, aggressive panhandling or noise violations.

There is also some confusion when it comes to selling handmade crafts and whether it should be treated the same as performing a magic trick or music.

In most cases, it is the same, but some areas of the city require additional vendor permits if what the artist is selling seems more like a commercial product rather than a piece of art they created themselves.

NBC 7’s Monica Dean and VOSD's Kinsee Morlan talk more about the freedoms and regulations guiding these outdoor artists and musicians. That's this week's San Diego Explained.

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